Often, athletes forget that transition is a skill in itself and can affect your overall race time by minutes, meaning losing or gaining a few positions. Nailing your skills is an easy way to gain free minutes or seconds in a race, and could be the difference between a podium place or not!
So, what are the key skills to practice before race day?
1. Getting the wetsuit off.
This is generally much easier than putting it on – the layer of water on the inside helps it slide off easily. As you are approaching the swim exit, let a little bit of water in at the neck.
One trick is to oil up your skin (arms and legs) with a greasy moisturiser or coconut oil (check the weather though, as you may wish to prioritise sunscreen) prior to putting on your wetsuit. It helps it slip easily off in transition.
Some people also cut a little off the legs so they are not so tight at the ankles. This helps to get the feet out quicker.
When you watch the pros, they unzip and get arms out as soon as they are out of the water, running to T1. They they roll it down past the bum and stamp on it to get the legs out quickly. This is definately worth practicing!
Running back to the transition area (T1) in the suit will normally drain it and at some races there is a 200+m run from the exit of the water to the transition area, so you want to get as much of you out of it as you can before it dries out. Usually getting down to the waist before you enter transition is good enough. The trick is to make sure the suit does not bunch up around the ankles or the wrists. If the rubber rolls up on itself, it’s often actually quicker to partly pull the arm or sleeve back on, free the suit up and try again. Just pulling up against the roll actually makes it harder and harder to get off.
A neat trick is to hold your swim cap and goggles in your hand and then pull the wetsuit sleeve over them as you take the suit off. Let go of the cap and goggles inside the sleeve and they will remain there ready to be recovered later.
2. T1 swim/bike transition
Once you get the wetsuit off remember to stow it out of the way, not just left on the ground. If you have a name panel on the inside of the suit, use it as they all look very similar and you’d hate someone to walk off with yours by accident. Believe me its happened in our family and its very difficult to get yours back!
Once your wetsuit is off, the first thing to put on is your helmet. Never touch your bike without wearing a helmet or you may be disqualified! Then its shoes, glasses, racebelt and then push your bike past the mount line and onto the bike course. Always listen to marshalls who will guide you when you can get on and off your bike. Again, riding your bike within the mount/dismount lines may end up in a penalty or disqualification so take note of these.
As soon as you come back to transition (T2), dismount your bike BEFORE the line and push it back to where it was racked originally.
Again there are different ways to dismount your bike, each with different speeds and effectiveness. Make sure you practice whichever method you chose well before your race so you know you can execute it seamlessly under race conditions, without having to think about it - that's where mistakes happen!
Once you are back to your bike rack position, you will safely put it back onto the rack, take your helmet on and go out for your run. For there its plain-sailing the whole way back to the finish line and your well earnt medal!
4. Other skills to nail before race day to help your transition
Firstly get used to running with your bike, ideally holding the saddle. It might seem painful to do even MORE running than you are already planning, but if it means saving a minute or two (some transitions can be LONG!), its worth practicing and getting right.
Practice your transition set up - where your race belt will sit, your helmet, drinks, food etc.
Always do a reccie of transition once you have racked your bike. Make sure your know the landmarks around where your bike is racked. Walk in from the swim, and out to the bike, then do the same from the bike in to the run out. Be clear on your landmarks and what you will have to look out for under pressure to find your bike position. It's infuriating to run backwards and forwards along the racks in transition looking for your bike -we've all done it, believe me!