Unless you've got them mastered, transitions are the easiest way to strip 30 seconds to a minute off your race time.
Sure you say, but I don't want to focus time on transitions and whats 30 seconds over a 2-3 hour race. Well, just put into perspective how much work you would need to put in the pool to strip 30 seconds off your 1500m pace. That would take month at the least if your a beginner, a year if your a stellar swimmer. There is a reason my old coach from McGill Annie used to make us practice transitions monthly if not more during the summer. Not always the most exciting practice, but definitely essential and it really payed off.
Following these simple tips, you can strip that time off your transitions in under an hour of practice. These may seem obvious and I'm sure you've all heard them before if you've raced triathlons, however, it never hurts to repeat it.
I wrote this over a few days, so if there are some things that I've missed, leave a comment and I'll make the correction.
Step 1, Keep it Simple
This is the single most important thing to remember for a successful transition.
In my transition all I have on the ground are.
I see so many transitions filled with Fuel belts, extra gels, water bottles, talcum powder for your feet, extra towel, water bucket, extra shirt, shorts, WAY TOO MUCH! Not only will too much stuff confuse you during a transition, but space is often EXTREMELY limited. As you'll see from my photos, it can be cramped, and this was even a generous spot.
I understand the need for a fuel belt if your running a poorly organized marathon with aid stations every 5 km, but for most every race I've ever done, there have been plenty water or Gatoraide.
Try and find a race suit that will accommodate you for all three events, changing is just throwing away time.
Don't get me wrong, I bring power gels and gatoraide on the bike, but I already have them taped to my bike so I don't need to think about them during the race. Taping gels to your aerobars is what I find easiest.
Now that you have slimmed down your transition as much as possible, its time to set up.
Step 2, Layout in Order
Place everything on a bright towel that is easily recognized from a distance in order of use. I put my glasses in my helmet and helmet on aerobars so when I exit the water, I throw on my glasses then put on my helmet (Note: If you are going to do this, make sure to place them in the direction so that you don't have to spin them to get them on. 10 seconds later I have both on, I grab my bike and run out of transition. Its as easy as that.
Bike-Run transition is a little trickier, but use the same premise, I put on socks, so I have them on my shoes, result being I can't put my shoes on without moving my socks. Then I have my shoes resting over my hat (if I'm using it) and race belt. These two last things can be put on while moving.
If you don't have triathlon bike shoes, then you will need to have them on the ground beside your bike. If this is the case, place them in front of your running shoes so that they are most accessible, two reasons for this, you will be using them first and most people during bike dismount can get their feet out of their shoes while on the bike.
You want your swim-bike transition to be the easiest, because you are typically more lightheaded when you exit the water than getting off the bike.
Step 3, Bike Shoes Mount
If you are fortunate enough to have Tri shoes for your bike, the you should have them already clipped in, straps open and in a proper gear before you begin the race. You will need small elastics to strap the shoes to the frame so that when you run they don't fly all over the place and for ease of departure. Personally I find the small black hair elastics, or those that come with vegetables (asparagus, broccoli) to be the best for this, because they aren't very long and snap easily when you apply a little pressure.
I like having my right shoe forward since I run with my bike on my right, but this is all personal preference.
Notice small elastics on the back of my shoes.
Most races I have gone to have required it due to space limitations, but even if not I recommend racking your bike by the seat. The reason for this is because if you rack it by the handle bars, as you pull your bike out, the back wheel will spin backwards and move your pedals snapping the elastics.
Step 4, Sighting Your Spot
One of the most annoying mistakes you can make is getting lost during the race in transition. Sadly I've done this a few times. During the race you come running in, and go straight passed your bike. This is why its really important to RUN throught the transition before the race. Running because things take on a different perspective when your going fast. This goes for the whole transition, finding your bike is great but running the wrong way once you have it is also not good.
I use a really big bright towel that I put under my bike and shoes, this is helpful for two reasons, first being you can spot it from far away, and the second, it can be used to brush your feet quickly as your putting your shoes on. You don't have to pick up the towel to do this, just a quick wipe.
Step 5, Stay relaxed
Racing through transition at full speed will save time, but when your sock is bunched up and gives you blisters 3km into the race, it really won't turn up being worth it. Keep in mind that 5 seconds wasted to make sure things are on track is worth it. I know this goes against everything I've been saying above, but believe me, if your relaxed and thinking clearly you'll probably go even faster.
Step 6, Never Sit Down
I have yet to this day see a fast transition done by someone who sits down. It just isn't done. If you need to sit, its because your not comfortable enough in transition yet.
I googled slow transition and this is the image I found, looks like she is ready for a picnic or something. Titled Kelly Phares-Zook: Lost in Transition
Rumor has it there was a TV and Tea just outside of the framing of the photo.
Step 7, Speed Laces
Elastic laces are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I won't go into them here much, but if your at the point were cutting off little bits of time is important, I highly recommend getting them. They keep your shoes tight, and never come undone since they are usually locked in. (Note: Some people on their first few times using speed laces get blisters because they apply pressure in different spots than normal laces. Practice with them once or twice first).
Step 8, Getting Out Of Your Wetsuit
Big problem people have (leading cause of sitting down after shoes). The easiest way to get out of a wetsuit is to do so immediately. Don't wait till you get to your bike, start taking it off while your still standing ankle deep in the water. The water that has filled the wetsuit acts like a lubricant to remove the suit, and every second spend not getting it off your arms and torso makes it just that much harder since the water is pouring out the ankles. Quick suggestion though, don't take off your bathing cap and goggles first, this makes arms really hard to get out, simply pop your goggles to your forehead. That should seem like a given, but I've made this mistake twice this summer. Sure a bare head makes for better race photos, but does make transitions trickier.
Oils of some type (ex Bodyglide) will help you get out of your wetsuit, but be weary, because if you get oil on your hands, could make for a slippery bike ride. Also you want to avoid petroleum based lubricants such as vaseline because over time this will chew up the suit. If you are among the unfortunate who finds it REALLY hard to get out of your wetsuit, I have known people who cut the calfs up, making the suit simply 3-4 inches shorter, the ankle holes are much bigger and easier to get out. Lauren Groves does this, however, with the price I paid for my suit I'm reluctant to actually cut into it.
Thats it. Those are my keys to transition. Using these techniques, excluding the time it takes to get to your bike (Variable due to the race), transitions shouldn't take more than 30 seconds.
Good luck in your last races of the summer.