Transitions: The Race Within the Race

A multisport race can be won, or lost in the transitions. Don’t think of the transitions as the puzzle pieces between the 3 race segments. Rather, they are the 2nd and 4th legs of the entire event. What this means is–don’t treat the transitions as rest times, think of them as portions to make up time on an opponent or yourself, never a time to slow down.

Setting up your transition area neatly and efficiently is key. Having too much gear or overcrowding your space is not wise.  Have the essentials and nothing more. Take note of what’s around your area in transition.  Racking position, where the entrances and exits are in relation to where you racked and who, or what, is racked next to you. It’s all in the details. We find that a brightly colored towel laid out with your essentials is a good way to ‘spot’ your spot.

Transition #1 – Swim to Bike — coming out of the water from a swim is always a bit odd feeling. Although everyone reacts to this differently, keep your cool, keep moving forward and start thinking about what you need to do next.  If you’re utilizing a wetsuit then it’s time to start stripping that down to waist level.  Removing your goggles and swim cap can come before or after that, but make sure you don’t abandon any of your gear while in transition to transition, this could cause a penalty (USAT).  It’s time to quickly locate your bike.  Once you are there, strip the rest of your wetsuit off and give it a good home in your own area.  Don’t let your gear get into someone else’s space, that would be rude.  Anytime you are going to get on your bike, put your helmet on first, then work down from there.  Some individuals will already have their shoes attached to the pedals and run out of transition barefoot until they mount their bike at the mount line, others may put shoes on at this point and run, in shoes, out of transition…mount the bike and clip in straight away.  The quickest of the options is to have your shoes attached to the bike prior to you leaving transition, but do whatever is comfortable.

Flying Mount


Transition #2 – Bike to Run — As you are coming back from the final mile of the bike leg you need to start thinking about your dismount.  Now, keep in mind that everyone has their own way of dismounting.  As long as you don’t crash, you’re doing it right.  There are much more efficient tactics when it comes to the dismount, but safety first.  Whether you stay clipped in until the dismount line or you do a running dismount with your shoes already off your feet…know where you are headed next and get there quickly. When you find your rack area the quickest way to re-rack your bike is to go in bars first and utilize the front brake levers resting them over the rack.  Removing your helmet right after racking your bike (never before), grabbing your race number belt then swapping your cycling shoes for your running shoes.  And you’re off! This may be a good time to grab a gel or other nutrition as you leave for your run.


Preparing shoes for dismount
Preparing shoes for dismount
shoes still attached to the bike, running into transition seamlessly  photo: Steve Stenzel
shoes still attached to the bike, running into transition seamlessly photo: Steve Stenzel

Keep in mind, there are plenty of tips and other tricks that will help save time in transition.  Not one thing or 10 other things work perfectly for everyone.  You have to gain some real world experience in a race to really understand what is best for you and how you might make yourself faster and more efficient.  Every race is different.  Depending on the day, distance, weather, and your abilities…you have to plan accordingly.  Make sure to set goals for your transition times.  It is just as much a race against yourself as it is a race against others.  Race your race.

Triathlon Gear Checklist


— swim suit (or triathlon specific race suit), wetsuit, goggles


— bike, helmet, shoes (depends on pedal system), water bottles (as necessary)


— shoes

If you think about it, the necessities to race in a triathlon are really not that much.  The bike leg is the biggest expense overall but doesn’t have to break the bank, so to speak.


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