Triathlon Transitions 101
by USAT Level III Coach Mike Ricci
Saving time in transition can help your race in many ways. If you have a poor swim and you transition quickly, you will feel better and get your motivation rolling again. If you have a good swim and a good transition, you just keep that ‘I’m having a good race’ flow going. Many athletes tend to get down on themselves after a poor swim, and in reality most swim distances are incorrect, so unless you know you actually swam poorly, don’t get upset over it. Move through transition as quickly as you can, and start making up that lost ground. Or if you are one of the few that leads the swim, get through T1, get on your bike and get out of sight from your competitors. Following are a few tips to help you transition quickly and smoothly during a triathlon. These are advanced techniques and require practice.
Transitioning from Swim to Bike:
During the last 200 meters of the swim, you should be kicking lightly if you are a triathlete that doesn’t kick or move to a 4-6 beat kick if you typically use a 2 beat kick for the race. Your goal is to get some blood flow into your legs so when you stand up, it won’t be such a shock to your system as the blood leaves your upper body and heads to your lower extremities. As you stand up, reach back and grab your wetsuit zipper and unzip. As you are running toward transition your wetsuit should be around your waist. Once you get to your bike rack, pull off one leg of your wetsuit by sliding your hands down around your ankles and almost pushing the suit off. After you have the first leg off, step on the other leg and pull your leg out. Now, you are free!
After you put you on your glasses, put on your helmet, grab your bike at the stem and head out of transition. Your bike should be racked with the rear wheel toward the rack. This way, as you pull out of transition, you can see where you are going.
The best shoes for this are triathlon specific shoes that have one Velcro closure and have a finger strap in the back.
Setting up your shoes on your bike for flying mount:
Before the race clip both your shoes into the pedals. Lube the back of the heel with Bodyglide so that your feet slide in easily. Make sure your bike is in the gear you want it in starting out the race. This should be a relatively easy gear that you can spin. Once the shoes are clipped in, loop a rubber band around the strap in the back of the left shoe (If you don’t have a finger strap you will have to be clever and somehow get the shoe to remain parallel with the ground.) and then loop the rubber band around the end of the skewer closer or ‘quick release’ (the skewer is the part of the bike you lock down once you put your wheel back on). Your left shoe should now be parallel with the ground. You can now do the same to the right shoe by looping the rubber band around the front derailleur or something you can hook the rubber band around without interfering with the mechanics of the bike. I tend to leave just the right foot dangling. It is high enough off the ground that your shoe will not come off.
The Flying Mount:
Once you have your bike off the rack and you are running for the dismount line, be careful of others and watch out for people who are not watching out! Run across the line and then take a leap into the air with your goal being to land on the inside of your right leg on the seat and slide down onto the seat. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to land your privates. This will cause pain, a lot of pain. Now that you have landed safely on your seat, flip the right pedal over with your toe and push down. Wait for the left shoe to come around, and then get your left foot on top of it.
This will break the rubber band on the left side and you can now push down with both feet on top of your shoes. As you are moving along, look up and keep your eyes on the road. Work your toes and then your feet into your shoes and within a minute or two you are on your way.
Some people will tell you that putting your shoes on in transition is faster and maybe for them it is. But in terms of safety and sliding across the pavement like you are on ice skates on your cleats, I would rather run barefoot. On top of that I am still of the opinion that putting on my shoes rolling along at 16-20 mph is much faster than putting on my shoes in transition. If you are someone who likes to run with socks on, you have a choice to put them on in T1, or in T2. Personally, I think it’s too hot to bike with socks and if you are like me, then you should wait until T2 to put your socks on for the run. Most importantly don’t try this in a race without practicing it about 20-25 times. This is free time on your competitors!
Bike to run:
This will work best with Velcro closure biking shoes. As you are getting ready to transition onto the run imagine moving up a few places on transition time alone. It can be done and I’ll tell you how!
Move your right foot to 12 o’clock and stop pedaling (yes, coast).
Reaching down quickly, undo the Velcro strap and pull it as far through as you can so it won’t get caught in the chain ring (or flop back and close again) when you start pedaling again.
Spin the left leg up and undo the Velcro strap on that side.
Keep your momentum going by spinning a few easy revolutions.
Bring the right leg back to the top again and take your right index and middle finger and making a Y push down on the back of your right shoe, slipping your foot out in the process.
Once you pull your foot out of the shoe, let the shoe swing back and catch the shoe with your now free toes and place your foot on the shoe and use it as the ‘pedal’. This is one quick motion, and don’t get caught with the shoe on the bottom side or you will go tumbling down.
Next using your left hand, do the same to your left foot. Slip your left foot out and use that shoe as the pedal.
You should be within a few yards of the DISMOUNT line now. Take your right foot off the pedal (shoe) and swing your right leg back over the seat and you will have two legs on one side of the bike (the left). At this point you will balancing on your left leg which is standing on the shoe/pedal.
You can practice this drill by swinging your leg back and forth over the seat repeatedly: Get up to speed on the bike and practice this little movement, again and again. Swing the leg from the left to the right, repeat.
Now take the right leg and bring it right through between the left leg and the crank. Your left foot remains on the pedal while your right foot is the first to hit the ground. The reason we dismount like this is two fold: One its one motion and you can literally ‘run’ off the bike. Number two if you swing your right leg over and just cross it slightly behind the left leg still on the pedal until you come to a stop, you have a good chance of tripping as you are literally stopping. If you stay in motion and keep everything fluid, it will go much easier. By bringing your right leg between the left leg and the left crank (and bike frame) you are stepping off the bike and heading into the transition area in a full sprint, while your competitors are watching you go by.
Grab the neck of the bike and head to your transition spot.
This requires practice, but after a few attempts you will get better. Go slow, be careful, and follow these steps. I recommend practicing this 20-25 times before a race!
Michael Ricci is a USAT certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org.