Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Art of Transition: A Triathelete's Source for Free Time

Triathlon is a struggle of seconds. Many of you reading this probably devote hours, early mornings, and countless calories towards becoming just a few seconds faster. So it stands to reason that an opportunity to save minutes would suit most any triathlete’s fancy. When I asked my colleague and pro triathlete, Jack Bracconier, what I could do with this blog to help make my multisport readers faster, he did not hesitate to say transition. 
Jack Bracconier gives us his personal take on transition.
 So many athletes, of every ilk or specialty, myself included, train incredibly hard only to overlook simple logistical factors that can really affect their race results. Transition is a major logistical detail for multisport athletes, and is an area of the race often ripe for improvement. These improvements can save minutes without hours of training; just a well thought out approach and a little practice can change your transitions from a weakness to a strength—an opportunity to gain significant time on those who choose to leave transition as an afterthought. 

So how do you go about saving said minutes, you ask? Well, I am a simple mechanic—not a great authority on transition technique. Luckily though, Jack offered to walk me through the key aspects of transition, and how he personally approaches transitions in a race. 

His overall transition mantra is simple: Less is more. “You should only do the bare minimum while you’re actually in transition.” This means pre-packing all of your nutrition and having it ready to go on the bike. This means laying out your helmet and glasses just so.
“Think ahead,” says Bracconier “As soon as you are out of the water, you are thinking: What am I doing right now? What am I doing next?”
Make a list of every step you will take in your transition. It may seem like overkill, but I don’t know of anyone who has ever come away from a race saying, “You know, I planned the logistics a little too well, and that came back to bite me.” That doesn’t happen. Plan it out. Write it down. 
Be thoughtful about how you organize and lay out your things.  Practice so you know exactly where each item is...
 There are also a couple products that Jack sees as crucial to his fast transition times. Body Glide will make that difficult struggle of getting off your wetsuit take much less energy. A Bento Box and a race belt will allow you to pre-pack your nutrition so you don’t have to worry about eating in transition.  “Tri-shoes and speed laces for your running shoes can easily save big time in both transitions,” advises Bracconier. 

This is the breakdown Jack gave me as to how he personally approaches each transition during the race:


Immediately when you step foot on solid ground begin to unzip your
wetsuit. The goal during the run from water to transition is to pull
your wetsuit down to your waist and remove your goggles with swim cap.

One you arrive at your bike, pull your wet suit to your ankles
(ankles should be re-applied with Body Glide) and take lateral steps
to get out of your wet suit without sitting on the ground.

Once the wet suit is off, grab your helmet, which is laid with straps
open and quickly put that on followed by glasses if you prefer to ride
with them.

Now you are ready to begin your exit of T1. Pre-load your bike with
any nutrition you want on your ride. You can use a Bento Box to pack
Gu's or preferred food.

Run your bike to the mounting line and jump on with your shoes pre-
clipped into your pedals. Having Triathlon specific cycling shoes will
save you a minute in both T1 and T2. Once you are on your bike, pedal
with your feet on top of your shoes up to race pace than coast while
your slide your feet into your shoes.


As you approach the final quarter mile of the ride, unstrap your
cycling shoes and slip your feet out to put them on top of your shoes.
This will allow you to hop right off your bike barefoot at the
dismount line. Once your hit the ground, take off running for your bike

Rack your bike, remove your helmet and grab your running shoes. Have
your shoes positioned so that you can put them on one at a time
standing up at your rack. Be sure to have pull laces so that you do
not waste time tying your shoes.

Place everything you need for your run in a small pile next to your
shoes so that you can grab it and run out of T2 as fast a possible.
This should include your race belt and run nutrition. As you are
running out of T2 and onto the run course clip your race belt around
your waste and place your nutrition in your kit pockets or into your
race belt. This way you save time packing it while standing still in T2.”

There are some very simple things that people often overlook in what Jack has laid out for you here. Things like: accelerating to race pace before coasting to put on your shoes, or not sitting down to take off your wetsuit are the kinds of details that have to be thought out in advance. Jack had a rule of thumb that said,"Don’t do anything standing still that you could be doing while your moving and don’t do anything during the race that you could prepare beforehand." Something simple like clipping on your race belt as you are running out of transition, rather than standing still at your rack, could be the difference between several places. These all add up to massive chunks of time in the overall race.
You better believe that the Brownlees practice transition.
The last word of wisdom that Jack imparted is this: Practice. The off-season is a great time to perfect your transition technique. It doesn’t take hours—merely 20-30 minutes once a week will make your transition technique second nature, which is exactly what you want. “It’s a great thing to add into a recovery day,” says Bracconier.  On race day you want to focus on just that: the race. Not transition, not nutrition, not anything other than going fast. 


  1. BTW, waste is not a synonym for waist.

  2. Thanks for the catch. I'll correct that. Thanks for reading.