clothing · competition · cycling · running · swimming · triathalon

Approaching Try-a-Tri, TMI, Fear of Transition(s)

triathlonOur try-a-tri in Kincardine, the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, is in less than two weeks.  Because I like to be informed, I consulted quite a few people about how best to prep. And because I have great friends who are generous with their information, I have received loads of info.  Maybe too much.

Gone are the days when, in my ignorant bliss I thought the only thing to be concerned about was training for the three events.  A little swimming here, some running there, with some cycling thrown in.  Not so bad.

But no.  That is not all there is to be concerned about.  And upon reflection, I should have known that.  There are two enormously important things to which I was completely oblivious until very, very recently: clothing selection and, this is the scariest of all, the transitions.

I’ve seen photos of people in motion, running from the water to the transition area, barefoot with their wetsuits around their waists.

I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to visualize the transition. See yourself running from the water to your station, removing your wetsuit (another thing I hadn’t thought about), drying off, pulling on your shorts, putting on your shoes, sunglasses, and helmet, getting the bike ready, hopping on, and going.

But if you’ve never even seen a transition area, it’s really hard to picture all that.  And unlike the Ironman, I doubt there will be “wetsuit peelers” at the swim-bike transition to help us peel the suits off.  But let me not get ahead of myself.

One of the key things, I’ve learned, about a good transition, is to have your transition area set up properly, for maximum efficiency.  I read that an experienced triathlete can do the swim to bike transition in less than a minute, bike to run in less than 30 seconds. But in less competitive rosters, the average times are much longer — two minutes for the swim to bike, 45 seconds for the bike to run.

From what I understand, each competitor has an area where they rack their bike and can set up their stuff.  The helmet should be hung on the handlebars with the open side up, sunglasses inside with arms open, ready to be put on.  If you have a water bottle for the bike, it should be in its holder. If there is space to place a towel on the ground beside the bike, place a towel, folded in half, on the ground beside the bike. Shoes on the end of the towel, laces open or elastic quick-tie laces in, socks tucked loosely into shoes.  T-shirt should be on the towel with the race number pinned onto the front of it (or have a race belt on the towel, number attached. You’ll want another towel for a quick dry-off after the swim.

This set-up requires a number of apparel decisions.  Do I go with the quick-tie laces?  I initially thought that, since I am not changing shoes, I would just stick with my regular laces.  But a local triathlon coach told me that lace tying can be an issue when you’ve come out of the cold lake.  Your fingers just aren’t as dextrous as usual and tying shoelaces can be a frustrating challenge.  So yes, elastic laces, here I come.triathlon_transition

What am I wearing under my wetsuit and what am I changing into? Since I have no idea what my future holds on the triathlon front, there is no reason to invest in any special clothing (other than the laces) like a triathlon suit (as much as I like the look of them).  This weekend I did a wetsuit test run and wore my running bra and running undies under the suit.  It felt comfortable and it was easy to swim.  On race day, I’ll do the same, and pull on shorts and a running top over these undergarments at the transition.

Even the decision to wear a wetsuit is crucial. I’d never considered this until I read on the race page that you could rent wetsuits.  Sam told me her biggest mistake in a previous triathlon was not trying out the wetsuit ahead of time. I considered forgoing the wetsuit, but the race page for our triathlon keeps noting the water temperature in Kincardine as “COLD!!” with no actual temperature. It was like that all winter, but it’s now July 2, and it’s STILL like that.  As I said, I’m not investing in any special gear, so I am using a regular wetsuit. I was worried about mobility and how it might affect my stroke. I tested it out this weekend. No problem with mobility in the suit, but I can surely attest that Lake Huron is COLD!!

So:  Wetsuit–CHECK. Quick-tie laces–CHECK.  Running underwear—CHECK.  Old standby running shorts, shirt, socks, and shoes: CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, CHECK.

There is an order of things at the transitions.  My friend Chris kindly shared a tip sheet that she got from her triathlon training group. It’s two pages and is responsible for my sense of panic as I realized how much there is to think about.  If the set-up is good, the transition should go well.  The tipsheet recommends leaving the goggles and swim cap on until you’ve finished stripping off the wetsuit at the bike. Step on the towel you’ve laid out on the ground to dry your feet.  Pull on your socks and put the shoes on (I’ll have to remember to pull my shorts on first).  Then the shirt, sunglasses, and helmet (CHIN STRAP DONE UP!! — their emphasis].  You run your bike to the “mount-dismount” line, cross the line, find an area to the side [? that’s what it says but I’m going to have to ask about that], mount and ride.  That’s transition 1.

