By Mimi Stockton, 4x 40-44 Division XTERRA World Champ
Pro triathletes move through the transition area like poetry in motion. You would never know they just finished a hard swim the way they dash in, put on their helmet and sunglasses, and swipe their bikes in one seamless movement. Seeing them come in to start the run is equally impressive.
But for many beginners, the transition area is a chaos zone. The blood has yet to move from your arms to your brain, and you're dashing about, wetsuit pulled over the head, running, stopping … looking, doubling back, going down the rows, frantically looking for your bike.
There are a few unspoken rules associated with the transition area. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, by making mistakes and paying for them. Or you can read below and hopefully avoid the trouble and walk away looking like a seasoned XTERRA athlete.
Transitions are about getting in and getting out
This does not mean that you race through the transition area so fast you forget your helmet or race belt. You need to practice your transitions and be as efficient and fast as possible. You should know what you need from transition and have it laid out the same way every time so that it becomes automatic and you’re not scrambling to find items.
Get rid of anything you do not need. Your area should not look like a triathlon store shelf that you stand in front of trying to figure out what looks best for the next leg.
It's important to make a "Pre-Race Visual Cue."
You’ve just dashed from the water and are headed into a sea of bikes - oh no, where's yours?
In order to avoid this nightmare, be sure to make a visual marker of which row your bike is in - before the race - and how far down the rack it is. Your best bet to find your bike is with a bright towel or transition mat. Neon colors work well to set your gear apart from the pack.
Some races will feature “open seating,” where athletes are free to set up where they please. If you are given the opportunity to pick your transition area, locate a spot that is easily visible and accessible. Assess that spot’s distance from the “Bike-in” and “Bike-out” access points.
In the end, you want a spot that limits the amount of time spent running with your bike, therefore it’s better to pick a transition spot in relation to the bike entrance/exit rather than for the run entrance/exit.
Setting up your transition area
Setting up your transition area in a logical manner can greatly facilitate getting in and out quickly. First, if at all possible, lay out your gear on the left side of the bike from the rider’s perspective. Why? You want to stay away from the greasy chain and all those teeth on your front and real derailleurs.
Standing at the back of your bike, first set out all your bike needs — bike shoes, socks (if you wear them), helmet, sunglasses, and gloves. Then toward the front of the bike, set out what you need for the run — running shoes, race belt, hat, and gels.
Line gear up in the order you use it
Coming in from the swim, you encounter the bike gear first. Coming in from the bike, you encounter your run gear. For best results, toss your swim gear — wetsuit, goggles and swim cap — by the front wheel in front of your run gear, so it is out of the way.
When setting out your gear, each item should ready to put on as fast as possible. Bike shoes should be unbuckled, shoe laces untied or loosened and tongue pulled up, so you can slip your feet right in. If you wear socks, roll the tops down to the heels and put them inside the shoes. Stick your toes in the sock, push up to get the heel in, and then roll up the tops. Then on with your shoes.
Helmet straps should be unbuckled and it should be upside down, with the front of the helmet closest to your feet. Open your sunglasses and place the lenses in the inside of the helmet with the sides of the glasses pointing up. Be sure your glasses are open, so that you can grab the outside of the sunglasses and quickly put them on your face. Gloves are open and ready to put on (some even place their gloves on their handlebars). Race belt is open and ready to put on.
Give your transition area one final look-over to be sure you aren’t forgetting anything. If there is any piece of equipment that you aren’t using, put it back into your triathlon bag, and put the bag out of the way or even just outside of transition. You don't want to bring extraneous items. Bring only your essential gear. Leave the bucket to rinse your feet at home. Same goes for the folding chair.
Also, you don't want to try something new coming into and out of transition. Never done a flying mount onto your bike? Started a ride with your shoes already clipped to your bike? Done a rolling dismount? Don’t try these things on race day. These techniques save time when done well, but race day isn’t the time to try them for the first time. Practice and perfect them in training.
Organization is key. It’s remarkable how much faster you can push through transition if your area is neat and well-organized. Alleviating the burden of locating and accounting for randomly placed equipment saves time and stress. It also allows you to perform at your highest level. Remember: the sooner you are in and out of transition the better. Save the picnic for after the race!
The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA. Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.
Photos Courtesy of Catherine Holder