Nation's Tri blog

Lindsay race ready small

People training for triathlon focus on the three sports–swim, bike, run–but there is the so-called fourth sport “transitions” that one must remember. Unlike other sporting events, the clock never stops in triathlon! Each person approaches transition slightly different – some try to get out as quickly as possible while others are okay with taking more time as it helps them gear up for the next section. I wouldn’t argue one against the other unless you told me you want to win your age group, then smooth transitions become key. That said, I do want to caution against unnecessary delays. Below is a step by step guide on transition from setup through T2 which will help those absolutely new to the sport and others looking to reduce time spent in transition.

On race morning, athletes must carry their gear to the transition area to set up. First step is to find your spot which is determined by the bib number. You can rack your bike either by the handlebars or seat post. Generally there are six bikes to a rack so you’ll learn quickly that there is very little real estate for each racer- another reason to be organized and to have a transition plan!! I first put my helmet, upside down, on my handlebars with the straps out and have my sunglasses inside the helmet. This design allows me to quickly put on the helmet and sunglasses when I’m about to leave T1.

After the bike is racked and helmet/sunglasses ready, I toss aside the wetsuit, goggles and swim cap as those don’t need to be racked. I place a small towel (quick dry works well) next to my bike. Don’t bother bringing a large towel or a lot of stuff to transition because the space is usually very tight! I put the backpack that carried gear way in the back, out of the way [Side note: I carry an old pair of glasses in case something happens to my contacts.] Next I lay out my running shoes and hat. Inside the hat goes nutrition-small bag of Gu Chews, and the race belt with the bib already attached. Putting the bib in the hat ensures I don’t forget a crucial item as I start the run portion! In front of the running shoes are the cycling shoes with straps slightly loose and socks unrolled inside them. And that’s it for transition setup! Before leaving transition to the swim start, I apply body glide and/or sunscreen and then throw those items in the backpack.

transition-2013Swim-to-Bike Transition:
Exiting the water, I take a deep breath and take off my googles and swim cap before starting to run up to transition area. While running to my bike, I begin to peel off my wetsuit to save time; when I reach my bike, I pull the wetsuit completely off and toss it on top of my backpack, along with the goggles and swim cap. I then put on my socks and bike shoes – easy to do since I loosened the straps beforehand. I don’t bother wiping my feet with a towel because they are minimally wet. If it was raining when I set up transition, I would put my shoes and socks in a bag. Racing in wet shoes is not a good idea!! With shoes on, I put on my sunglasses and helmet, another smooth process because of how they were laid out. I then grab my bike and head to the bike start area.

Bike-to-Run Transition:
About a mile from the end of the bike course, I will start to spin faster, allowing my legs to get used to a higher cadence for running. I will also take a couple sips of my drink (gu brew) so that way I am hydrated when starting the run. Once I get to the dismount line, I hop off of my bike and run it (well more like trot) back to my transition area. [Side Note: during setup, it is wise to walk around transition to see where exits are in comparison to your spot and also how many rows you may have to run down to get to your rack.] I quickly rack my bike, the same way it was racked at setup, and put my helmet back on the bike. I then take my cycling shoes off and toss them towards the backpack. I put on my shoes–don’t have to worry about tying them as they have speed laces–and then I grab my hat and the contents inside and begin running towards the run start. During my jog to the start I put on my cap (already have sunglasses from the bike) and then strap on my race belt and put the nutrition in my back pocket. Some racers do this routine at their transition area but I find it easy to multitask and saves a bit of time.

The next time visiting transition area will be after finishing the race!! Packing up is relatively easy but I recommend a backpack with good storage space so you can toss everything in and then grab your bike and leave transition..and start the celebration of competing the race!!

Final Notes:
The above was a quick run down of setup and transition. Everyone has a slightly different way to approach the “fourth” sport of triathlon but I recommend keeping the following points in mind:

  • Be organized – a clean transition area will make it easier to get in and out-plus it’s good etiquette to the others on your rack.
  • Set transition up to how you race – cycling items up front and running gear behind with the gear bag in back.
  • At setup, take the time to look around the transition area; remember what aisle your bike is on–noting a tree or sign near your aisle is a huge help! Also look at the area from a variety of angles as approaching your transition area from the swim exit and bike entrance will be different.
  • Before racking your bike, put the chain in a low gear so it’s easy to pedal when you first clip into the pedals.

Following the above guidelines will help you have a smooth transition and avoid timely errors like searching for sunglasses or loosening up and then tightening bike shoes. If nervous about transitions, practice like you do for the other sports. Set up transition in the living room and do a dry run! Putting on and taking off the wetsuit is optional.

Adrianne Brakefield

Adrianne’s interest in triathlons started in 2010 when she was looking for something to mix up her regular gym routine of weight lifting and running. Not knowing how to swim, she figured triathlon would be a good match: learn to swim and a varied exercise routine! She joined YMCA’s National Capital Triathlon Team (YTri) that year and raced in the inaugural DC Triathlon. Afterwards, she was hooked (and determined to improve her swim). Over the past four years, she’s raced in numerous triathlons of all distances from sprint to Ironman. Currently Adrianne is an active member of YTri and helps the coaches and director with the new triathlete program.