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.
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.