How transitions work

Tips and tricks for nailing your triathlon transitions.

Don’t be afraid to do your first triathlon. We have some general first triathlon tips in a previous post. After you’ve successfully swam the distance (you find some swim start tips here) you come to transition one. Transitions are a key part of a triathlon and have different setups in how they exactly work. The basics all come down to the same thing though, it’s your transition from swimmer to cyclist or cyclist to runner. Some triathlons work with a box system. You have a box where everything you have you have to put in the box. Other triathlons have transition bags where you put your stuff for each leg in a separate bag. You can get this information up front from organisation, but make sure you attend the briefing for some race specific rules. For big events you can setup your transition area a day before the race, but you will always have access the morning of the race. Take the opportunity to do a last check on your bike, add your bottles and sunglasses.

Where are you?

A key part of both transition is knowing where to go in the transition area. Walk through the area a couple of times rehearsing what you need to do, and mostly: Where is your bike?!? A small event might be easy, but if you have 20 rows for racking, they will all look the same during the race. Find out what key visual references you can find, look for trash cans, man hole covers, flags, posters, anything that is NOT a bike. As that flashy bright yellow bike at the start of your row might just belong to a very fast swimmer and will thus be gone by the time you get there.

If the race is a bag system, also make sure you know where to find your bag and where to drop it off. All the bags will be identical except for your race number, so make sure you know where it is.

The London 2012 Olympics had a box system.

The London 2012 Olympics had a box system.

Swim to Bike Transition

Once out of the water you can strip down your wetsuit to waist level, this will save you some time and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable running like that. Once you get your bike-bag or come to your spot, strip out of your wetsuit. If you wear socks while cycling, this is the time to put them on. Now, putting socks on wet feet can be a bit hard, so a small towel can certainly speed up the process or at least make it easier. Don’t forget to put on your race belt (see our first timer tips). And for your cycling shoes, you have two options:

  1. Shoes are clipped in on the bike
  2. Put on your shoes and run to your bike.

The advantages of shoes-on-bike are that you can run faster through transition and put on your shoes while cycling (which will save you quite some time). This method is quite a bit more difficult so we strongly advise to practise, practise and practise. An easier method is run-in-bike-shoes. This method you put on your shoes and then run through transition. It’s a bit more uncomfortable and trickier to run on your bike shoes, but your bike mount is a lot easier. For both methods: Put on your helmet before you even touch your bike. This is a simple rule yet many people stuff it up. If you do not have your helmet on and closed when taking out your bike you will receive a time penalty.
As you come near the end of transition you’ll see an obvious line on the ground, usually just after timing mats, this is the mount line, you can get on your bike after you’ve passed this line.

Recommended items for the bag system: Your cycling shoes, your race belt, a small towel, socks, sunglasses, a small water bottle to rinse your mouth,

Tip: If it’s a box system, make sure your runners are not covered by your wetsuit, you don’t want to run in soaking wet shoes if you can avoid it!

IronMan favours the bags sytem.

IronMan favours the bags sytem.

Bike to Run Transition

Approaching the transition area make sure you dismount before before the dismount line (often the same line as your mount line). If you don’t, again, you will get a time penalty. And, again, there are two options for your shoes. Some triathletes have practised the art of leaving the shoes on their bikes, allowing for faster running. However this takes practise, do not try this the first time during a race! If you can’t do this, no worries, the majority of triathletes dismount as any cyclist: by unclipping and then running with their bike shoes on. This is a bit slower and a tad more uncomfortable but if you went for comfort you wouldn’t do this sport. Be careful not to slip and run to your spot and rack your bike. Only after you’ve done all this think about touching your helmet and taking it off.
Quickly slip in to your running shoes and put on your visor if you like it. As you run out, put your bib number to the front.

Recommended items for the bag system: Your running shoes, a visor, maybe socks if you bike barefoot.

Have any tips of your own? Make sure you drop them in the comments below!

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