It takes time, effort, training and equipment to reach a personal record and improve your times during each stage of the race. However at some point you will peak as your fitness level reaches a plateau. In fact, there will likely be many times during the season when your training performance may flatten and improvement becomes incremental. At this time it would be easy to consider what is happening as an irreversible downturn in your ability and performance. However, there is another aspect of the triathlon where you can improve your time that is beyond the level of fitness. This is found in the transitions.
The transition is the process of changing from one discipline to another in areas reserved for the bike, clothing and any other needs for the next stage of the race. This is universally accepted in the tri world as T1, the swim-to-bike transition and T2, the bike-to-run. At this moment you may consider it frivolous to even mention the transition so why bother talking about something so basic? Let’s find out why…
Excelling in swimming, biking or running is dependent not only on physical strength and ability but also on brain function. Athletes must be focused as any condition that affects the brain or nervous system can hinder your ability to perform at your best. When in a new situation the body responds to the presence of a fear or stress which can trigger the brain into a fight-or-flight response. Present is fear, anxiety or upset which causes the mind to be distracted just at the time when specific focus is necessary. Another important point is that during periods of fear and anxiety muscles require more oxygen and glucose which will affect your performance in later stages of the race.
It is in these moments that accidents can happen as your full attention is not on the transition movements. Equipment, clothing or accessories can be mis-handled or damaged. Your foot can slip out of the shoes, clothing can get snagged, your glasses can fall off forcing you to use your hands normally used for balance or movement of the bike and could lead to a mishap.
The good news is that you can introduce yourself to this new experience while you are setting up your transition area prior to the start of the race. When placing the gear on the ground practice holding each piece of gear to become familiar with the feeling and texture of the item. Practice putting on the shoes, shirt, glasses or helmet in the order that will used during the race. It is clear that you have put on your bike helmet thousands of times before however on race day do it consciously and purposefully with the intention of having it happen with similar ease during the race. Hold it in your mind that this is the first time you have ever touched a helmet.
Practice lifting the bike out of the rack being careful to notice the best placement for your hands to safely lift the bike. It is not uncommon to have little room to step when between bikes parked in the rack. Jog a few steps in bare feet on the artificial turf to get the feel of the foreign surface. Again, this is a new situation and when in a hurry with a distracted focus injury can happen or time can be lost.
When you are in a race where transition equipment is placed in numbered bags at the staging area practice opening the bag and pulling out your equipment to become familiar with the movements in the unfamiliar area. Remember, even though you have changed in transition areas many times before it is important to recognize that you have never done this transition in this race before. It is a totally new experience for the mind and the body.
The purpose of transition awareness is to have the mind continue to be in a calm place. When practicing the movements prior to the start of the race the mind is introduced to the new environment and experience. The mind then approaches the transition area on race day with a re-assurance of having been there before and that all is good. This calmness and certainty is then brought to the next experience of riding the bike or beginning the run and will certainly bring a smile knowing that you have improved your time with little effort.