Transitions

Transitions are the change over from one discipline to another in a triathlon. Typically you come out of the swim, transition onto the bike, then onto the run. There are other events that maybe in a different order, or include different disciplines (eg Multisport’s Coast to coast).

Perfecting the art of a smooth and quick transition can gain (or not lose) a significant amount of time – and it has nothing to do with fitness. It is usually far easier to gain time in transitions than on individual discipline splits. It takes a fair amount of training to go 2 minutes quicker over 10km running, than it does to improve your transition speed by that much if you have not practiced them. There are of course diminishing returns – where you become very efficient and further gains are difficult to make.

The longer the event – the less important transition time becomes – and more important not to forget anything! However – getting through the transition smoothly and unflustered should still be the goal.

Plan your transitions

As with most things – you need to plan your transitions. What are you going to do and how are you going to do it? Is speed of prime importance, or is being comfortable while out there more important.

Where to set-up your transition. You want to put your gear in the transition area where you can find it easily, and in a position that gives you the quickest transition. Transitions should be designed to give everyone the same amount of running through the transition. However in some events this is not the case, and some areas give a better “run” through the transition. You will probably have to be an early bird to get the prime positions! Generally being close the bike exit/entry is the favored position, as you have to run less distance carrying your bike (which is a little slower than just running).

What typically happens in a transition.

 (1) Swim to bike:

  • As you run from the water to the bike – Take swim cap and goggles off. Undo collar and zip of wetsuit and strip wetsuit down to waist. If it is a particularly long run to transition you may want to take the wetsuit off completely and run with it (so that the suit does not dry out too much and become more difficult to take off).
  • When you arrive at the bike put your helmet on and simultaneously rip (carefully) the legs out of the wetsuit (stand on the suit and lift knees).
  • Put on glasses if needed, pack food if needed, put shoes on if not already on the bike (which is usually the faster option). Put wetsuit out of the way (if necessary), un-rack bike and exit transition. Once you are past the point where you are allowed to mount your bike put foot on shoe and mount your bike (or clip shoe in). Start riding with feet on top of shoes and when up to speed put feet into shoes and do up shoes.
  • In longer events a change of clothing or adding extra clothes maybe required. · If it is cold you may also want to put a vest, jacket, arm-warmers, and/or gloves on.

 (2) Bike to run:

  • Undo shoes and take feet out of shoes before reaching dismount line – while still riding. · Dismount bike and run with bike to your area. Rack bike and then undo and take off helmet and put down (there is usually a penalty for taking your helmet off early!).
  • Put running shoes on
  • Grab cap and any food and run out of transition. Put cap on, food in pocket, and move race number to front if necessary – all while running out of transition. A race belt is a useful tool to have if you don’t want to put pins in your race gear, or if you are changing tops.
  • Longer events may require a change, eating/drinking in transition, and getting food to carry out. Having a drink (your own special formula), or food can be a good idea.

Be specific for specific races.

Some races have their own unique features that mean you need to adapt your standard transition practice to the particular race. Things that may require a change to your “standard” transitions:

  • Split transitions – The transitions are in different places – you may need to put your gear in two places or rely on the organization to have your gear at the second transition.
  • Transitions with hills straight out of transition. This makes getting into your shoes while attached to the bike more difficult – and it maybe better to put your shoes on before getting your bike.
  • Mud or other “obstacles” in transition area. Avoid areas in transition with excess mud, stones glass, or other “obstacles”.
  • Drafting events. Getting in the right bunch on the bike become crucial, so a good transition is very important – speed will be everything! ·
  • Longer events – speed is less vital, making sure you don’t forget anything, and are comfortable is more important. ·
  • Rules specific to the race (mount/dismount lines), changing areas, helmets allowed on bike etc. Make sure you know any special rules for each event.

Practice your transitions

It does not take much practice to become far more proficient at transitions. But if you do want to be better – you do need to practice. Practice also allows you to try different methods – eg putting bike shoes on, and then getting on the bike, verses getting on the bike with the shoes already attached then putting your feet in the shoes. You can time one method and then the other. Obviously if you have practice one method you will be better than a method you have not practiced (but that method may be a faster method!). Try different methods and time them – to compare which is best for you.

You may have a favored method, but it also pays to practice other methods. You may prefer to mount your bike from the left side, but some races may require mounting your bike from the right (eg for timing requirements) – so make sure you can do more than one method. Following your plan There was a reason (hopefully) as to why you planned your transitions the way you did. Make sure that you follow your plan – focus on what you have to do and don’t get caught up in what others are doing. If you were going to take your time to put socks on – do so, and don’t regret it half way through the bike when you start getting a blister, and ask yourself why you did not put socks on!

Prepare the body for the change.

The other aspect of transitions is the physical adaptations. It is difficult to change from one discipline, and go full speed into another. You use different muscles, and use them differently. With a change from swimming to running (through transition), you also have a change in body position which can be a little disorientating if done too quickly!

It is a good idea to practice running after cycling, and doing short runs after exiting a swim. This prepares the mind and body for what it is going to experience on race day.

Tips to help faster transitions

  • Use lace locks or elastic laces in your running shoes. Change the standard laces for elastic, and tie them up tight enough for running in, but also that they expand enough to allow your feet quick entry. Lace locks use standard laces, but allow you to tighten the laces quickly.
  • Make sure your bike is in the correct gear. You don’t want to wastes time changing gear in the first 400m as you are trying to put your feet in your shoes.
  • Button/safety pin on shoe Velcro (and/or a tri specific cycle shoe). This stops the strap pulling back through the loop, when you put your feet into the shoe. It is hard to re-thread the straps while on the bike.
  • Make sure helmet strap is adjusted properly (and internal cradle if there is one).
  • Wear all your cycle clothing under your wetsuit. Not need to change – just get the wetsuit off and straight onto the bike. This is not a great idea if it is cold, and you will have wet clothes for the start of the bike, which will be very cold.
  • Use an elastic belt to put your race number on if it needs to be changed from the back (cycle) to the front (for the run).