By Mark Cathcart
In last month’s column, “Triathlon on a budget” I included a picture of myself at my first triathlon, waiting for the all clear to go out on the bike. I was wearing a tennis shirt, run shorts, and gloves, all very non-PC.
I remember my 3rd triathlon in the fall of 1999 more. It was a pool based race, with age group wave starts. That meant everyone in the age group started within a couple of minutes of each other, 8-lanes, 6-people per lane, 400m swim. I’d worked really hard in training since my first race, learned not to change clothes in T1, and there I was sitting in T2 putting on socks for the 5k run, I was in 3rd place.
Then it happened. A guy in my age group came into T2, racked his bike, removed his helmet, jammed his feet in his shoes and was off. A few seconds later I got up and started running. No matter how fast I tried to run, I couldn’t catch him. There went my first podium, I can’t remember if I finished 4th or 6th, I can remember I didn’t finish 3rd because I was putting socks on.
By the summer of 2001, at the ITU Age Group World Championships, I’d honed my transition skills to the point where I had a top-10 T1 time. To this day, while I rarely win my age group, I always strive to be the fastest in T1 and T2. At last year’s Boulder Sunrise race, I was over a minute faster in T1 and T2 than anyone in my age group, and just a few seconds off the overall winner.
How to do transitions somehow is one of the most controversial subjects in triathlon, usually because no one actually teaches transitions, people just develop their own ad-hoc, sometimes shambolic, other times dangerous, ways of doing it.
WHY BE FAST IN TRANSITION?
If I told you that you could save 90-seconds in your swim for an hour practice you’d be out doing it this afternoon. You just need to apply the same to transition practice. You can save anything from 30-seconds to 2-minutes by having an organized, practiced transition.
WHERE TO START
I’ve always avoided giving coaching advice, mainly because I’m not a coach. My series here is based on pragmatic, practical advice. I’ve demonstrated transition techniques going as far back as 2004 and the two key things I tell people about fast transitions are 1. Always be in control, and, 2. Always be looking up.
No matter how good you get, there will always be other triathletes who make mistakes, didn’t prep their equipment etc. You can find plenty of videos on YouTube with people making fun of bad transitions and transition mistakes, that’s not the point here, it is to give advice and demonstrate some good ways to achieve fast transitions.
Even the best Triathletes could do things better. See “flying leap” to the left – in this picture the guy has almost everything right until he leaves the ground with both feet, this is either going to work well, or take the wind out of him, or worse still, he’ll wobble and a potential crash.
In “over stretched” to the right, he has it almost right, except again, there is that momentary loss of control as both feet are off the ground. In both these examples it was no problem since they were the first out of transition, but it could have been.
RUN WITH THE BIKE
First, learn to run with the bike by holding the saddle. This takes practice. The secret is to find a field or Astroturf area where you can practice. If you are lucky enough to have access to a Football field marked out with 10-yard lines, each 10-yard line to have to change sides, this will teach you how to steer your bike.
Running with the saddle put’s you behind the front wheel and the pedals. You have control of two thirds of the bike, and generally the front will follow the direction and lean of the bike. Compared to running by holding the handlebars, where you only have control of the front wheel. Holding the saddle allows you to stand up straight, aids breathing, and most importantly allows you to see ahead. Running using the handlebars almost always requires being hunched over, and if the bike or back wheel hit something, you have every chance of the pedal hitting the back of your leg.
I absolutely prefer pre-mounting shoes on pedals. This picture to the right is me back in 2004 at a sprint race, perfectly executing the running mount. I like to pre-mount because:
- I use Look cleats.
- I use a 2-inch block on the bottom of my right shoe to even up my legs.
- If you pre-mount, and your transition run includes muddy run, you won’t get your cleats clogged up and not be able to clip-in.
The downside is you can pick up dirt and gravel, but this will mostly come off before you put feet in shoes.
When you run out of transition, cross the mount line and run 10-20ft beyond it, especially in an Ironman, where at least here in the USA pre-mounted shoes are not allowed. Carry your shoes in one hand, run out holding the bike by the saddle in the other; away from the carnage that can be the actual mount line, stop on one side and take time to put your shoes on and then mount.
For a fully-fledged running mount with pre-mounted shoes, follow these steps, and practice them. Picture Mount 2 and Mount 3
- In transition, Put bike in easy gear
- Mount the shoes in the pedals
- Make sure the pedals/shoes are parallel to the ground, left food forward
- Loop a small elastic band through the rear heel tab on your shoes. If you don’t have a rear heel tab you can either buy longer bands and hook them under Look cleats or find some other place to connect the band to the shoe
- Fasten the other end of the band for the left shoe around the downtube, probably on the front gear mech.
