Triathlon transition for beginners (or how to look like a pro!)
Transition can be one of the strangest parts for beginner triathletes. In most sports, once you finish, you finish. Not in triathlon! You’ve got to get through three different legs. In my first triathlon, I got lost, had the wrong gear on the bike and spent minutes tying up my shoes. This guide sets out a few things I’ve learned on how to set up your transition area and how to transition from swim to bike to run to make your race a success.
What is transition?
A triathlon comprises three separate legs; swim, bike run. The change over between these is called transition. The change from swim to bike is known at T1 and from bike to run is known at T2. While transition won’t necessarily make or break your race as a beginner, it can add significant time and frustration. I’ve had plenty of experience with both!
The day before
- Pack your gear that is going into transition into a single bag. Nothing more, nothing less. That way you don’t forget anything.
- Use the LongTri checklist (download here for FREE!), so you don’t forget any gear.
- Checkout the transition and course map. They show you the course and how to get into and out of transition. This is a good example from Ironman Australia.
At the course
Once you arrive at the course and you’ve registered, head to the transition area. The race technical officials will check your bike for safety as you enter transition. In particular they look to make sure the end of your bike handles are covered. They also check that you have a well fitting helmet. Put it on and clip it up to save some time.
Find your spot. Sometimes you are allocated a numbered spot and other times you have a free choice. PRO TIP – If I have a free choice, then I write the row or position number on the back of my hand so I don’t forget. Cause I will forget!
Setting up your transition area for beginners
Your transition spot is your bit of home turf. A clean and efficient set up will make your race easier (and less stressful).
- All bags have to be cleared out of transition area before the race starts. It also makes it easier to only leave behind what you need for the race. Too much extra stuff causes confusion.
- Towel down first. A towel is very useful post swim. It allows you to dry and clean dirt and sand off your feet. It also marks out your area. Transition zones can get quite crowded and gear can end up everywhere.
- Go in order; Swim, Bike, Run
- Rack your bike. Either put your handle bars on the rack or face the bike the other way and put the seat on the rack. Seats a little easier, so your bike is facing the right way. If transition is crowded, don’t be afraid to move the other bikes along a bit. Even as a beginner, you have just as much right to enough space as everyone else!
You won’t need to set up anything for the swim prior to the race.
Perch your helmet on your bike. I perch my helmet either on my seat or on my handle bars, depending on which way my bike is facing. That way, if I forget to put it on, it falls off my bike and hits the ground as soon as I touch my bike.
If you’re wearing socks on the bike (I do), tuck one into each shoe so they’re ready to go. I use loose fitting sports socks rather than cycling socks to make them easier to get on.
Check your tire pressure. If your bike has been out overnight as happens especially in longer distance races, then they may be a little flat. Use your bike pump (see the checklist).
Place your sunnies on your helmet and your helmet is placed on your aerobars or seat. Check that the chin strap is unclasped. PRO TIP – don’t unrack your bike until your helmet is on and secured. Doing so could get you disqualified.
Put your bike in the easiest gear. No point in making it harder on yourself when you first start peddling. I did a race once where the first part of the bike was uphill and I left my bike in the hardest gear. It was a slightly humiliating 20 meter walk to begin my bike ride!
Check your water bottle is on the bike (and has liquid in it – yes, I traveled the first 10 kms of a race once with an empty water bottle).
Place your running hat or visor is on top of your running shoes. That way you don’t forget it. If you want to change socks, make sure there clean pair are unfolded and tucked into your running shoes. I also place my race belt on top of my hat, so I don’t forget it either!
Other helpful transition set up tips
Keep all your gear to one side of the bike, usually the right side. Minimize gear, what don’t you need?
In my race belt I carry a small tube of suncream, which I reapply on the run to stop getting sunburnt.
Before you leave the transition area do a mental run through of everything you have. Take your time with this. I once left transition without putting my sunglasses down and had to sprint back from the swim start. Not a great way of starting a race.
PRO TIP – Many races start early, especially longer course ones. This means its DARK. Get a head torch so that you can see what you’re doing and to make sure you don’t forget anything on the ground.
Triathlon transition areas can be confusing for beginner triathletes. Before each race, there is a (compulsory) race briefing which tells you how to get into and out of transition zones. Make sure you get the right entrances and exits!
How to transition
So you’re ready to go and the race is off. Now what happens when you get to T1 or T2? Here is a summary.
T1 – Swim to Bike
- Order of operation; wetsuit off, goggles offs, swim cap off, socks on, shoes on, helmet on, glasses on – GO!
- Take the top half of your wetsuit off first while running up from the swim. Sit down to take the bottom part off. It saves you falling over if you’re out of breath or a bit dizzy coming out of the swim.
- Wipe / dry your feet on your towel. Makes it easier to get your shoes on and stops chaffing.
- Mount your bike at the designated area.
- Once on bike, settle down, breath, take a drink of water, settle down again. Enjoy the ride!
T2 – Bike to Run
- Order of operations: Rack bike, helmet off, bike shoes off, race number on, visor on, running shoes on – GO!
- Your legs will feel a bit funny when you first start running. Give it a little bit of time to settle into the run.
- I reapply suncream in the first kilometer of the run. Lather it on if its a sunny day.
After the race
Clean up your area. Make sure you get all your gear and any rubbish left behind. Triathlons are run by volunteers, so don’t make their lives harder by leaving your crap all over the place.