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Faster Xterra Transitions

By Scott Schumaker

Xterra RaceAt the first Xterra (then called Aquaterra) in 1996, Shari Kain had built a substantial lead on the bike only to be run down in the last 200 yards by Michellie Jones. Kain lost by a mere 12 seconds. Granted, Kain was fading hard, but faster transitions might have secured her the crown.

As this exemplifies, you can very well lose (or win) a race or a considerable amount of time in the transitions. Here are some tips to help you make haste through one of the easiest and most overlooked areas to save time.

1) Bring the right stuff. The night before the race, make sure you have everything you'll need packed and ready to go: wetsuit, goggles, cap, BodyGlide or PAM cooking spray, towel, shoes, helmet, sunglasses, hydration, nutrition, race number, racing outfit, running hat, bike gloves, and, of course, your mountain bike. Some people have a bucket with water to wash their feet off after the swim. (If that doesn't sound inviting, try two water-filled Frisbees instead. They're easier to manage.) Confirming everything is packed will be one less energy-sapping thing to worry about on race morning.

2) Mark your territory. At almost every race there's someone running around helter-skelter trying to find their transition spot. Using a brightly colored towel to mark your territory makes it easier to find your gear. A large beach towel will also provide ample space to spread out your gear and wipe your feet after the swim. Another spot marker: tie a helium-filled balloon next to your bike.

3) Learn all entries and exits. The other classic transition faux pas is heading toward the wrong entry or exit. Know where the swim comes in, where the bike leaves and returns, where the run exits, and the fastest path to each before the gun sounds.

4) Follow the rules. In Xterras, you must buckle your helmet before you get on your bike and leave it buckled until you get off. It is also illegal to ride your bike in the transition area. There is a mount/dismount line at each race. Know exactly where it is. Fumbling any of these will cost time.

5) Don't get tangled in your wetsuit. Cutting an inch or two from the bottom of your wetsuit will speed its removal without sacrificing buoyancy. Putting BodyGlide or PAM on your wrists and ankles also helps. A watch can catch on a wetsuit, so consider placing it under the sleeve.

6) Have your bike set up right. Ensure your bike is in the right gear, one that isn't too hard or easy to pedal when you jump on it. And, everyone likes to mount the bike from a certain side, so set your gear up so you take the bike off the rack from your favorite side.

7) Socks? No socks is faster, but socks will help prevent pace-slowing blisters. If you go no socks, putting baby powder in your shoes will help prevent blisters. If you go with socks, rolling them down to the toe will make them easy to put on.

8) Choose shoes. A newby may want to go with trail running shoes for the bike and run. That'll work and your bike-to-run transition will be faster. However, your feet and calves will fatigue more during the bike, and mountain-bike specific shoes and clipless pedals transfer power much, much better. Either way, your running shoes should have lace-locks or elastic laces, and your mountain bike shoes should have Velcro closures. Having to tie your shoelaces is an unnecessary waste of time.

9) Transition while riding. Slide your biking gloves -- and you will want blister-preventing gloves! -- onto your handlebars. Rubber band your sunglasses to your stem. If there is a long section of smooth pavement before the bumpy trails, consider attaching your bike shoes to your pedals prior to the race. Then put everything on as you ride away from the transition area.

10) Practice. You spend hours swimming, biking and running. Take 20 minutes every week or so to practice transitions, too. And definitely rehearse putting your shoes on while riding if this technique is in your game plan. It's tricky.

Scott Schumaker is a retired Xterra pro racer, who now practices speedy transitions from bed to the coffee machine to the keyboard.

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