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Triathlon Transitions: Less is More

Transitions require practice and preparation to get them right

You log countless miles before your next triathlon to knock a few minutes off your time. Did you realize you may have let all that hard work evaporate in transition when you spent five minutes tying your shoes in a double knot, putting on socks and removing the sand from between your toes?

A couple of easy changes to what you do in transition can improve your overall time and, best of all, cost you nothing in blood, sweat and tears. First, get yourself some elastic laces for your running shoes to avoid fumbling with laces with frozen, trembling hands. Use a product like TriSlide on your calves and ankles to slip your wetsuit off with ease.

To go completely pro, attach your cycling shoes to your pedals and learn to slip your feet in out on the bike course while already on the go. You can't do this with lots of the cycling shoe strapping systems. An essential item is triathlon cycling shoes (M/F) with just one or two velcro straps.

It might feel silly performing a transition in your backyard but all these things require a little practice to get right under the pressure of race day. You'll feel glad you did when you slip past your fast swimming friends thanks to some slick maneuvers in transition.

Below are my notes from my transitions clinic I run occasionally on how to set-up your transition area, an essential equipment guide as well as specific techniques to help you spend more of your race swimming, biking and running and less time fooling around in between.

Transition Set-Up and Preparation

The fastest place to position your bike is near the Bike Exit. If you’re free to rack your bike anywhere you may need to get there early to reserve the best spot. Walk through the Transition Area, entrances and exits to familiarize yourself with the lay out. Pick a landmark next to transition (that won’t move during the race) to locate your bike. Putting your bike in the right gear with enough resistance to push off but not too much that you can’t get going. (3rd or 4th usually works). Attach your bike shoes to the bike.

Hook your bike up, by the seat preferably, so you can slip it off and push it forward. Put powder in your shoes, drape race belt over runners, place sunglasses and helmet on handlebars (if secure).

Essential Equipment: Rash Lubricantrace belt, triathlon cycling shoes (M/F), sport powder, and elastic laces.

Swim and T1

Switch to 6 beat kick 50 yards from the exit to shunt blood to your legs. When you hit the beach, take the wetsuit down to your hips, and take goggles and cap off. Visualize the transition while running from the shore. Stomp on the wetsuit while putting on sunglasses and helmet. No toweling, wiping, showering or bathing. Here's how it's done:


Sunglasses, gloves, socks, accessories, nutrition - do you absolutely need them? Leave your triathlon cycling shoes (M/F) clipped to the pedals and learn to put them on while riding. Know the last 500 yards of the course so you know when to start taking your feet out of your shoes and enter T2 with bare feet.

13 year old Sophie first attempt at a flying mount/dismount

T2 and Run

Grab cap and race belt and run with them putting them on as you head toward the exit. Don't forget to take your helmet off!

Coach Gunnar shows you how to T2

Common mistakes:

  • Socks. Use powder in your shoes instead to prevent chaffing. I'll reluctantly accept sock wearing for half ironman distances and above.

  • Sitting down.

  • Drying off your feet or any sort of shower or foot bath (you'll notice Matthews in the video above barely steps on his towel).

  • Putting your race belt on for the bike. You don't have to wear it on the bike and you can attach it during the run without losing time.

  • Putting your aero helmet on backwards (Yes, I've seen this).

Want to know if you're doing it right? Take a video and have me rate your transition.

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