The triathlon transition area is a place of almost religious significance to triathletes, one finds ones designated area, unloads the trappings of the trade and lays them out with well practiced reverence. Most of us will have spent time agonising over how to organise our running shoes, bike, towel, nutrition etc in order to gain the maximum time advantage during the two transitions. Thisis the so-called 4th discipline after all,and it is much easier to gain 30 seconds from organisation than training.
On race day, in Tubingen as in my previous experience in Steinheim, my limited knowledge but growing experience brings me only so far. Luckily as part of the training with TriAsWernau I took part in a weekly ‘Koppeltraining’ which involves roughly 6 short cycle and run loops and the respective 5 transitions, a style of training session which I cant recommend enough, great physically and mentally for making the whipping off and changing of kit as natural as possible. Despite having relatively intensively practised transitions, I still find myself peering over at the areas of my fellow competitors looking for tips or sympathising with the fumblings of rookies. My transition style for Tubingen, was one of simplicity,mostly born out of necessity since I have to carry on my back everything I need for the race, unlike those with the luxury of a car to bring them and to the start line. Those elders of the ritual seem to all come by car, enter the transition area with a swagger and a clear plastic box full with race day necessities and probably also a fair amount of superstition which has served them well in the past. Being fresh to the game, I merely lug my ungainly rucksack and wetsuit bag to seemingly very distant corner of the transition zone where my slot is to be found. I had poured over the race documentation many times in the run up to race day, mostly to satisfy my urge for planning and simultaneuously alleviate any nerves. Due to my rookie status I still fear making a mistake of such significance that I either look like a total twerp or get disqualified from the race, or both! Hence the rather obsessional preparation which included almost memorising the transition zone layout and visualising how I would exit the swim, roll my bike out (no riding the transition zone, one of the many rules of ‘tri club’), roll back in and then trot out for the final run leg. Somehow I had convinced myself that having found my slot in the zone, that I had much further to run from the swim and bike than anyone else. This is normally nonsense since the organisers inevitably (and Tubingen was no exception) make sure that swim-bike transition is in one direction and bike-run in the other, so any disadvantage I had with a long (and I mean long, it was almost 5oom) barefoot run from the swim to pick up my bike would be cancelled out with the short jog from bike to run.
While setting up my kit at my spot I did my best meerkat impression and surruptiionsly spied on the other participants trying to understand whether I would see then here again during the race. Importantly I also attempted to save a mental picture of the area so I would no run straight past it after the run or bike legs. In the heat of the moment I had seen so many people do this I was determined not to fall into the same trap, less because of the time loss but more because of the aforementioned loss of image. Setting up my kit for transition meant implementing all I had learnt from my first triathlon, koppeltraining and observations of the other participants. Boiled down to its essence, the main points for me are:
- Bike should hang from the saddle facing outwards (gels taped to top tube)
- Layout of kit on the ground (for me left to right in order of use)
- Helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes (with socks for me) , gloves, drink & gel (stuffed in a shoe for immediate intake before getting on the bike) and importantly a towel to dry the extremities before riding
- running shoes and running cap, as well as another bottle of water with rehydration salts or energy drink
- For anything longer than an olympic, then suncream is a good idea, especially for daywalkers like me
- Bike shoes are spd so I can run in them and avoid the the popular option of leaving them clippedin and somehow slipping them on while on the bike
- Number on an elastic belt placed around my helmet to avoid the inexcusable ( and disqualifiable) mistake of riding off without a number
- During the race, push your bike from the saddle, it is easier than you think but a little practise wont hurt.
A number of other details can alsoplay a role in the ritual and helpyou save time and stress, probably I will add them here as I myself learn the subtleties better with time.
In summary the transition is a very personal part of the race and it is a section that you can really control better than out on the course since fitness, temperature and injury play almost no role. So take peoples advice but find your own way and style, important is to find what works for you consistently but not to be afraid of trying new things either.