By Coach Steve
I heard a story of a woman competing in her first tri; she got to
the first transition (T1) following the swim and dried-off, combed
her hair, taking her time so she'd look sharp on the bike leg. She
did the same for the second transition (T2); her transitions
took quite a while. After the race she saw her time and was outraged:
"This is crazy, this finish time includes my transitions that's
what those chips are for, to take out the transition times!" Nope.
Transitions count, and you can "give away" significant time if
you don't move quickly, change clothes, or worst of all, can't find
your spot on the rack quickly in a sea of bikes and gear.
Here are a few tips to get you through the transitions faster:
- Practice transitions in training!
- Work out a system for T1 and T2 that you'll follow for every
- Choose your rack position and place your gear in a way that
it's least likely to be disturbed by other athletes moving through
in a rush.
- Memorize the in-and-outs for the swim, bike, and run, and know
exactly where your gear is relative to those entries and exits.
"Organized chaos," an apt description I once heard for a triathlon's
transition area. You can reduce the likelihood of chaos on race
day by simulating the transition flow in training; this is especially
important for athletes new to multisport. I recommend you gather-up
all your stuff and actually go through the motions of T1 and T2
in training; take it a step further and time yourself making the
changes. For triathletes, go through the process of getting your
wetsuit off quickly - where's the zipperpractice pulling it down
to your waist with swim cap and goggles in hand as you run from
swim exit to T1. Have a system for getting it off your legs instantly
at T1 (some of the older suits with tight legs may require lube
of some sort to slide it off fast). Pay attention to details like
stretchy laces for running shoes (yes, you'll want to have these
if you don't already have them). Practice going from bike shoes
to running shoes; will the bike shoes be on the ground, or in the
pedals? More on that later...
At the race site find your best possible spot in the transition
area; avoid crowds if you can. The closer everyone's gear is, the
more likely someone will disturb yours. Memorize your spot relative
to transition area entries and exits. Memorize the location of your
place on the rack, look for landmarks, count bike racks, whatever
it takes to know exactly where your stuff is. Consider using something
to make your spot more visible (my favorite: a brightly colored
towel on the ground). Tying a helium balloon to the rack is a clever
solution, but illegal at the championship races.
Consider how you place your gear. I prefer to hang my bike by hooking
the brake levers over the rack; some prefer to hang the seat over
the rack. If your brake levers fit over the rack it's the more stable
option, perhaps not as easy for hanging and un-hanging the bike
though. I hook my helmet strap over the front of my bike seat so
it can't be knocked-off. Some prefer to place the helmet on the
aerobars, which may be more accessible but more easily knocked-off.
Place your running shoes so you can get to them instantly, and close
enough to your bike to reduce the odds that another competitor will
move them. Set other gear right with the run shoes so you won't
forget it. Bring plastic bags if rain is a possibility. Getting
into wet running shoes, and then running in them wet is speed lost.
My bike shoes are always clipped into the pedals so I don't have
to worry about them being moved.
I remember the first race after I learned to mount and dismount
with bike shoes clipped into my pedals. I came into the transition
at full run speed off the bike—only problem was—I came in so fast
that I overshot my transition spot and became totally disoriented
losing at least 30 seconds while searching for my run stuff.
It is a time saver, but only athletes who are very steady on the
bike should attempt cycle shoe entry and exit with shoes clipped-in.
Getting in the shoes involves stepping on the shoes and pedaling
up to speed, then reaching down with one hand and sliding your foot
in while on the roll. Clearly, one-strap bike shoes work best for
this. On the way back you follow the process in reverse so that
within 100 meters of the bike dismount your foot is on top of the
shoe. As you get close to the dismount area, holding the bike steady
with your arms, you swing your leg over the seat and inside the
other leg so you're ready to step off at run speed with the free
Your pace as you come into transition from swim and bike run has
an affect on your transition. Taking it easy on the swim to bike
run might leave you a little less shaky as you get ready for the
ride. The same rule applies for the bike to run; easing up a little
for the last few hundred yards of the ride can help your legs recover
a little before you start to run.
Perfect transition skills so when you look at the transition times
post race there are no regrets. There's nothing worse than an athlete
who placed ahead of you based only on better transition times!