Triathlon transitions

I had a very good weekend, training-wise and social-wise. We took our time, sleeping in a little bit and taking our time getting ready in the mornings, since our workouts were shorter now that we’re closer to D-Day, and that made all the difference, since I’m largely a morning person.
At any rate, part of the terrific weekend was getting to know a bloke (Hi, Steve!) who’s doing some important work getting ShelterBox up and running in Denmark. He’s a British ex-pat and heard of my efforts on behalf of ShelterBox in the Ironman, and took the time on Sunday to engage in some chitchat over the Facebook transom. Talking to him made me think that there are perhaps a number of readers who don’t know exactly what I’m doing in this-here Ironman, so I’ll take some space in the days leading up to race day to describe some things like training and structure of races.
Today I’ll go over transition times. You’ve already seen some of the neuroses that happens (how many laps do I have to swim before I hit a mile, again? How many MPH do I have to hit before I can say that I’ll make the cut-off on time?) but one of the things that goes oft-overlooked is transition times. In adventure racing, the transition–the time between disciplines allotted for changing your kit around and prepping for the next leg of the race–can be incredibly slow. There’s re-fueling to be done, re-packing, map-reading, and sometimes, in the very long races, tooth-brushing.
But in a triathlon, the transition times can be remarkably fast, about two, three minutes between each discipline. This makes a relatively disorganized person like me break out in cold sweat. My friend Pamela, who is incredibly organized, is good at these things. Me, not so much. I have to practically write everything down, practice it over and over again.
So here’s what happens in a TA (“transition area”): You stage your bike, your shoes, any odds and ends you might need on the course, all the night before the race. (The Ironman organization practices a “clean transition area” policy, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow, when I go over race structure.)
A typical transition area looks like this:
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(Assume that my bicycle is on the left side of things.)
Every last minute counts in a triathlon. In the case of next weekend’s Ironman, it’ll count doubly for me, since I missed an entire cycle of training this year, all told, and I will need every minute I can get in order to make it in under the 16-hour cutoff for the race. Transitions are “free time”: you don’t have to get stronger or fitter to execute a good triathlon, and it can save you a lot of time if you do it right.
Things get set up very specifically. Ordinarily, I’d have my helmet, jersey, sunglasses, and bike gloves sitting on top of my bike handlebars, so I don’t have to waste time bending over one more time to pick something up. You can see that my socks are already sitting in my bike shoes, ready for me to pull them on and slip into my shoes. My shoes are entirely undone. I will put these on first.
Next I will pull on my jersey, which will have my number already pinned to the front of it. You can see it’s lying front down, since that’s the way I’ll pull it on. (One time, I put the pins all the way through my jersey. I had a bear of a time putting my jersey on, let me tell you. Lessons learned.)
My sunglasses are open and my gloves are as open as they can possibly be. My feet will be wet and likely covered in grass, sand, and dirt from the jog from the lake to the transition area, so the towel underneath all my stuff will serve dual purpose.
When I come in from the swim, I’ll pull off my wetsuit and set it out of the way. I’ll be wearing a sportsbra and my triathlon shorts underneath already. Then I’ll wipe my feet and pull on my socks and shoes. Sunscreen and lip balm goes on my face and neck only, since I’ll have pre-applied over my body before the swim and it won’t have washed or rubbed off in the water; then my helmet and my glasses and gloves. I’ll probably take a slug of liquid and some salt tablets (we’ll talk about nutrition at a later date) and scarf a bite of real food, like one of the granola bars you see on the towel.
Then it’s off to the bike leg.
Many, many hours later, it’s time to run. I’ll come in, undo my bike shoes, remove my glasses, helmet, bike gloves, slip into my running shoes, slap on my visor, and go after grabbing my water bottle.
A good transition will take somewhere between 3 and 8 minutes. Well, a girl can hope, anyway, can’t she?
Tomorrow, race structure.

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