If sleep strategy is the fifth discipline of expedition racing, transitioning is the sixth. For some teams, it may also be the most important. Consider the following:
Let’s say your race has seven transition areas (FYI, many expedition races have several more TAs than that). A savvy, experienced team may be able to average 15-30 minutes in any given TA – let’s call it 20 minutes for the sake of easy math. Some may be even faster, especially early in the race (and excluding sleep strategy). This team will spend 140 minutes in transition over the course of the race.
Now, a less experienced team rolls into their first transition. They are exhausted and hungry. They haven’t fine-tuned their strategy or honed their bike breakdown. It’s not uncommon for a team like this to spend 2 hours or more sorting and swapping out gear, changing shoes, refueling, changing clothes, and repacking. Compound that over seven TAs and that’s 840 minutes – 14 hours of race time, more than half a day. In a race with shorter stages and more TAs, it’s not unheard of for less experienced teams to spend 18-24 hours in transition.
These lost hours can dash podium hopes for pointy-end races. They can derail full-course dreams for mid-pack teams. They can cause teams to miss time cutoffs, and they may be the difference between officially finishing and not.
TAing is a skill that top teams work at tirelessly and endlessly. Adventure racing is all about efficiency, and efficient TAs mean “found” time to spend on the course.
So, how do you get there?
Sometime before race week, you will likely receive a race planner or schematic from the RD. These planners are always a bit different, but at a minimum they tend to provide teams with distance estimates and time estimates for each leg of the race. They will typically offer the order of stages and disciplines, and many will provide specific details that help with planning, strategizing, and packing. Such details may include what amenities are available at specific TAs and what bins, boxes, or bags you will receive.
In a sense, the race has begun once these planners are distributed, and experienced teams will spend hours and hours working individually and as a team to prepare for the race at home: coordinating gear, planning for food and transitions, and organizing TA bags and bins. Obviously, you won’t have all the information you will need, but you can do a considerable amount of prep work, saving you time and energy during registration and in those precious hours on site before the race begins.
This effort can be compounding. The hours spent at home studying that schematic and applying what you can to gear, food, and clothing prep will translate to better preparation, less stress, more sleep, and fewer mistakes at race HQ before the start. You will then have more time and peace to adapt as you learn more of what to expect from the event. And the next thing you know, you are hours and hours ahead of other teams who didn’t do this important work.
When examining pre-race schematics, take note of the following:
ACTION ITEM: Talk with your team. What do you think is realistic based on the information you have and your team’s collective abilities? Estimate the time you expect to be on that leg. Pack a food bag and clearly label it for that stage of the race. Set aside any clothes, shoes, or gear you might want for that specific leg.
ACTION: Use this information to identify whether you will need to work harder for water. You don’t want to get stuck banking on hydration only to find there is none. You should also use this information to plan for hot meals or drinks that requires water. Pack your stoves, meals, and other gear into the proper bag, bin, or box.
ACTION ITEM: If the RD is offering food themselves or arranging it for purchase, plan to take advantage of it. Race food, no matter how thoughtful and tasty, tends to get old long before you reach the finish line, and taking advantage of provided calories or food and drink for purchase is well worth the money. Make sure you have sufficient cash and credit cards safely packed for the race. And know when those calories will be available to minimize overpacking food you won’t need (or want).
ACTION ITEM: Build a spreadsheet or some sort of organizational aid to help. It all starts with these bags and bins. Knowing exactly where you will see them and roughly when will then inform the rest of your pre-race packing. Making food bags, clearly labeling them, storing them, etc. Talk as a team. This may be one of the most important things you do before racing, getting to know each other aside. Triple check all of it.
good opportunity to practice that old adage, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Big zip-locks are your friend. Being able to see what’s in your bags can increase efficiency and reduce the need to use precious mental energy, sorting through which bags to grab on Day 4.
Now you are racing...
If you have done well planning, organizing, and packing your bins and bags, the real key to race-week execution is in communication with your teammates. Use the last thirty minutes of each leg to talk about the upcoming TA. What stage are you going to embark on? What gear will you need? What food needs resupplying?
As you come into TA, you should consider the following tasks, depending on what the next stage might be.
Finally, as much as we privilege efficiency, there are times when TAs should serve as a legitimate break. Sometimes, you need to slow things down and do some quality work preserving a teammate’s mental or physical health to be able to continue. This is the razor edge of adventure racing: balancing the desire to maximize every minute and keep things moving and the need – sometimes – to slow it down or even stop, knowing that a couple extra hours of preservation might translate to hours gained later on the course or a more realistic chance to finish, or even win, the race.