What simple things can you do to make yourself a better triathlete on race day? The sport of triathlon is more than just three separate sports. It also involves moving seamlessly from one to the other in the form of transitions or changes. How can you make the change (transition) compliment your state of fitness and allow you to take advantage of time saving methods to gain an advantage over your competitors? There are numerous opportunities to save time on the race course. The following suggestions are just a few to think about.
Review the Course
Whenever possible, review each segment of the course before the event takes place. Even if you can’t train on it, know key areas especially on the bike course such as difficult turns or hills. You can review course maps or GPS tracks from previous years’ races online that may help you on race day.
Review the Transition Area
- Review the route from the swim exit to where your bike is racked and then to the run out area. If there are two separate T/A’s this adds complexity but should still be practiced in the same way.
- Envision your transitions prior to getting there. As you are nearing the end of the swim think about exiting the water and running to your bike. The same goes for the end of the bike. Prepare for the dismount line and your movement to your bike location. This can prove to be more difficult depending on how many bikes are already racked or have not yet returned to transition. The view can be much different from the time you left after the swim.
- Keep your T/A area simple and clutter free.
- Prepare for wetsuit or no wetsuit swim. This can include wearing a full sleeved wetsuit if the water temperature is below 75 degrees or a sleeveless if it is between 75-78 degrees. A wetsuit should ALWAYS be faster and a full suit is fastest. If this is not the case for you then you are not wearing a suit that fits correctly. If the air temperature is colder than the water temperature, it is also beneficial to wear a suit to remain warm while waiting to start the race. If the water temperature is above 78 degrees and wetsuits are not allowed per USAT rules, consider having a swim skin to wear over your race kit. This will be a much faster option then wearing a kit with pockets and also allows you to wear a race number belt while swimming since it will be covered.
- A swim warm up is vital in order to race hard from the starter’s horn. I try to do my swim warmup following the course in reverse and will swim out to the final buoy into the finish exit so that I can see what it looks like before I come to it during the race.
- Swim the shortest, straightest line. Make sure to find an object in the distance to sight on it. Depending on the course this may require several sighting points.
- Be mechanically prepared: Have your bike in working order and know how to change your own tire in case you have a flat on the race course. Make sure that you are in the correct gear to start the ride out of transition. If you are starting on a hill, be ready to be in your small chain ring from the start.
- Knowing the course helps but even if you don’t, look ahead to see where other competitors are preparing to turn or climb a hill.
- Nutrition requirements are important but vary depending on how long you will be racing. Do you really need 3 full 20oz bottles or a camelback on that carbon bike for a 2.5 hour race? Especially if there is a bottle exchange provided on the course.
- Use a number belt and elastic shoe strings with quick slides.
- Pace yourself from the start. It is not about how fast you go but more about not slowing down. Make each mile as close as possible to each other regardless of the race distance. Consistency is important.
- Take aid at every aid station even if it is just a sip or a splash to the body.
- Run to the next runner and then the next until you finally run through the finish line. Since most races consist of wave starts you never know where other competitors are on the course. The last year I qualified for the Hawaii Ironman, the three spots in my age group were separated by only 10 seconds. It’s a time trial, but also a race.
Training will only take you so far. Having knowledge of other ways to save time is like a bonus. If you get the chance to watch the professionals race, pay attention to how the do things. Every detail matters and they practice them over and over because seconds count for them and for you too!
Doug Marocco is a former age group National Age Group and Military Triathlon champion who has been racing in endurance sports for the past thirty plus years as is evident of his USAT (formerly TRIFED) membership #1039.