Transition: Getting It Right

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published August 25, 2009

Photo: John Segesta

The fourth discipline, a zone of rampant confusion, a pain in the…transition can be a funny place. For too many triathletes it’s a part of the race when minutes are inexplicably lost and heart rates rocket. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Ian Murray runs through ways of making sure your transition goes smoothly (and quickly)

The transitions from swim to bike (T1) and from bike to run (T2) can sometimes confuse some triathletes. Smooth transitions are critical to race success and organization is vital to smooth transitions

To avoid wasting time, place every gear- and nutrition-related decision you make for transition into one of two categories: speed or comfort. Here are some examples:

Gloves: Gloves are great for training because they dampen vibration, trap perspiration and protect your hands in the event of a crash. Gloves are good for comfort, but they work tragically against speed. Forcing wet hands into tight bike gloves in T1 is time-consuming, so if you simply must have that little bit of comfort, prepare to lose time.

Clean, dry bike shorts: Seconds can rush by when you slip out of wet trunks, towel off, apply some of anti-friction cream to your sensitive bits and slide into some fully padded bike shorts. An argument might be made for doing this if you’re doing your first Ironman with the modest goal of just finishing. For short races and speedier goals, however, don a pair of tri shorts (with thin padding that doesn’t absorb much water) and wear them straight through the swim, bike and run.

Nutrition on the bike: Take time before the race begins to place bottles in their cages and to attach your nutrition to the bike so that it’s there waiting for you during your ride. A wonderful trick is to tape the pull-tabs of your favorite gels to the top tube of your bike. You’ll be able to grab the packet with one hand, tear it away from the tab and consume it quickly, easily and with less risk of littering.

No matter what shortcuts you use to make your transitions faster, these are absolute musts:

Practice: Triathletes spend hours and hours working on their swim, bike and run skills while ignoring their transitions. At least one time before each race, lean your bike against a tree in a park or against the car in the driveway and set up a transition area just as you would on race day. Start with a barefoot run as if you were exiting the swim and practice T1. Then come in as if you are finishing the bike and practice T2.

Nothing new on race day: Each workout is an opportunity to test an element for race day. Test every little thing beforehand, from how you mix your electrolyte drink to your race pedalling cadence to the laces on your running shoes. Stick to those proven elements for the event.

Helmet strap: A great habit to develop is to put on your helmet and click the strap before you remove your bike from the rack in T1. In T2, put the bike in the rack first and then unbuckle the strap. This way you are doubly sure to be both legal and as fast as you can be, since you’re able to work on the strap with both hands.

Keep it small and organized: Transition areas are busy, crowded places. Limit yourself to a very small, very well-organized space and leave plenty of room for others. Lay out only what you need and take it all with you; the heat of the race is not the time to be making product selections.

Ian Murray is a USAT Level III coach and the co-producer, writer and host of the DVD series available at

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.