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A triathlete discovers 6 ways to get faster, including: Stop with all the selfies

Nautica Malibu Triathlon Presented By Equinox

Swimmers make their way down the beach during the start of the Nautica Malibu Triathlon at Zuma beach in Malibu, Calif.

(Noel Vasquez / Getty Images for Nautica)

Everyone thinks triathlon is a sport made of three sports: swimming, biking and running. But after my results were posted for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in September in Zuma Beach, I was rudely reminded that triathlon is actually four sports.

“A seven-minute transition! Are you an idiot?” screamed half a dozen emails from friends. “What’d you do, fall asleep?”

The fourth sport is the transition, and there are two of them in a triathlon: T1, the manic swim-to-bike switch between wetsuit and cycling gear, and the easier T2, bike-to-run. My slowpoke T1 time was 7:05, double the average and five minutes more than the best.

I had one of the worst T1s of the 1,600 triathletes, and it cost me major bragging rights. My time for the half-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride and four-mile run was 2:01:03. Just over a minute faster in the transition and I could have had a sub-two-hour time. An average T1 time of 3½ minutes would have moved me from 549th place out of 1,059 men 437th — into the top 50% of the field.

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I didn’t care — at first. Yes, I love the all-round fitness I get from doing a swim, bike or run nearly every day, but I only do a triathlon every few years. I love the pride in doing a hard thing and the tribal feeling of being with fit people, but not getting up at 4 a.m. to drive two hours to hop into a frigid ocean.

Then came the flood of emails lambasting my seven-minute transition.

One of my hard-core tri buddies reminded me that in 2016 I would be “aging up” into an easier, old-man age group. “You’ll be the youngest in your group,” he typed. “If you fix your transition, maybe you’ll get on the podium next year. At least a top 10.”

So I made a decision: Fix my transition, go back to Malibu next year and claim the glory that I cheated myself out of this year.

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Copying the pros

• Two weeks after the Malibu race, I flew to Hawaii to cover the 2015 Hawaii Ironman World Championship. What luck! On race day, I crowded as close as possible to watch the world’s best do their T1s. Emerging from the swim, the leaders ran into the shower area and — kept running. Not one stopped. By contrast, in Malibu I vigorously hosed off my face and chest and armpits as if I were prepping for a date.

T1 Rule No. 1: Don’t shower. Estimated time saved: 10 seconds

• Dashing to their gear, the Ironman leaders threw on helmets and sunglasses and ran the bikes out of the carpeted transition zone barefoot — with their shoes already attached to the pedals. Then they saddled up on the pavement and slipped into their shoes, cinching down a single Velcro strap while pedaling up to speed. By contrast, in Malibu I sat down, put socks on, put on my three-strap bike shoes and then tripped on the carpet while running out of the transition area.

T1 Rule No. 2: Attach shoes to pedals beforehand. Estimated T1 time saved: 1 minute, 15 seconds

• I made matters worse with five-toed socks. They stop blisters but take forever to put onto wet feet. Gloves are the same story. Triathletes don’t wear them; I did — at a price.

T1 Rule No. 3: No socks and gloves: Estimated T1 time saved: 90 seconds

• The pros don’t get lost in the transition zone; they’re all in the front rows. But disoriented by the swim, I missed my row and got lost among the thousand-plus bikes. According to Ian Castilla, 50, a bar owner and rabid Ironman from the Philippines who was standing next to me watching the pros, the trick is to tie a balloon to your bike rack in the morning. “Make it bright red and you can’t miss it,” he said.

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T1 Rule No. 4: Mark your spot with a balloon. Estimated T1 time saved: 10 seconds

• The pros save time in the transition and invest time in the future by guzzling an electrolyte/sodium-loaded drink before they touch their bikes. That’s because everyone unknowingly starts the ride a bit dehydrated from the swim. This benefits heavy sweaters on both the bike and the run. Since I drank only one bottle on the bike in Malibu, I started the run dehydrated. Did I run two or three minutes slower as a result?

T1 Rule No. 5: Guzzle energy drink after the swim. Estimated time spent: 10 seconds; estimated future racing time saved: 2 to 5 minutes

The bottom line: Poor transition skills cost me at least 3:05 in T1 plus as much as a five-minute slowdown on the bike and run. That’s a total of eight minutes of free speed — bringing my potential 2016 Malibu time down to 1:53. Give me two minutes more for swim lessons, and three minutes for a new $12,000 aero bike, and 15 seconds for not taking T1 selfies (I discovered two dozen of them on my cellphone), and I’m under 1:48, putting me at third place in my age group in 2016.

So see you in Malibu. I’ll be the fast guy out of T1.

health@latimes.com

Nautica Malibu Triathlon info

As challenging as a triathlon is, some people are hooked on them. Many races are easily found through an online search. Races have various lengths for each portion of the competition, including some short ones for beginners. The Nautica Malibu Triathlon is a fundraising event for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Information can be found at www.nauticamalibutri.com.

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