How many disciplines are there in a triathlon? Most of you would say three. But there’s another discipline that’s just as important as swimming, cycling, and running—the transition.
No matter how hard you train for your three sports, if your transitions are sloppy, you’ll be losing valuable time during the race.
Here are our best tips on how to transition like a pro. Try them at your next triathlon and see how much more smoothly your race goes!
Why is it so important to have fast transitions in triathlons?
For weeks you’ve been running, cycling, and swimming miles, training for the triathlon to make sure that you’re both mentally and physically prepared. But nothing can ruin your race like having bad transitions.
What should be a smooth process can quickly feel chaotic, especially if you’re looking for gear or tripping over running shoes, costing you precious seconds! Take time to practice your transitions so that on race day they go swiftly.
Having everything ready and in place for each transition can save you precious minutes and shave seconds off your final race time.
Plan where your wetsuit will go after the swim so none of your running gear gets wet. Place a towel on the floor and layout everything that you’ll need in order for each transition.
Make sure to practice your transition regularly, as this will help you get faster. And remember, never try something new on race day!
1. Manage essentials only
The night before the triathlon, go through all your gear and only pack your essentials. For example, depending on the distances that you’ll be cycling and running, you may not need socks and you can leave those behind.
Create a checklist so that you can make sure that you’ve packed the essentials:
- Swim cap
- Bike—double check that you have prepared your bike for race day
- Cycling shoes
- Hydration and race nutrition
- Running shoes
- Race belt
Leave your helmet strap open and if you’re going to wear sunglasses leave them on or inside your helmet.
Your cycling shoes and running shoes should be loose so that you can slip your feet inside and get moving faster. You can use talcum powder in your shoes—especially if you’re not wearing socks—as this will let your wet feet slide in easier.
If you don’t already have a race belt, then it would be a good idea to get one. The race belt holds your number but can be switched to the front—for the run—and the back—when you’re cycling, without having to worry about re-pinning it.
Pack your fuel belt with gels or chews and electrolyte sachets so that when you transition to start running, everything is already together. All you’d need to do is attach it to your waist.
Plan what you’re going to do with things like your smartphone and your car keys or house keys. If somebody is with you at the event, ask them to look after your valuables so they are one less thing for you to think about.
If you’re alone, you can either hide them in your car or carry them on your person, but decide what to do in advance so you don’t have to panic at the last minute.
2. Study the transition area and rehearse
Once you’ve reached and set up your transition area, make sure that you familiarize yourself so that you’ll know exactly where your space is. Look for stationary landmarks or signs that may help you find your spot quickly.
If there’s no way of distinguishing your spot from everyone else’s, you may have to use something like a brightly colored towel to make your spot stand out when you arrive at the transition area.
The next thing you’ll want to do is know the layout of where you’ll be entering for the swim, where you’ll bike out, where to bike in, and where the run-out areas are. Knowing exactly where to go will save you time and prevent a lot of confusion during the race.
Go back to your transition stand and rehearse all the movements for each transition, as this will help you to remain calm.
3. Slow down
Slowing down may go against your natural instinct, especially when you’re under pressure and you’re trying to save time.
But you don’t need to sprint through every transition and the more you rush to save time, the higher your chances are of making silly mistakes.
By sprinting to gain a few seconds as you dash through the transition, you’ll fatigue quicker and this will cost you time in the long run in the race.
4. Swim To Bike Transition
As soon as you exit the water, remove your swim cap and goggles and start to unzip the wetsuit as you start to jog. While jogging towards your bike, start pulling your arms out of the wetsuit.
When you get to your bike, roll the wetsuit down to your ankles and then pull it off. The tri-suit helps to save time as you don’t have to worry about changing into other clothing.
Put your helmet and sunglasses on and start making your way to the designated mounting area.
5. Shoes On Your Bike
Triathlon-specific shoes have easier and faster closure systems and this can help with the transition, especially if your shoes are already attached to the pedals.
Make sure to hold onto the saddle with one hand and with the other hand, hold onto the handlebar. This will give you more control over your bike and prevent the front wheel from changing course.
To ensure that your shoes remain in a horizontal position, put a thin rubber band—elastic band—onto the back of the shoes. Then stretch the band backwards until it reaches either a quick-release skewer or hook the ends to the bottle cage. When you do get on your bike, the bands will snap when you start to pedal.
Start riding your bike with your feet flat on top of your shoes. When you’ve reached your speed, slip your feet into the shoes carefully. Practice running alongside your bike so that you can find the side that will be the most comfortable for you. This will also help when you’re at a bigger race and the distance between the mount line and rack are further apart.
Your bike should have been prepared and everything that you need—spare tubes, patches, water bottle, and gels—for this section of the course.
6. Bike to Run Part 1
When you have 200 to 400 meters left to go for the bike course, pull your feet out of your shoes—unless you have quick-release shoes—and ride with your feet flat on top of the shoes.
When you get to the dismount zone, you can either stop completely and get off the bike or you can perform a moving dismount. As you come up to the dismount line, start to feather the brakes. This will let you control your speed as you lift one leg over the top tube and you place your weight on the alternative leg—the leg that’s still on the pedal.
Then step off the bike and break into a run—you should carry the momentum forward—while pushing your bike.
7. Bike to Run Part 2
Rack your bike carefully, making sure it’s secure before putting your shoes on. The last thing you want is your bike falling on top of you and potentially causing an injury.
If you can, choose a pair of triathlon running shoes with quick-tie laces to save you time—every second counts.
Once your shoes are on, take your bicycle helmet off and jog to the run-out area where you can start your run.
8. Review, then practice
If you can, ask somebody to film you as you transition. Once the race is over, you can watch the video and see if you can spot any mistakes or find ways that you can improve and get faster.
You could set up a transition area at your home or along your training route and work on your transitions as you would train for your other disciplines. The only way to improve is to practice!