Article #1 in a series of 3, looking at improving your transitions for better race times and a more enjoyable race experience. I think that as a rule of thumb, the less experience and skill you have and the longer or more complex the race, the more time your transitions are likely to take. The goal is to minimise the time you take but without compromising your ability to perform on the next leg of the race. The 3S's can help you achieve this - thinking about the Stuff you need, your System for managing it and practicing your Skills at changing from swim to bike to run.
Start with Stuff
Triathlons by their nature require a fair amount of Stuff. The first step to smooth transitions is to make a thorough plan of all the things you will need (or might need) on race day. You will refine this list as you work on your System and your Skills but the starting point is knowing what Stuff you will be using.
At the end of this article I've put a list of the most common "Stuff" that I consider for my races - but this has to be tailored to the event and the individual. Here are some things to think about when making your list:
Check the race instructions - does the organiser recommend or require you to have any mandatory kit? This is very common for races in more remote and rugged locations but there may be other items e.g. BTF rules which determine when wetsuits are required. There might be stipulations about features of the kit e.g. taped seams on waterproofs, types of wheel allowed, arm/leg length of wetsuits or guidance on storage in transition e.g. use of boxes, bags etc. Double check the instructions even if you have done the race before - things can change and particularly so with Covid precautions in place.
Think through the likely weather scenarios depending on where you are racing and how long you will be racing for. What are the average temperatures likely to be at the start, middle and end of your race? What is the likelihood of sun, rain or wind? Don't forget, weather can change significantly over the course of a day and sometimes very rapidly. Think about how well you cope with heat or cold and what you need to ensure you can race in reasonable comfort. If its a short race, you might get away with a few risks but sunburn, chafing or chills can really ruin your day if it's a long distance race.
List everything you might want on race day - clothing, footwear, accessories, kit, food, toiletries, medicines, tools... Think about getting ready to start the race as well as what you use in the transitions or while out on each leg. Make your plan based on your experience of what works for you and the level of risk you are prepared to take with your race. An elite athlete might cope well with a 112 miles on a bike in just a tri suit but if you're going to be on the course for twice as long, you might need something extra on top in case of cold or rain. If you don't know what works for you, try things out before your race or at the very least, give yourself options on the day. Mid course, you can always take a gilet off and stuff it down your suit if you don't need it - but you can't fashion a gilet out of gel wrappers if you start getting cold.
Now split these items into three categories: Core, Optional and Contingency. This will help you when you come to organise your System. Core items are the things you will need no matter what - goggles, bike, trainers etc. The Optional items are the things you might need e.g. if it is very sunny or wet - rain jacket, cap, sunscreen - or things you are still undecided on. And again - categorise based on your own needs. A lot of triathletes might tell you that socks are not a Core item, but for me they are, even on a sprint race. My feet shred faster than Beth Potter can knock out a 5km race, so my 20 extra seconds in transition is more than recouped by my ability to run without crying. Contingency items are things you might have in your bag for emergencies, particularly if you are travelling away from home - this could be spares of stuff but also things like duct tape, bin bags and zip ties can be surprisingly useful.
Go back and re-read the race instructions and check if you've missed anything. Too many simple errors are the result of people not reading the instructions.
Make your list EARLY, don't leave it until the night before. That way you have time to repair or buy anything you need to. Get your bike booked in for a service well in advance and check over big ticket items like your wetsuit and trisuit. If you have any questions, ask race organisers early because in the run up to the event, they are extremely busy and you are unlikely to get a timely response.
Having a robust list of Stuff is the first of the 3S's. In the next article, we'll look at the System you have for managing it all throughout the course of the race and then the last article will look at developing your Skills in executing your System and moving smoothly from Swim to Bike to Run to Finish Line
SAMPLE STUFF LIST:
Trisuit (I prefer sleeves and a half jacket style for long races to avoid chafing and make loo stops faster)
Sports bra (Shock Absorber Ultimate Run is my go to choice for drying & support)
Hat (Usually race provides these but have one just in case, also good to double up if cold)
Noseclip (I don't generally bother but some people really struggle without)
Ear plugs (I find they help prevent dizziness in cold water and just more comfortable for long swims)
Flip flops (for the loos even if not needed for the trip to the waters edge)
Blackwitch (this stuff can get everywhere, careful how you store it as it's flammable)
Spare/ Repair Kit (Depending on which wheels I have: gas, goop, spare inner tube, levers, multitool, quicklink, zip tie - never go down with a mechanical without a fight!)
Pump (track pump for site and a mini if you need it on the bike)
Storage bags e.g. Bento Box
Bottles / Hydration system
Socks (I suffer from mince trotters - socks are a must for me)
Shorts (if you really can't cope with a tri suit pad)
Gilet (another must for me on long races - I get cold in my core when I fatigue)
Jersey (zip front recommended - far simpler to put on when wet)
Arm Warmers (easy to store but tricky to put on when wet)
Neck tube / Buff
Toe / Shoe Covers (vital for cold swim races if I want to be able to feel my toes before the finish)
Sunglasses (I nearly always wear sunglasses, if not for the bike at least for the run - hides the pain!)
Calf Guards (check race rules - if poss, wear for the swim as these are a bugger to put on when wet)
Racebelt (pinning race numbers on for Tris seems like hassle to me for the sake of a belt. Mine also has a very small pocket which is handy for storage)
Socks (see above)
Sunglasses (see above)
Visor / Cap / Hat (I nearly always wear a visor - doubles up as a sweat band, I'm a proper salty sweater)
T Shirt (if you like to cover up)
Jacket (if its a long run and its wet, a jacket can help and its easier to get on and off than a long sleeve top)
Elastic laces (I use these for easy-under-foot races but I prefer a more secure lace up or Greepers for off road)
Hydration powders / tablets
Salt Tablets (see Visor above - not everyone needs these)
Food - jelly bean sours, pretzels, salty cashews, mini mars bar....
Hydration system (depending on feed station availability)
Other useful stuff
Watch (& charger)
Hair toggles / Bands
Anti Chafe Glide (as a committed chafer, this is vital for the neck on the swim, for round the ankle under the timing chip and inside the arms for the run)
Talc (all over the socks and shoes before I begin)
Loo roll / tissues / sanitary stuff
Sharpie & Biro (race numbers are often on waxed paper which Biros don't write on very well)
Hole Punch (really handy for race numbers!)
Bags, various sizes, waterproof - reusuable or bin liners & ziplocs
Race Licence / ID
Race Issue Kit - numbers, timing chips etc
Post Race clothing
Face Masks (Covid!)