Aug 21 – Transitions can trip us up

Race/Training Updates

After a solid couple of months training, I competed in my latest race last weekend. The venue was the stunning Compton Verney, and many of you will know it well either as a local place to visit or from some of our recent volunteering work there. It’s a lovely place to visit, and a great venue for a triathlon.

However, as competitors we had to deal with a few bumps (hills) along the way. The last part of the bike section included the hill from Kineton back up towards Compton Verney (ouch). The run was all off-road along undulating grassy footpaths, and it was hard on the legs🙁. It was a great triathlon, but it hurt. I had a good race overall, posting my best swim time, but I had a shambolic transition from the swim to the bike (T1). More on that later.  

I’ve got a couple of races left, and that will be the season done. It’s strange to think that my original plans had me travelling out to Canada next week for the World Championships.  Instead, I’ll have to wait 15 months until November next year, where the venue will be Abu Dhabi.

If the Olympians can wait a year, then so can I. Talking of which, I enjoyed watching as many events as I could, but it was strange seeing the athletes compete without the crowds, and at unsociable hours. As you might imagine, I stayed up to watch the triathlon races and learned a few things.

Perhaps the biggest inspiration came from Kristian Blummenfelt, who won the gold in the men’s event. The first bit of inspiration is in how to finish a race. He gave it everything, almost sprinting the last kilometre to the finish line. As he crossed the line, and in front of a live TV audience, he lay down on his back. After a short while he rolled over onto all fours and vomited, not once, but twice. The TV cameras panned away, and then a few moments later they returned to show him being pushed away in a wheelchair. If that’s not a lesson in giving it everything, then what is?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​I was determined to do a Kristian style finish at the Compton Verney triathlon. Coach Ali had told me to “red line it”. The intentions were there, but something in either my body or brain overrode this. I pushed hard, and felt I had nothing left to give, but the only drama at the finish line was the inability to speak for 30 seconds or so. As I was at the race on my own no-one noticed this small demonstration of effort.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The other thing that Kristian has helped me with is his size. People called him the triathlete with the “dad bod”. There’s barely an ounce of fat on him, but he’s a stocky, muscly build, and not as lean and thin as most other pro’s. Being someone of stocky build myself, and the same height, it’s given me reassurance that I don’t need to be as thin as a rake. Kristian – you’re my new role model!

Triathlon Focus – Transitions

In the shorter distance racing that I do the transitions are more important. A race can be won or lost in the transitions. Take the Olympic Relay race. GB’s Alex Yee came into the T2 at the same time as Jean-Luis Vincent of France, but managed to make a gap as he left. I’m pretty sure that was a key factor in the GB team winning gold. Transition is the Triathlon equivalent of an F1 pitstop, practice helps get it right.

It’s an area that I’m getting much better at. In one Spring race my friend Paul and I adopted different tactics. It was a bit chilly, and it was a pool swim. Paul opted to put on an extra layer for the bike, whereas I decided to tough it out and stick to just the lycra of my tri-suit. Paul was 30 seconds ahead of me coming out of the swim, and as I ran from the pool to the transition area I could see him struggling to get his long-sleeved top over his soaking wet body. He was in a tangle, and as he fought to get his arms into the right holes I was already riding away on my bike. I beat him that day by 1 minute and 49 seconds. My T1 time was 1 minute and 22 seconds faster than his.

In another race I beat the next placed person by 36 seconds. My transition times were 50 seconds faster than theirs. They therefore swam, cycled and ran faster than me, but I was clearly much better at getting my shoes on!

As I got to my bike my wetsuit was still fully done up. My fellow competitors were already out of theirs, putting on their helmets, and leaving with their bikes. I eventually released the zip and got the wetsuit off, but I lost about 60 seconds in the process. This was enough to push me down several places in the standings. I’m using a new wetsuit this year, and one of its features is a quick release zipper for speedy transitions. Like anything new, there can be teething issues and it looks like I need to do some practice unzipping this wetsuit.

But it doesn’t always go to plan. On Sunday, after a great swim, I exited the water and started the process of taking off my wetsuit whilst running to the transition area. You take your swim hat and goggles off first, placing them in one hand, whilst then reaching with the other to pull down the zip cord at the back of your wetsuit. I grabbed the cord and pulled. Nothing happened. I pulled again a bit harder, but still nothing. Deciding that this needed two hands, I shoved the swim hat and goggles into my mouth whilst running and tried to pull the wetsuit cord with both hands (I dread to see the race photos of me with my goggles and hat in my mouth).

There are lots of tricks for getting through transitions quickly, and here’s just a few of them:

  • Learn how to run whilst peeling off your wetsuit, and practice taking it off at speed (note to self)
  • Use elasticated laces with lace locks in your shoes
  • Attach your bike shoes to the pedals, held in position with elastic bands
  • Ditch the socks, and put talcum powder in your shoes to help your feet dry
  • Have your helmet upside down, straps out, ready to grab and put on
  • Remember exactly where your bike and equipment are located, and where the exit is. Use visual cues to locate them in the race. In some races finding your bike can be a bit like finding your car in an airport long stay carpark

In any change, the transitions can trip us up, adding delay and frustration. By transitions, I’m thinking about any task or activity that transfers across from one team or system to another. It could be a handover of work to the next team or supplier, an integration that needs to be in place, or ensuring that the right access is available to the right environments at the right time.  

This weekend we’re about to embark on a supplier led build, using new functionality, that will result in data being loaded into a new solution provided by a different supplier. What could possibly go wrong? We’re working to a tight deadline, and there are so many ‘small’ things that if not in place will add delay. We’ve got a checklist and daily reviews to ensure that everything is in place. If we go back to the triathlon experience, it’s about trying to avoid the impacts of the jammed zipper or underestimating how hard it is trying to put on a close-fitting cycle top when you’re soaking wet.  

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about how in space you must “Sweat the small stuff”. On many occasions in projects and change we must do just that.

Ideas for getting active – The Physical Pension

This month’s idea is just some food for thought. I recently heard a suggestion that we might want to think of our physical health and wellbeing in a similar way to our pensions. Just as we build up our financial pensions, we can be building up a ‘physical pension’ so that we have the best chance possible of enjoying a longer, healthier and satisfying life.

We work in the insurance and long-term savings business, which includes pensions. Many of us have a degree of knowledge on these things, whether it’s keeping an eye on how our pension is building or working on changes that support this business. The simple truth is that the more we put in now, the more we will have to enjoy in the future.

So we can ask ourselves the following question – how is your ‘Physical Pension’ doing? Have you been making regular investments into it? Do you see a potential short fall, and is now a good time to start increasing those investments? This idea has certainly made me stop and think. Does it do the same for you?

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