Free Time

This piece was written for TriNews in April 2005

In my last Tri News item I wrote that power was equivalent to speed across the ground.  In Triathlon, however, there is much more to fast times than speed across the ground.  This article takes a look at some of the other things that can contribute to, or detract from, fast times.

For most triathlons the total race time is the aggregate of:

  1. The time it takes to get up to swimming speed from your position on the startline
  2. The time taken to swim the distance which includes:
    1. negotiating the opposition
    2. negotiating the course (turns, buoys etc.)
    3. negotiating currents, tides and waves
  3. The time taken to exit the water
  4. The time taken to travel from the water to your bike
  5. The time taken to remove your wetsuit, goggles and swim hat
  6. The time taken to put on your helmet and possibly sunglasses
  7. The time taken to put on your cycling shoes
  8. The time taken to put on or collect anything else that you want to take on the bike
  9. The time taken to run with your bike to the mount line
  10. The time taken to mount your bike and get up to speed
  11. The time spent riding your bike which includes:
    1. the time spent pedalling
    2. the time spent not pedalling (cornering, descending, braking…)
  12. the time spent dismounting
  13. The time taken to run with your bike from the dismount line to your spot in transition
  14. The time taken to rack your bike
  15. The time taken to remove your cycling shoes
  16. The time taken to remove your helmet
  17. The time taken to put on your running shoes
  18. The time taken to collect and put on anything else that you want to take on the run
  19. The time taken to run out of the transition area
  20. The time taken to complete the run which includes:
    1. running on the flat
    2. running uphill
    3. running downhill
    4. running round corners
    5. taking (food and) drink
    6. any time spent walking or stopped

Admittedly this list doesn’t really indicate that well over 95% of the total time is spent swimming, cycling and running but it does show just how many other opportunities there are to lose or gain time. 

Shaving a few seconds from a swimming, running or cycling PB can be pretty tough and the better you become, the harder it gets.  Why waste those precious few seconds catching up with the guy who dropped you in the transition area?  or on a descent? or in the mêlée at the start of the swim? or round one of the turns?  or when you went off course?

Doing most of the things on the list above a little faster, and getting faster race times as a result, doesn’t require you to be fitter or stronger or more talented – or to spend any money.  It just requires a bit of thought, a bit of practise and a bit of preparation. 


It's easy to incorporate some practise into your regular training sessions:  Swimming with your head up to navigate, starting in deep water, running with your bike, jumping on and off your bike, taking your feet in and out of your cycling shoes on the move, putting your running shoes on quickly, taking food and drink while cycling & running…

Some practise is best done as specific training sessions:  For example transition practice – especially getting your wetsuit off (though you can practice with cycling tights) – and open water entry and exit.  You probably won’t get a PB if you puncture but a bit of practise can cut the time lost to a couple of minutes.

Some pre-race preparation is the same for every race:  Forgetting to put the right things in your bag before you leave home can leave you unprepared before and during the race (and after the race, which might not impact your result but might affect your subsequent races).  Besides the obvious stuff our kitbag always includes an assortment of things like talcum powder, Vaseline, insulating tape, elastic bands, scissors, safety pins, a small towel, spare goggles & swim hat, spare inner tubes & tyre levers, allen keys, screw drivers, a penknife, a track pump, cycle lubricant, plasters, polythene bags…

Some pre-race preparation is race specific:  Knowing the course and the transition areas and planning exactly what you are going to do in the race will make sure that there are no time-wasting surprises or confusion. 

Hmmm, a lot of questions.  Where should you look for the best answers? 

Besides resorting to common sense it’s a good idea to take a careful and critical look at what other people do.  The best people to watch are the elites – they have to be fast through transition because in draft legal races a couple of seconds lost in transition might mean missing a group on the bike leg and any chance of a good result.  There is also much to learn from watching non-elites – even beginners and novices. 

Next time you go to an event take a look at how everyone else has set up their bike & kit in transition.  Watch what they do before the start of the race.  Find time before or after your race to watch some of the other categories racing through the transition areas. 

When there is triathlon on the TV don’t just watch it: Video it.  Once it’s recorded you can go through it in detail and watch what really happens in the transition area.

Tim Williams - April 2005


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