How to Shave 5 Minutes Off Your Sprint Triathlon Time

If we were to suggest you should reduce five minutes off your triathlons, most people immediately think of training harder so they can go faster.  Training is core to your triathlon experience, and we don’t disagree.  But what happens when you have hit the peak of your training, or you have no hours left in the week to get more workouts in, or more intensity in?

We think that we’ve found a way for anyone to shave five minutes off their sprint triathlon time.

In a typical local sprint triathlon, finding a way to cut five minutes off of your time could easily mean an improvement of 20 to 25 places in the final results.  In a large race, that five-minute improvement could make a 70 place difference.  It almost begs the question, why wouldn’t you do whatever you can to shave those five minutes off your sprint triathlon time?

To be sure, this is no substitute for training your tail off.  If you sign up to do a triathlon, we think you should try to maximize your potential, whether you are a newbie or an elite.  But we also know that for many people, finding a few triathlon hacks to get those extra minutes off will help you have the peace of mind that you did all you could.

Here are our twelve little things to do in order to eliminate those five minutes from your next race.

  1. Find a Good Transition Spot (40 seconds).  Your transition spot is not just a trivial matter — it is basically your homebase for the entire race.  Make sure that you can secure a good spot, and you will easily see 30 seconds fall off of your time (more at a large race).  What is a good transition spot?  That depends on bit on the layout of the race and the transition area. You want to find something that is a bit in the traffic.  The further away from the traffic you are, the further away from your entry and exit points will be as well.  We
    transition area2

    Transition areas can be large, so plan your route and try to snag a better location.

    think that the best transition spots are the ones near the bike-out or bike-in – the areas where you will be exiting or entering the transition area on your bike leg.  This allows you to prevent what could be a clunky run through the transition area with your bike.  It also allows you to have a very easy-access spot while you are tired from either the swim or the bike.  Try not to be flung way back away from the traffic.  While it is calmer back there, it probably is several seconds out of the path you need to be in.

  1. Examine Your Transition Area Exits and Entrances (20 seconds). Taking a good walk-through of your transition area – or two, or three – will help you really understand what needs to happen when you are transitioning.  What’s more, you will be very tired at these stages in the race, so having done it before will likely allow you to be much more direct in your path, even if you are suffering from a little oxygen debt when you are doing it.  Running in circles trying to find your spot is a great way to waste 30 seconds.
  1. Have Your Transition Spot Well-Marked (10 seconds). This goes along with #2 above, but can further shave a few seconds off of your transition.  Being able to spot your transition area from several yards away will make your path much more direct.  We see lots of people tie a balloon to their transition rack, but we prefer the more subtle approach of bringing a brightly-colored towel that will stand out in the crowd, and double as a great way to dry your feet off after the swim.
  1. Create a Quick Escape from your Wetsuit (40 seconds). A bad removal of a tri wetsuit can singlehandedly drop you back in your placings, not to mention be a major momentum-killer.  Using a wetsuit is a bit of an acquired talent, so make sure you have practiced taking your wetsuit off and can do it quickly, even when fatigued.  We recommend a few things when it comes to the wetsuit removal.  First, setup your wetsuit zipper strap so it is looped near your upper back and very easy to grab.  Second, when you are in the final few yards of the swim, pull your wetsuit neckline down and let some water into your torso area.  This will allow the wetsuit to slide off more easily.  Sounds crazy, but it works!  Third, get your wetsuit pulled down to your hip area while you are running to your transition spot.  Doing all of these can really add up – we think an easy 30 to 40 seconds for most age group triathletes.
  1. Use a Triathlon Top that Zips (20 seconds). This applies to triathletes who are not racing in a triathlon suit, which alleviated the need for a separate top.  We like a triathlon top that has a zipper in the front, either to zip all the way down or at least a good 6-8 inches.  Why?  Thinking about how wet you will be after the swim.  A wet body and a shirt with a small neckhole means that you will be wrestling to slide the top on for a few seconds.  It is no exaggeration to say that we have personally lost 20 seconds trying to right a tri top that gets doubled-up when we attempt to put it on wet.
  1. Put Your Helmet on, and Buckle it, Before you Leave Your Transition Spot (15 seconds). Many triathletes think they will save time by buckling their helmet while they are moving.  It doesn’t work.  You need two hands, and it only takes a couple seconds if you do it right.  Most race officials will stop you from mounting the bike if they notice that you have not buckled properly, and that will cost you valuable seconds.
  1. If You Use Socks, Have Them Rolled up and Ready (20 seconds). Most newer triathletes wear socks, which we recommend.  Just be sure they don’t slow you down in the transition.  Have them inside-out, rolled-up so you can simply stick your toes in them and then unroll them up your foot.  Like the shirt issue,
    gel on bike

    Plan your bike ride accordingly, including getting the right nutrition setup correctly.

    your feet will be damp even if you try to dry them.  Wrestling with your socks can easily eat up 20 seconds – we have seen it happen.

  1. Attach Your Garmin to Your Bike (20 seconds). If you use a watch for timing yourself such as a Garmin or Fitbit, have it mounted (or simply buckled) to your bike, instead of trying to put it on your wrist during the ride or before.  You can get all the info you need with the watch hanging from your handlebars, and you can always put it on your wrist easily during the run.  We have seen many triathletes fiddling with their Garmin or other timing watch while going about 5 mph for the first minute of the bike leg.
  1. Tape Your Nutrition to your Bike’s top Tube (20 seconds). This is also in the category of not having to slow down on the bike to do things, like #7 above.  If you use gelpacks or other rapid nutrition, tape them to your bike’s top tube with electrical or other strong tape.  You just top the very top, so that you can take one hand and easily rip the rest off when you need it – already opened and ready to slam.  This will allow you to keep your speed up, something you couldn’t do if you had to dig in your pocket and then use both hands to open the packet.
  1. Use Speed Laces (30 seconds). During Transition 2, most delays tend to be caused by shoes.  There really isn’t that much else that can go wrong.  Having to lace up and tie your shoes is a hassle, and will cause you to lose momentum and even stiffen up a bit.  Use speed laces – they go by many names – Yankzz, Locklaces, etc.
    shoot4

    Use speed laces once and you will probably be hooked forever.

    – and pull your shoes on in mere seconds.  You will be off and running before you know it.

  1. Hydrate Early on the Bike (45 seconds). It is amazing how one forgets to hydrate while on the bike ride – we have done it ourselves.  But getting water in your body, especially early in a bike ride, will help you finish the bike strong and go into the run feeling good.  They key is to try to pound water in the first half of the bike, so it can work its way through your stomach and into your system.  We far prefer this to slamming water in T2, right at the spot where the water will cause stomach cramps on the run.  Drink it during the first half of the ride, and you will be feeling great when you hit the run.
  1. Negative Splits on the Run (15 seconds). We certainly did not invent negative splits – marathoners have been studying them for years.  Having the discipline to start the run just a little slower than you might feel like, but then increasing in speed throughout the race, will likely result in one of the strongest final miles you have had.  You will certainly make that time back up, probably to the tune of 15 seconds or more.

There you have it, 12 steps to shaving five minutes off of your next race.  Best of all, we didn’t even tell you to train more.  Add that to the mix, and you will find yourself finishing in a new league of racers.  It is more than doable.

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