Race Tips: Ways to shave off a few seconds

(At the end of this section you will find a summary of all of the video links on this page)


Shaving: Speaking of ways to shave off a few seconds (hyuck-hyuck) it only makes sense to start here.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, getting slick is said to make you feel more slippery in the water, and could result in a better swim time.  Men, if you already look like a member of  ZZ-Top, it will DEFINITEY make for a quicker swim. Personally, I’ve yet to try this one.  When I miss a major victory by a nano-second I might consider it though.

Wetsuit Removal: If you wear a wetsuit during the swim it eventually must come off, otherwise you’ll be in for a really hot (and weird) bike ride.  As you exit the water, go ahead and start taking off your wetsuit.  If you have on a long sleeved wetsuit, take off your cap and goggles first.  Next, work your suit down to your waist. Your sleeves will now be turned inside out,  and if you had your goggles and cap in your hands when you did this they should now be secured snugly inside your sleeves (unless you forgot to let go of them).  For an example of what this looks like, check out this VIDEO.  Don’t try to break into a full out sprint the second you emerge from the water, your legs have had a nice long swim to forget what it’s like to be upright so it may take them a few seconds to start working again.

If you have a particularly long run to T1 in front of you, consider taking your wetsuit off completely before you get there. Why???  Well, this is a debatable tactic.  It will increase your swim split, but the assumption is that you are concerned with your overall time, and besides, your T1 time will be shorter.  So what is the advantage of taking it off early?  A wetsuit is easiest to take off when it’s wet.  The suit keeps you warm by trapping a layer of water between the inside of the suit and your skin.  This layer of water can also act as a type of lubricant when it comes to stripping the suit off.  The more water you squeeze out during the run and the dryer the suit gets, the harder it will be to get it off.

Some people also like to modify their suits, such as making the leg openings a bit larger.  Use extreme caution if you try this.  You will likely void any warranty that came with your suit, and if you don’t get it right you could also destroy the suit. We recommend consulting your wetsuit manufacturer before even thinking about this one, and ultimately we recommend the less invasive tactics to save time during the swim. One final note; don’t worry about trying to look graceful during all of this, it’s just not going to happen.  There’s a reason many people call this part of the race the “clown parade.”


Mounting the Bike: Shoes on your bike and the Flying Squirrel

If you watch the pros, you will notice that they practically always have their cycling shoes already clipped to their bike when they leave T1. Then, once on the bike, they slip their feet into their shoes.  It looks so effortless.  This must be the quickest way, right?  Be careful, if you try it for the first time during a race it can be the quickest way to end your race.  This really does take a lot of practice to do well.  Think (and practice) long and hard before trying this one.  It can arguably save you a few precious seconds if done well, but if flubbed it can really cost you time, and dignity.

So you’ve decided to go this route you daredevil you?  In that case, here is one way you can practice with reduced risk.  Place your bike on a stationary trainer and practice getting your feet in the shoes while pedaling.  Do this over and over and over until you think you can do it in your sleep. Then do it some more. DO NOT practice the flying mount this way.  You could hurt yourself, or overshoot your bike and take out a family member or pet.  Safety first!

VIDEO (Youtube): Swim to Bike Transition with Gale Bernhardt.  This is a great video with an on-screen timer showing you how to cut your T1 time by almost 3/4.

VIDEO (Youtube): Here is a helpful video from Coach Eric Sorensen of Principle Fitness, filmed during a presentation to the Annapolis Tri-Club. Features the infamous flying squirrel mount, not for the faint at heart. (video starts with wetsuit removal and moves to bike mount)

Drink and Ride: You’ve just come out of the swim and you are parched.  Why not take a break in T1 for a lovely beverage? You could, but you may lose valuable time in the process.  It may be tempting to enjoy that Nestea moment while chilling out in T1, but don’t forget, this is still a race.  You’ve presumably made it through the entire swim without drinking (not counting however much pool/ lake/ seawater you may have ingested), so another minute won’t really make a difference.  Go ahead and get on your bike, get yourself up to speed, and then take a drink.  You’ve just saved yourself several seconds, and expended less effort as well!

Setting up your transition area: Sometimes called the 4th discipline of triathlon, the transition area is a great place to gain an advantage over the competition. An efficiently laid out transition area is one of the easiest ways to pick up free time.  Invest the necessary time before your race to practice setting up your transition, and then go through the actual motions of putting on your gear. This is something you can even do in your living room.  Just watch out for obstacles if you practice running to your transition spot indoors. You may encounter obstacles along the way to T1 on race day, but scattered pieces of Mr. Potato Head are not likely to be among them.

Pictured is a typical transition setup.  In race conditions, this will be right beside your bike.  Try not to be a space hog though, others may show up later to set up as well, so be considerate.  Exactly which way you orient your bike and how you plan to exit T1 will also have an effect on your set up. The basic principle is to keep it streamlined and logical.  Also, as an added help in finding your bike once you emerge disoriented from the swim we recommend a loud and unique towel.  Sure, it may not go with your team kit, but you might be the only 6’-4” guy there with a Smurf towel or the only mom sporting a Hulk Hogan beach throw.

Lay out your gear in the reverse order you plan to put it on.  If the last thing you will put on before heading out on the bike is your shoes, put those down first, then helmet, and so on.  If there is enough space, I like to leave a bit of unused towel facing the side I will first approach from.  That way, if my feet have collected any debris along the way from the swim exit I can use that bit of towel to wipe them off.  If you are participating in a triathlon with a beach swim and your feet will be getting sandy, you might consider placing a container of water at the foot of your transition area.  The large plastic boot storage bins you can buy at most –marts (choose your prefix) tend to work quite well.  Even if you are competing in your very first triathlon and are not yet in the condition you hope to eventually be in, this is one part of the race where you can still have the fastest time!

Socks: Love ‘em or Leave ‘em: Triathletes have a love/hate relationship with socks.  I think some triathletes would refuse to wear socks even if the run was a double marathon in Siberia, simply on principle.  For most athletes though, the question of whether or not to go sockless has to do with how long the run will be, and how much time they have given their feet to adapt to this practice.  If you choose to ride and run with socks, there is a quicker way to put them on.

When you are setting up your transition area, put on both socks.  Next, fold each sock down so the cuff hangs past your toes.  Now, fold the cuff back up one more time.  Once you have done this, carefully take the sock off, being sure to leave it in its “folded” form, and carefully place it in your shoe.  The principle behind the practice is simple: wet feet are sticky.  If your feet are still wet once you get to T1 and you try to pull your sock on the traditional way, from the cuff, you are left with a lot of sock to drag over a lot of wet foot.  On the other hand, with the folded sock your toes go straight to the end of the sock from the start.  Then with just a quick yank on the top of the cuff your socks are on and you’re ready to roll!


Carry your baggage: You can burn a lot of time in T2 doing unnecessary things – taking an energy gel, putting on your sunglasses, race belt, etc.  If it’s something you can grab and put on while you are running, that’s free time you’ve just picked up.  There is no rule that says you have to have your race number on when you exit T2, so don’t lose precious time fiddling with it in transition while others pass you by.  The less time you can spend in transition the better!


  • VIDEO (Youtube): Swim to Bike Transition with Gale Bernhardt.  This is a great video with an on-screen timer showing you how to cut your T1 time by almost 3/4.
  • VIDEO (Youtube): Here is a helpful video from Coach Eric Sorensen of Principle Fitness, filmed during a presentation to the Annapolis Tri-Club. Features the infamous flying squirrel mount, not for the faint at heart. (video starts with wetsuit removal and moves to bike mount)

JUMP to next section, Bike Links.