Transition 2 has its own complications.  You have to get off the bike AT the line; no running through the line at your fastest speed like in a bike race (not that I’ve experienced a bike race, but Sam has commented on this difference before).  Take off the helmet, [here’s where those with fancy bikes — not me — will change their shoes], grab your hat, RUN.

That seems easy enough. But then I read about “the heavy leg syndrome.”  Running from a long bike ride is just not the same as running on its own, or from a warm-up walk.  Here’s what can happen, according to this article about mastering the transition from bike to run:

Your free-flowing running gait, which was the hallmark of your style when you ran fresh, is reduced to nothing more than a pathetic shuffle as you struggle to maintain contact with those with whom three minutes earlier you were riding shoulder-to-shoulder.

So last week, I followed the article’s advice and started doing some “brick” training, where I followed a bike ride with a run (I confess that though the bike ride was “moderately long” as suggested, my run was just around the block, just to get a feel for the transition–I’ll do more than that this week). It’s true, your legs feel funny. They want to keep going in circles, like on the bike.

Then there are all the little things.  Spare goggles in case of a strap snap before the swim starts.  Practicing with the wetsuit. Learning to remove it as quickly as possible. This list of dos and don’t includes things like: bring your own toilet paper; bring a bike pump; set yourself a pre-race visual cue, like a ribbon or a balloon or something on your bike, so you can find it quickly after the swim; take your time in the transition [seems counter-intuitive, but I can see how rushing might lead to forgetting something crucial]; don’t try anything new, bring too much, take up more than your allotted space, forget anything important.

So my head is a swimming a bit with all of this pre-triathlon information. Helpful and scary at the same time.

But, as I keep reminding myself, this is for fun. It’s a try-a tri, the point of which is to try something new and see if I like it. So far, the prep has been enjoyable, and, I have to say, just telling people that you’re training for a triathlon is pretty empowering because they are always impressed, always excited for you, and always encouraging.

16 thoughts on “Approaching Try-a-Tri, TMI, Fear of Transition(s)

  1. I use elastic laces for triathlon. They really do make a huge difference. In fact, I’m thinking about switching out all of my shoes to elastic laces because I find they just feel better and I am less likely to have shoelace issues in the middle of the race when I’m wearing them.

    Also the “heavy leg” thing is a trip and a half. I always feel like I’m running through jello after I get off the bike, but now that I’ve done it a few times – and also because I include short brick workouts in my training – I know to expect it so it doesn’t take me by surprise.

    It really sounds like you’ve done plenty of research ahead of time, and so you’re as prepared as you’re going to be without actually doing it. My one piece of advice is to take deep breaths and not to rush your way through everything. Every time I have screwed up, it’s because I tried to rush things, and then I end up losing more time in transition than if I had just handled things deliberately and calmly.

    OH. I almost forgot. When you set up in transition, look for landmarks that will help you identify your rack, like a tree or a balloon or something. It can be really disorienting to run into transition after swimming, and so having a landmark to guide you to your spot can be really helpful.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience when you’re done! I hope you love it as much as I do. It really is so much fun.

    1. Thanks, Caitlin. I like what you’re saying about the laces. I’m definitely going to get some. Everyone who uses them raves about them. I’m going to do a few more brick workouts to really get familiar with the heavy leg thing.

      I like your advice about not rushing. I will try to remember that when the adrenaline of race day has kicked in. And the landmark advice — I just heard that this morning.

      Your positive experiences with it have been really inspiring. Fingers crossed that I enjoy it as much! Thanks for the tips.

  2. The only thing I would recommend is practicing your transition. Out on your lawn or driveway, lean your bike against something (or put it on the ground), and set up your towel. Start from several yards away and run to your transition, and get your stuff on. Bike around the block and then come back and transition to the run. I think a lot of this stuff is personal–things that you read that make sense in theory might not feel right for you. Running through it a few times will probably help you feel better about it, too.

    Several people in my group use milk crates or 5 gallon buckets to carry their stuff, and then they use it as a seat when they put their shoes on. I’m flexible and haven’t had any trouble with shoes, so I don’t bother.