- Fasten the right shoe to the rear gear mech. (or around the lug on the rear stays etc.)
- When you race into T1, helmet on, number belt on, grab the bike and run on the left side of the bike holding the saddle with your right hand – to make this easier I always rack my bike by the bars and NOT the saddle when I can
When you are past the mount line get your stride ready and in one swift move place your left hand on the bars and your left foot on the front pedal
- A fraction of a second later swing your right leg around the back wheel and saddle and onto the right pedal, releasing your right hand from the saddle and grasp the bars (see the pictures, my right hand is still on the saddle for control when the right leg is already on its way around to the pedal)
- Once your foot is on the right pedal start pedaling…. the bands will snap – you need to do this fast enough so you don’t wobble and fall off!
- Pedal down the road until you get to at least 16MPH, at a safe point reach down put your left foot in the shoe
- Pedal again to regain momentum
- When safe reach down and put your right foot in and you are done.
If you are racing out to Boulder Reservoir, you don’t have to complete this until you are past the gate and before the hill. Don’t try to get your feet in the shoes before the first turn after transition.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
It really does. Don’t think you are going to show up on race day and do a running mount without practicing it a dozen or so times.
For the practice, you just need your bike, helmet, shoes and 20-24 1-inch elastic bands and a bucket. The bucket is needed as a transition stand; a chair could also be used. You attach the bands to the shoes either by the small heal loop, or if your shoes don’t have one, the small heel raise on most shoes. Then attach the band to somewhere that will hold the shoes parallel while you run with the bike.
You then rest the bike against the bucket, walk back 50yds, sprint to the bike, helmet on, grab the bike run forward at least 50yds and then step on in a controlled fashion, don’t leap. Cycle for a short distance; get off; walk back; reset your equipment; go back and do it again and again and again until you can make a faultless smooth transition from running to cycling, not stops. It’s important to have a decent run either side of the bike to simulate race conditions.
Once you can do this, you can then go out on the street somewhere quiet and practice getting your feet in your shoes and doing them up. This has to be done at a reasonable speed 14-18mph, no 8-10mph wobbles please!
Again, even if you decide not to do a flying dismount, and prefer to stop, unclip, and run with your shoes on, run holding the bike by the saddle.
Coming back in is basically the opposite….
- Well before the dismount line, remove your right foot from the shoe, keep pedaling
- Remove your left foot from the shoe
- Pedal to the dismount line and just before getting there swing your right foot over the crossbar
- Standing on your left foot and gliding in with your right foot tucked behind your left…
- When you get to the dismount line, drop your right foot, then your left
- Let go of the bars with your right hand, grab the saddle
- Let go with your left hand and run holding the saddle…
Again, practice this until it becomes one single, fluid and smooth transition.
Whatever you do, don’t do what my friend Carlton did, having spent a couple of hundred bucks on an aero helmet, he crossed the finish line and came to a complete standstill as he pressed the lap button on his Garmin, negating the benefit of the aero-helmet.
We both got 2nd in our age group, my transition times were 1:18/1:37, Carltons 2:20/2:58. If Carlton had my transition times he would have won his age group.
Yeah, almost never ever wear them now. Lesson learned. Look at the numerous videos of Lance Armstrong at the 2012 IM 70.3 Texas. If socks are good for Lance….
I do use socks for the longer races. Well I can’t make up my mind about socks for half-distance, and for full-distance sitting in the changing tent and putting socks on isn’t a big deal.
So, if for a race you are not sure about socks, either because of distance, new shoes, etc. put your socks together with your running shoes in transition. Off the bike, into your shoes and out of transition with your socks in your hands.
Even if you want to do this in an Olympic distance race you’ll be better off sat on a curb 100yds from transition than you will be trying to get them on in transition, especially busy, packed ones.
For half-distance, I tend to treat transitions just like sprints, fast out, fast in, fast out, no socks. The first sign of any foot pain, sit on a curb and put my socks on. Looks odd, but assuming you have elastic laces it really doesn’t cost you much time. And anyone I’ve taught this trick too and timed in and out of transition is always able to put the socks on quicker sat on the side of the road than stumbling around in transition!
GETTING IT DONE
No matter how many times you race, eventually something will go wrong.
This was me back in 2009, I came into the dismount line in the lead, looked down and my bike computer said 24MPH, even I can’t run that fast, I was standing on one shoe ready to dismount, pulled on the brakes and this was the result.
Don’t be like Mark! Slow down before dismounting.
Finally, transition fast!