Aero frames work. They minimize drag, which translates to a substantial time savings. The same goes for deep-section wheels, teardrop helmets and an effective position. But you already know all that. Whether you’re looking for the last little bits of improvement on top of an already decked-out gear collection or to save seconds without clearing out your bank account, these hard-earned tips from the sport’s most knowledgeable and experienced speed experts can make you faster.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
Transition and Footwear
Having the right gear is key, but sometimes adding too much junk can be just as detrimental as lacking a necessity. 2012 U.S. Olympian Sarah Groff lives by this rule for short-course races: When in doubt, leave it out. “Think about what you absolutely need for the race and eliminate everything else from your transition area,” she says.
Managing your equipment makes a bigger difference in transition times than simply having the right stuff. Groff shares four techniques to make sure she transitions without a hiccup.
1. Meet your gear halfway. “The fastest ITU athletes tend to bend at the waist to put on their gear. That way, the equipment travels less distance and your body stays more compact and coordinated.”
2. Practice until it becomes second nature. “Before racing with a new helmet, I repeatedly practice putting it on and taking it off. While I probably look ridiculous buckling and unbuckling for five minutes straight, it’s better than fumbling around with a new clasp while my competitors ride away from me.”
3. Dress on the move. “If you tend to fumble with your sunglasses in T1, leave them on your bike and put them on when you settle into a pace. Likewise, grab your belt and hat in T2 and put them on while you are running.”
4. Think it through and move slowly. “Part of your pre-race planning should always include visualization of the transition flow. Let your own patterns and the setup of the transition zone help form your decisions. When athletes try to transition too quickly, mistakes become far more likely. Slowing down a hair means less fumbling and fewer mishaps.”
With a little practice, a pair of tri-specific cycling shoes is one piece of hardware that can save real time. “Keep your cycling shoes clipped into your pedals and secure them with rubber bands,” says Groff. Loop the band through the shoe’s heel tab and around part of the bike to hold them upright. Without the bands, they will drag on the asphalt and can trip you up. “Ride with your feet on your shoes until you have settled into a rhythm and have clear roads.”
Donning the right pair of running shoes in T2 can be even more important. The extra spring that we all feel in race flats isn’t psychological—there is a real, measurable difference. And while it doesn’t take research to understand that light shoes save energy, a group of scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder have measured the precise value of shaving a few ounces off a shoe. According to a 2012 study conducted by a team of biomechanics researchers led by Roger Kram, Ph.D., oxygen consumption required to run 8-minute mile pace decreased by 1 percent when shoe weight dropped by 3.5 ounces. Translated to actual shoes, this study reveals that switching from New Balance’s 1080v3 cushioned trainers to the race-specific NB 1600 reduces oxygen consumption by 1.5 percent—a substantial difference.