    I like to get to the race way early and set up. I practice coming in from the swim entrance and finding my spot (I usually count racks, but like Caitlin says, sometimes there’s a landmark that helps), then seeing where the bike exit is, where the bike mount line is, and the bike entrance. Then the run exit. Just running through the plan in my head makes me feel better.

    My last tri (last month), I forgot my Gu for the bike! Happily, I had a bar and I set that up in my top-tube container (LOVE that thing!). OH! and I got to the race and was missing a bar-end plug. I asked around and someone had an extra–these are other reasons I like to get their early. If something goes awry, you can usually find people who will help (I have often shared my sunscreen!).

    In my experience, triathletes are very, very friendly and helpful (the majority, anyway). If you start feeling overwhelmed, say so! Usually someone will help you figure something out. I’ve learned that my way of dealing with nerves is to look for someone who seems more nervous and strike up a conversation. I’ve had some great interactions that way.

    I hope you love it!

    1. I will practice the transitions, complete with set-up, a few times.Thanks for that tip. What is Gu and do I need it?!

      1. You don’t need Gu, but you might need a snack of some sort. I can’t remember how long your tri is–but if it’s going to be longer than an hour, you probably want to eat a little something on the bike. I like gels and Gu is a brand name (my favorite are Hammer Gels). People vary widely in what works for them. For example, most people I know love the gummy snacks (sharkies, clif shots, etc.). I can’t stand them. Some people find Gu to be disgusting, but I love them. I have very particular flavor preferences–chocolate, espresso, apple: good; orange, vanilla: okay; bananna: absolutely not. Cookies or fruit can even work. The bar was a little bit of an issue for me, because my nose was running. It was very hard to chew and breathe at the same time.

        Just be sure to practice eating whatever you plan to do at the race. You don’t want to change anything for the race–bad time to find out that something doesn’t agree with you.

      2. Oh, it’s food! I’m thinking I’ll be okay without eating because it’s a short distance event and I doubt I’ll take more than one hour: 375m swim, 12K bike ride, 3K run. But that’s a good thought for longer races.

      3. Food is a good point. Even for smaller races I eat a Gu after the bike leg, or put some powdered electrolyte fuel stuff in one of my water bottles. The distances are short but when you put it all together, you’re out there for anywhere from 1-2 hours. I was shocked by how taxed I felt after my first one.

      4. Vegan note: Gu is not strictly vegan but Cliff shots and Hammer shots apparently are. I use emergen-C powder added to my water bottle for electrolyte replacement when I do hot yoga. Is that the sort of thing you mean, Caitlin?

      5. Emergen-C is just vitamin C, isn’t it? That’s not what she’s talking about. The sports drinks give you some carbs (calories) and some salts, typically (table and usually a little potassium or magnesium, I think). I like Accelerade (it has some protein), but I do fine with Gatorade, too. I prefer it 1/2 strength unless it’s particularly hot. Some people don’t do great with the fructose in some sports drinks (like Gatorade). I lot of the drinks that are marketed as sports drinks now are just sugar water–you want something with a little salt in it (IMO).

        If you’re okay with honey, “Honey Stinger” gels are otherwise vegan. Oh, here’s a list:

      6. Thanks for this. I do avoid honey just to be consistent and because it’s usually pretty easy to avoid. But there seem to be lots of other possibilities. And yes, Emergen-C is mostly vitamin C but it has some other things in it too. I will investigate.

  3. For vegan options, check out Brendan Brazier’s series of Thrive books. He’s the former triathlete/ultramarathoner (and Canadian!) behind the Vega supplement products. He has recipes for homemade vegan gels and electrolyte supplements. I don’t race, but I do cycle relatively long distances and my “fuel” of choice is dates stuffed with coconut oil–a sugar hit followed by longer-burning, easily digested fat. Not very scientific, but it works for me. You may also want to do a bit of research about drinking beet juice before an athletic event.

  4. It’s your first tri. Don’t sweat the transitions so much. This is the time to test out and see what works for you. The idea of a marker for your rack space is a great one, it’s surprising how disorienting you can become after your swim. I have a bright orange towel I drape over my bike and that’s easy to spot. Good luck and remember the most important thing is to enjoy yourself.

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