The sport of triathlon is known to consist of three separate events: swimming, cycling and running. However, any triathlon veteran is likely to agree that the sport would be more aptly named a quadathlon, since “transitioning” plays an important and often pivotal role in the race.
It has been said that a triathlon cannot be won in the swim, but it can be lost there. The same holds true for the transition area, a designated “secure” area that all triathletes move through twice during a race. While I regularly train for the swim, bike and run legs, I don’t spend nearly enough time perfecting my transitions and, as a result, have given up more than one podium spot due to inefficiencies in this area.
The first transition, or “T1,” takes place after the swim, when athletes ditch caps, goggles and sometimes wetsuits in favor of helmets, sunglasses and bikes. The second transition, “T2,” occurs after the bike leg when helmets and bike shoes are exchanged for visors and running flats and bikes are returned to the rack.
In fact, the transition area plays such a key role in the sport of triathlon that entire workshops are devoted to detailing all that is required and recommended in T1 and T2. I recently spoke with a woman who is preparing for her first triathlon and she said she wasn’t nervous about her upcoming race until after the workshop, which she described as “overwhelming,” a common sentiment expressed by newcomers to multisport.
However, transitioning eventually becomes just another part of the routine. Athletes learn from experience what is necessary, such as goggles and fluids, and what is extraneous, such as socks or watches, as well as what is required, such as helmets and race numbers and what is prohibited, such as iPods and pacers.
Once the basics are mastered, it’s perfecting the technique that is important; practice is the key. If you’ve never worn a wetsuit before, it’s advisable to try removing it a few times before race day as the clingy neoprene is surprisingly difficult to peel off. And, as with any sport, never experiment with anything new on race day. If you’re used to riding with cycling gloves, wear them; the handlebars and brakes may feel unusually slippery without them.
To shave seconds off transition time, some triathletes start cycling without shoes, opting to slip into them while on the move. Similarly, what has been referred to as a “flying dismount” is sometimes seen at triathlons, where athletes remove their feet from their shoes prior to the transition area and leap off their still-moving bike sans footwear. After five years of competing in triathlons, I have yet to master this stunt. As it is, I’m incredibly wobbly and uncoordinated on and off the bike; the last thing I need to do is crash while attempting this acrobatic feat.
In triathlon, as in life, every person must experiment with what works, what doesn’t, and what is worth the risk.