The Half-hour Un-workout
By Neal Henderson MS CSCS
“Jack of all trades... Master of none” applies to many triathletes. The fastest swimmers can swim circles around us. A good roadie can make our feeble attempts at cycling look pathetic. Let’s not even talk about an elite marathoners.
We triathletes, though, can be the masters of at least one sport – transition! The difference between triathlon and any single sport is the need to quickly change from one activity and one set of gear to another. As a friend of mine used to say, “transition is the circus of triathlon.” Indeed, there may be clowns running around with big shoes and red noses, because they forgot how to find their gear. The chaos occurring inside the transition area can be extremely entertaining. I’ve had a lot of fun at the races that I’ve watched, seeing grown and normally responsible adults act like clueless idiots.
If I were to give an athlete a training plan that would guarantee them two minutes off their 10K PR, no one would think twice about spending one extra 30-minute training session each week. When I tell them that they need to include a weekly transition workout (usually about 30 minutes of “effort”), they all balk. Why the disconnect? The race starts when the gun goes off and finishes when we cross the line. The person with the quickest time wins. To help break this mentality, I suggest that everyone spend at least one training session per week working on the technical aspects of triathlon.
For a transition to be successful you need three things to occur:
Practicing transitions is a fun way to save time during a race, and won’t cost you any money like buying a new wetsuit or wheels would. If you’ve seen any recent ITU races, you’ve seen the speed that these athletes switch from sport to sport. They have truly mastered transition, but it hasn’t come without practice.
Wetsuit Practice – Take your wetsuit with you to the pool, or your favorite open water swim spot. Be sure to use a lubricant (like Pam spray or Body Glide) on your ankles, neck, wrists (for a full wetsuit…arm-pits for a sleeveless) to reduce friction and allow the wetsuit to come off more easily.
Practice taking the wetsuit off quickly by pulling the zipper open, and taking the top down to your waist while running toward your bike. Once at your bike, pull the wetsuit from your hips down toward your knees in one motion, and then step on the wetsuit with one foot while pulling the opposite foot out of the suit. Once one leg is free, step on the suit again, and pull the opposite foot free. I’ve never had good luck sitting down to take a wetsuit off. Usually you can use your bike or the bike rack to steady yourself.
Swim to Bike Drill – Set up your bike against a tree, fence, or other structure and lay out your bike equipment.
Make sure that your bike shoes are open, so that you can slide your feet into them quickly. If you’re wearing socks, have them turned down half way so you can easily slide your toes in first. Then pull the rest of the sock into place. Place your sunglasses inside your helmet and position them facing you, so that can grab them and place them immediately on your face.
Start this drill while laying down on the ground about 20 meters away from your bike. Quickly jump up, and spin around 3 complete times….and then run to your bike and practice your transition. This exercise takes into account that most people are a little dizzy after the swim, and slightly disoriented. The only way to get over it, is to practice. Warning, don’t do this drill too many times in a row!
Bike Mount – Have you ever seen a cyclo-cross race? If not, you should make it a point to watch one sometime.
In general, cyclo-cross races are multiple lap races on a combination of road, dirt, and grass with hurdles and steep hills placed strategically around the course. Riders must mount and dismount their bikes at the fastest speeds possible to be successful. Practice learning how to run along side your bike, and then jump and swing your outside leg OVER your saddle and land squarely on the seat. Don’t jump too high, as the landing may be a bit rough! Pedal for a little while, and then practice dismounting by pulling one foot out of your pedal and bringing it to the other side of the bike and stepping off into a run.
Brick Practice – The final transition from bike to run is usually the fastest and easiest. Be sure that your running shoes are ready, and have any race # belts, hats or visors, and other run needs close at hand. Practice quickly getting into your running shoes, and putting on your hat or visor and race # belt while running, rather than standing still. All of these drills will help you speed up your transitions, and can cut minutes off your race time. There have been races won and lost in transition…don’t be the one who loses time in transition. The following hints will help save you time and effort in transitions.
Swim - Use a lubricant if you’re wearing a wetsuit. Have your number attached to the clothing that you’ll wear for the rest of the race if it’s a wetsuit swim. Otherwise, use a number belt. Know where your transition area is located….and how to locate your bike when you come in from the bike. Count your bike racks and/or mark the way to your bike.
Bike - Be organized, and have a routine. My routine is off with the wetsuit, on with the glasses, helmet, socks, and then shoes.
Use velcro shoes…laces waste time. Learn how to do a running mount. Take your feet out of your shoes when approaching the bike to run transition, and step off into a running dismount.
Run - Remember where your transition is and have your running stuff set up so your bike won’t knock it out of reach.Make sure that your shoes are easy to put on, and use lace locks.
Put on your hat or visor and race # belt while running out of transition. By practicing your transitions prior to race day, you’ll gain speed and confidence on race day.
Good luck with your training! We’ll see you around the schoolyard.
Author Neal Henderson is an XTERRA PRO and the Coordinator of the Sport Science program at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. He teaches the XTERRA Swim Clinics with Raeleigh Tennant and Grant Holicky, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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