The transition time in a triathlon is part of your race time, so the more efficiently you transition, the better.
Indeed, studies have shown1Walsh, J. A. (2019). The Rise of Elite Short-Course Triathlon Re-Emphasises the Necessity to Transition Efficiently from Cycling to Running. Sports, 7(5), 99. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7050099that the transition between cycling and running has a significant impact on overall performance.
As a UESCA-certified triathlon Coach and triathlete myself, I’ve learned some helpful tips to improve your triathlon transition times.
Keep reading for some great triathlon transition tips to help you save time (and stress!) on race day.
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Transition In Triathlon?
In a triathlon, participants move from one discipline directly into the next, passing through what is called a “transition.“
In these triathlon transitions, the athlete switches their gear and kit to switch from one discipline to the next.
The swim-to-bike transition (T1) involves getting out of the water, taking off your wetsuit (if you wore one), putting on your bike gear, unracking your bike, and getting onto the bike course.
The bike-to-run transition (T2) involves getting back to the zone where you will rack your bike, taking off your bike gear, putting on your running shoes, and heading out onto the run course.There are usually specific rules for the T1 zone.
For example, you will need to have your bike helmet fully attached and you may need to walk your bike completely out of the zone and onto the official bike course before you can start riding.
In other words, you can’t just get on your bike at your rack position in the transition zone and pedal your way out from there.
In T2 after the bike, you typically need to hop off your bike and walk the bike into the transitions rather than stay on your bike as you make your way to wherever your section is in the transition zone with your gear.
It is important to look at the rules for the specific triathlon you are doing about the transition zones so that you do not violate any rules and get disqualified or face a time penalty.
17 Tips for How to Improve Your Triathlon Transitions
There are several important triathlon transition tips that can help you improve your triathlon transition times and make for a more smooth, fluid transition from one discipline to the next in your race.
Here are some top tips for triathlon transitions:
#1: Think Like a Minimalist
Triathlon transition areas are tiny.
For any triathlon event shorter than a full Ironman, you generally have just a pole to hang your bike by the seat and then the area immediately below your bike. You can hang things from the handlebars, and you should take advantage of this space.
For some full-course Ironman triathlons, there are small changing tents and you get a little bit more transition zone real estate for your stuff in case you want to change your race kit or spend a little more time grabbing your fueling before the next discipline.
Because you have such little space, you should bring just what you need and nothing else. Additional gear will just crowd your area and will make it harder to keep things organized.
#2: Use Your Space Wisely
When you get to your designated transition zone area, use your space to the best of your abilities. Some good triathlon transition tips for improving organization include the following:
- Hang your helmet from the handlebars of your bike and put your cycling sunglasses (my favorite is the Smith Vert PivLock!) in the helmet.
- Place the hand towel and a little water bottle you will use to clean off your feet after the swim right at the base of your transition area to mark your territory.
- Use a bright-colored hand towel or one with a unique print to help spot your transition zone space among all of the other competitors’ gear.
- You can pre-clip your bike shoes onto the pedals and then slip in if you practice ahead of time. This will help make sure that the right shoes are on the right pedals and will cut down on your T2 transition time.
- Most people prefer to sit and put the bike shoes on and then exit T1 wearing the shoes. If you want to do this, keep your bike shoes in your helmet so that they don’t get lost.
#3: Understand the Setup
The transition zone for most triathlons is arranged by a bib number in long lines by hundreds. There should be signs at the end of every long row that indicate which group of bib numbers are down that line.
Study where your area is in relation to all of the exits of the transition zone so that you know how to access your space as quickly as possible and aren’t flustered trying to find your bike or run gear.
This is one of the best ways to easily cut down on triathlon transition times by improving efficiency and decreasing mental confusion and stress.
#4: Practice, Practice, Practice
While it is true that you absolutely should focus your triathlon training on swimming, cycling, and running, many triathletes make the mistake of not practicing transitions.
You should be rehearsing transitions from the swim to bike and bike to run several times throughout your training, particularly as race day approaches.
The more familiar you can get with how you will transition out of your wetsuit and into your bike gear and out of your bike kit into your running gear, the more seamless and automatic your triathlon transitions will be on race day.
Brick workouts are a great time to practice your T2 transitions, switching from cycling to running.
Not only should you use your triathlon brick workouts to help your body adapt to the musculoskeletal, biomechanical, and physiological challenges2Millet, G. P. (2000). Physiological and biomechanical adaptations to the cycle to run transition in Olympic triathlon: review and practical recommendations for training. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(5), 384–390. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.34.5.384imposed by switching from cycling exercise to running, but you should also use triathlon brick workouts to rehearse the logistics of the bike-to-run transition.
