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Leimkuhler: Tri gear to streamline transition times

If you are contemplating your first triathlon and are unsure what to wear, you are not alone.

In fact, a friend of mine told me that a customer recently came into her athletic wear store wondering what to wear under her wetsuit for a triathlon she is doing in June. It is a valid question, the answer to which is not always simple.

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When I began competing in triathlons more than a decade ago, I had the same question. Trial and error was my teacher and I eventually found a solution that worked for me, but the journey was as long and windy as many of the roads I cycled and ran upon.

During my first few years as a triathlete, I wore a two-piece Speedo swimsuit under my wetsuit. After emerging from the water and stripping off the wetsuit, I struggled to tug a sports bra on over my wet skin and bathing suit.

The struggle was real. Sometimes I would also don a t-shirt and running shorts before hopping onto the bike; sometimes not. In those early years, I had yet to purchase a proper tri bike with clipless pedals, so I also had to wrench my wet feet into socks and running shoes, all the while losing precious minutes on the race clock.

Eventually, I progressed enough as a triathlete to become competitive. The turning point in my tri attire came the day I lost a podium spot because my transition times were too slow. If I couldn’t swim, bike or run fast enough to stand on the podium, I could possibly accept that.

But to lose out because it took too long to change my clothes? Unacceptable.

Like the customer who visited my friend’s store, I also went looking for answers. It was then that I learned about singlets and tri-suits.

A singlet is a triathlon-specific top thought to be comfortable for activities such as cycling or running.

A tri-suit, according to 220triathlon.com, “is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won't have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.”

The male sales clerk at the store I’d ventured into held up these two items and I laughed out loud. What might have been the perfect solution for a man or a prepubescent girl was no way, no how going to work for me. Most triathlons, after all, were family-friendly events, and no full-grown, fully developed woman — in my opinion — was going to do any running in those paper-thin getups without additional support, so I was on my own to figure it out.

Athletic apparel, in all its newfangled quick-dry, wicking microfiber fabrics, has come a long way since its humble all-cotton beginnings.

I decided that what I needed to wear under my wetsuit was the apparel I needed for cycling and running. In other words: cycling shorts and a sports bra, with a singlet on top. So that’s what I did.

With these items on under my wetsuit — and having upgraded to a tri bike with proper pedals — all I had to do was peel off my neoprene outer layer, whip on a helmet, slip my feet into cycling shoes and go.

When I returned to the transition area for the second time, I simply swapped my cycling shoes for running shoes outfitted with elastic no tie laces and ditched the helmet. Streamlining my tri apparel shaved key minutes and seconds off my transition times, helping me to reach my goal of standing on the podium.

I was happy that sloppy, inefficient apparel was no longer holding me back.

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But what works for one person may not work for every person, so I recommend trying different things to discover the solution that is best for you. Here are some additional tips and tricks that may prove helpful:

Anti-chafing balms such as Body Glide, Rocket Pure, and Chamois Butt'r are your friends. Use them copiously and often to reduce friction and prevent blisters. Applied to the wrists and ankles of your wetsuit, and to your feet and shoes, these balms also make wetsuit removal and putting on shoes much easier.

Plastic bags — while not good for the environment — assist with wetsuit application when the foot is placed inside the bag before being shoved through the wetsuit leg. Remove the bag once you have successfully squeezed into your wetsuit and use the bag to tote wet items post-race. Re-use the bag, if possible, or properly dispose of it.

Race belts are the best way to display your bib without having to pin it to your clothes, especially if the garment you pin it to might not be worn for the entire race.

For women with long hair, wearing hair in a low ponytail will allow you to easily transition from swim cap to helmet to visor.

Don’t waste time drinking water in transition; have liquids stored on your bike for hydrating while you ride.

Use no tie shoelaces and forgo the socks. No tie laces are the quickest way into your running shoes and you’ll never have to wonder if they are laced properly or worry that they will come untied. Socks are simply time-consuming and unnecessary on race day. Let your anti chafe cream do the work.

Most importantly, add transition practice to your training plan and time yourself. Always look for ways to shave seconds by streamlining the transition process. The time you save may be your ticket to the podium

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