I’m just a beginner. Why do I care about transitions?

Beginners at the sport often think that transitions are something that concerns only elite athletes with the amazing flexibility to do flying mounts onto their bicycles and then reconfigure half of their bike components while they are riding. But just like the other legs of the sport, it is a part that we can all work at and improve. And there are reasons you should do so, regardless of your level in the sport. Here are five of them.

1. It’s a unique part of our sport

One of the most fun things you can do as a triathlete is confirm your friends’ perceptions that you are, at the least, a little bit off kilter. This can be a lot of fun at cocktail parties. They already think you are a little odd for doing a long distance sport, but they know other people who do long distance sports. Mention that you are actually doing three long distance things in a row, and you will get a raised eyebrow. And one of them is swimming, mostly in open water. If you live in Saint Louis, you are the only person they know who does this. Throw in that you spent a gazillion dollars on a bicycle that, functionally, does the same thing as the Schwinn ten speed they may have had (or equivalent, given their age), and they are on the other side of the room.

Now for the coup de grace. Mention that you do all of this without a break, i.e., that the clock never stops from the time you start until the time you finish. Tell them that you have slip-on running shoes and run without socks, because who has time to deal with socks and shoelaces? For good measure, mention questionable hygienic practices and they have probably beat a hasty retreat out of the room, if not the building.

Doing multiple leg sports is merely crazy. Obsessing about getting from one leg to the next quickly is peerless.

2. It’s free time!

My favorite analogy for time spent in transition is golf. A 350 yard drive and a six inch putt each count the same. In triathlon, a second spent in the run and a second spent in transition count the same.

And you think this doesn’t add up? Look at it this way. If you do the minimal things to improve your transitions – the topic for another time! – you will likely save 30 seconds. If you are doing a sprint triathlon, that means you can run 10 seconds slower per mile and finish with the same time. Ten seconds per mile is a lot, independent of where you are in the pack. It can make a difference.

And you don’t need to make the argument that you “need your heart rate to come down”. It already does, you probably have a heart rate monitor telling you that. And it’s just going to go back up again. Your mileage may vary, that’s between you and your coach, but for most people, rest isn’t something you need in the middle of a race.

3. Transitions are something you can control

Some parts of a race may not go well. There are environmental and physical things that you can’t control – or maybe you could have, but it’s a bit late for that now (think “deferred bike maintenance”). And things can go wrong in transition (which is also why you practice). But you know that for the most part, the transition is something you can control, because it is based on organization, concentration and practice.

In baseball, the saying is “defense never slumps”. Neither does being prepared for transitions. I have had races where I literally said, “The only thing that went right were the transitions. But they were great transitions, best in my age group. And I’m proud of them!” And working those transitions, even when the race isn’t going well, reminds me of a race day mantra: “It’s a long race and you never know what may happen later. Don’t give up!”

4. You can invest in improving it

This goes very much along with transitions being something you can control. Transitions take practice. You can work on very basic and simple things to start, maybe dealing with laceless shoes, and organizing your sunglasses in your helmet. Or tossing your wetsuit to make certain it is out of the way. But as you practice and get your organization down, you can add more skills – maybe dealing with those shoes and your sunglasses/helmet at the same time. Start simple, and then work on improving it.

5. You can feel good about yourself

True story. When I did my first Ironman™ 70.3, my wife was onsite and was posting my progress on Facebook. She posted that my second transition time was three minutes faster than I had been projecting. A friend of mind commented “he’s going to be feel very good about that because he has been working hard on those”. When I read the comment later, that really got my attention. I had not thought about it before but she was right: by golly, I felt good about working hard on that aspect of the race, and then having it go well on race day.

So in summary, it’s never too soon to think about transitions, even as a beginner. It’s part of what makes you a triathlete!

You don’t need to be at the top of your age group to benefit from good transitions!

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