Think about whether you will wear a tri suit the whole race with a built-in cycling chamois, or if you will be taking off specific bike shorts and have general compression shorts or running shorts underneath or on the side to switch into.
You might have cycling sunglasses that you don’t want to wear on the running course, and of course, you will have your bike helmet to remove.
The most important consideration with gear switches between the bike and run transition in a triathlon is fueling. On the bike, you have storage for water bottles and fuel, but on the run, you will need to carry your fuel in person on your body.
Depending on the length or distance of the triathlon, your fueling and hydration needs, and the climate, you might want to wear a hydration pack for the triathlon run or carry a water bottle, hydration belt, and other running fuel, like energy gels, with you.
All of these triathlon transition logistics and triathlon fueling and hydration considerations should be ironed out in your training and rehearsed numerous times before race day.
With the adrenaline pumping and fatigue setting in during your triathlon event, you can’t rely on being able to think clearly and make good decisions about transitions in a triathlon race.
Plus, once you leave the transition zone in a triathlon race, you usually can’t re-enter the transition area until you have completed that discipline.
For these reasons, it is crucial that you are prepared for how you will handle the transitions in a triathlon and try to make the process as foolproof as possible.
Triathlon Transition Tips for T1
Here are some specific triathlon transition tips for the swim-to-bike transition, or T1 triathlon transition tips.
#5: Use Lube
Getting in and out of your wetsuit can be really difficult, especially when your hands are shaky on race day.
Covering your arms and legs in lube is one of the best ways to make it easier to slip in and out of your wetsuit.
#6: Use the Volunteers
Volunteers will help you get out of your wetsuit if you need assistance. Lie on your back and put your legs up in the air so that they can quickly pull the wetsuit off.
#7: Watch the Watch
Another good T1 triathlon transition tip is to make sure that you wear your wetsuit sleeve over your watch. This will make it easier to pull off the wetsuit quickly once you are out of the water.
#8: Start the Unzip
As you start running out of the water, begin unzipping your wetsuit and trying to free your arms from the sleeves so that you only have to pull down the hips and legs when you get to your bike.
Also, remove your swim cap and goggles and place them in your hand.
Just as you use spotting in the water during the triathlon open swim, as you exit the swim zone and start running into T1, keep your eyes up and try to look for your row so that you get the fastest path to your bike.
This will help you cut down your T1 transition time and excess running around and will reduce the frantic stress of trying to find your bike among the sea of racked bikes.
#10: Bring a Water Bottle and Hand Towel
In addition to whatever fluids you will want on the bike on the run, bring an extra bit of water that you can use to rinse the sand off of your feet (and then dry your feet with the towel) before you put on your cycling shoes.
This is one of the best triathlon T1 transition tips for those who are going to be doing an open water swim with a sandy or beachy exit.
Being able to quickly rinse off the sand and dry your feet will make getting your cycling shoes on much quicker and will prevent potential blisters while riding.
#11: Double Check Your Gear
Before leaving T1, make sure that your helmet is secured, in the right orientation, that you have all of your cycling fuel with you, and that your bib number is visible.
#12: Run and Then Mount
Run alongside your bike all the way through to the exit of the transition zone and then keep running another 10 to 20 meters into the bike zone if it is congested before you mount your bike.
This will help you not get boxed in behind other competitors.
Triathlon Transition Tips for T2
Here are some specific triathlon transition tips for the bike-to-run transition, or T2 triathlon transition tips.
Go down to an easy gear during the last minute or two of the bike so that your legs are spinning fast with little resistance. This will make it easier to run off the bike.
#14: Unclip Early
If you feel capable, take your feet out of your bike shoes in the last 200 meters of the bike and place them on top of the pedals carefully.
This will make it easier to hop right off the bike for a faster T2 transition time.
#15: Spot and Run
Run alongside your bike in T2 to your area, and then quickly rack your bike as you did initially and take off your helmet.
#16: Use Elastic Laces
Putting elastic laces on your shoes can make it easier to quickly put them on.
Power walk or jog through the T2 zone into the running course to get your jelly legs feeling more normal.
Start with a quick cadence and short little steps before you find your comfortable running stride.
There you have it, 17 triathlon transition tips for you to practice for your next big event!
To learn more about brick workouts for triathlon training, check out our guide to brick workouts here.
- 1Walsh, J. A. (2019). The Rise of Elite Short-Course Triathlon Re-Emphasises the Necessity to Transition Efficiently from Cycling to Running. Sports, 7(5), 99. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7050099
- 2Millet, G. P. (2000). Physiological and biomechanical adaptations to the cycle to run transition in Olympic triathlon: review and practical recommendations for training. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(5), 384–390. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.34.5.384