Regularly forgotten in training yet often crucial come race day, triathlon transitions – switching from one discipline to the next – require preparation and practice to master.
This article will provide you with everything you need to know about transitions, including what they involve, why they are important and how to practice them. Follow our essential triathlon transition tips and there is no doubt you will improve your race skills and times!
What Are Triathlon Transitions?
Have you ever heard about the “fourth discipline” of triathlon? Don’t worry, we’re not adding skiing, kayaking or rock climbing to the mix! The fourth discipline of triathlon is the transition, which refers to the change from one discipline to another.
There are two transitions in a triathlon: swim-to-bike, called T1, and bike-to-run, called T2. While some may think this is a time to catch your breath and have a chat with your fellow athletes, it is actually an important part of triathlon where crucial time can be gained or lost. Losing time in transition means loosing time overall, hence the naming convention “fourth discipline”. The length of transitions may be different depending on the race.
For bigger events with many participants, for example, the transition area can be very big and it will therefore take more time to get through it. Where the swim takes place, and where the bike mount and dismount lines are, may also influence how long your transition will take.
T1: Swim-To-Bike Transition
After the swim, you go through the first transition, called T1. You will need to find where you racked your bike, remove your swim cap, goggles and wetsuit (if applicable), put your shoes and helmet on, grab your bike and run/walk to the mount line, only after which can you get on your bike and start riding.
That’s quite a lot of information at once, so let’s break it down.
Whether you have stairs to climb, a beach or a ramp to run up to exit the water, make sure you familiarise yourself with the swim exit set-up before the race. Use any railings or volunteers to help you when you come out of the water, and try not to stand up to quickly or you may feel dizzy for a short moment!
Head Into Transition
As you make your way to transition, you can already remove your cap, goggles and wetsuit. Wetsuit zips are always on the back so you will need to reach your arm over to pull the zip down. Then pull the wetsuit over your shoulders and arms, with quick and forceful movements. You should have the wetsuit around your waist as you enter the transition zone.
Once you are in the transition area, you need to find your bike, so make sure you know where you racked it before the race.
When you get to your bike, you need to finish removing your wetsuit (if applicable). To do so, pull it down with your hands as far down your leg as you can – preferably below the knee. Then you can kick your feet out, one by one, by bringing your leg up and give a sharp kick with your foot to get it out of the wetsuit. If that doesn’t work, you can use your hands to pull it over your ankle and foot. This requires a bit of balance, so you can do it sitting instead.
Once you have removed your wetsuit, cap and goggles, you must put on your bib, helmet and shoes (unless you are using cleats that are already clipped into your pedals), as well as any other equipment you need (e.g. sunglasses, gloves etc.).
Head onto the bike
Remove your bike from the rack and run/walk with it out of transition. Holding it by the saddle will give you more leverage and will enable you to go faster, but if you haven’t yet practiced it in training then hold your bike by the handlebars. Only once you have crossed the mount line can you get on your bike and start pedalling.
What To Prepare
When setting up transition, you must lay out the kit you will need for both the bike and the run (the latter is discussed in the bike-to-run section). For the bike segment, you will need your bib, helmet, cycling shoes (or running shoes if you are not using clip-in shoes for the bike), nutrition and water (or any other drink you will be taking).
Depending on the weather conditions, you may also want to put on sunglasses, jacket, gloves etc. These must be left next to your bike, or in a box if provided by the race you are participating in. When preparing transition on race day, it is very important to remember where you have racked your bike in order to make it easier to find it once you come out of the swim.
Here are several tips to help you with this:
Check where you are situated in relation to where you come in after the swim or after the bike. Which row are you? There will often be “swim in”, “bike out”, “bike in” and “run out” signs for athletes to know where to go, so you can count how many rows you are away from the “swim in” sign (where you will be entering after the swim), for example.
Check Out The Racking
Check how bike racking is done. Is it free racking, meaning people can set up where they wish, or are transition slots allocated based on your race number? If it is free racking, try to choose somewhere that you can easily identify – are there any features around that could help you locate your bike? For instance, is there a big tree in line with your transition area? If it is based on your race number, make sure you remember your number and row, as you will just need to count down the numbers until you get to yours.
Call In Help
If someone has come with you to the race to spectate, ask them if they can stand in line with your transition area, so that when they see you come into transition after the swim or the bike, they can call out to you and you will know where to aim for.
If you weren’t able to do any of the above, or if you completely forget everything when you get to transition, and cannot find your transition area during the race – do not panic! Slow down, go through each row and try to recognise your bike or kit. You will find it eventually!
How To Practice
To practice T1, you can lean your bike up against a wall and put your shoes, helmet and any other kit or nutrition you will need come race day on the floor next to it. Pop on your swim cap and goggles. Then jog around a couple of seconds, taking off your cap and goggles, then place them next to your bike and get your cycling gear on, before taking your bike and jogging off with it.
If you will be wearing a wetsuit in the swim on race day then practicing removing your wetsuit quickly will save you plenty of time. Ideally, get some anti-rub cream or some baby oil and smother your ankles, wrists and neck with it – not only will this avoid chafing, it will also make taking off your wetsuit much easier.
T2: Bike-To-Run Transition
Once you have completed the bike course, you will go through the second transition, called T2. You must get off your bike, rack it in transition, and swap your cycling gear for your running gear before setting off on the final leg of the race. Let’s see how you can ace T2 by looking at the different steps involved.
As you approach the end of the bike segment, there will be a dismount line with marshals telling you to get off your bike. If you are using cleats, you can already get your feet out of your bike shoes to save time in transition. In any case, slow down and get ready to stop. Remember to get off before the line or you might incur a penalty!
Heading Into Transition
Run/walk into transition and find where you left your kit. As with T1, make sure you know how to get to your transition area from the “bike in”, especially if it is different to where you came in from the swim. Note that you must not remove your helmet until your bike is racked!
Once you have found your transition area, put your bike back on the rack, either hanging by the saddle or by hooking the handlebars over the rack. If you were wearing bike shoes, you need to change into your running shoes. Then unclip your helmet and place it on the ground (or in the box) with all your other used kit (e.g. swim equipment). Grab any nutrition or hydration you need, and you should be good to go.
Heading Onto The Run
Follow the “run out” signs to head out of transition and onto the run course. Though tempting, don’t run out too hard as you may pay for it later, and watch out for other competitors coming in/out with their bikes as well.
What To Prepare
As you set up your transition area before the race, you will need to prepare your running shoes and any nutrition/hydration you are planning to take. Again, extra pieces of kit (e.g. hat, socks etc.) may be left in transition if you think you will need them for the run.
How To Practice
To practice T2, you could do a short cycle down the road and back (or just ride your turbo trainer a minute or two), then get off your bike, run with it a few metres, put it down and then switch your cycling gear for your running shoes. This will allow you to go through the motions and ensure you know what to do on race day.
Recap: Bike-to-run transition steps
Although it may seem like there is a lot to prepare and think about for transitions, they’re actually very straightforward and the more you practice them, the more natural they will become. Improving your transitions will help you save precious time on race day, and will make the race experience that much more enjoyable. By following our steps and advice, you are undoubtedly equipped to set a transition PB (yes, it’s a thing!).