A good triathlon swim will not guarantee you win but a poor swim will help you loose it. In much the same way, a good transition will contribute to a positive race experience. The objective of the transition is to help you comfortably, quickly, and safely “transition” from one discipline to another. Too often, triathletes overlook the preparation and importance of a good transition. Whether your goal is to just finish or make the podium, a good transition starts with practice. Here are a few tips to help plan and practice for good transitions.
Step 1 - Acquire a transition bag.
Why do I start here? I've seen some far out things in transition; everything from a bed sheet, trash bag, Home Depot bucket, suitcases, and rubber-maid container. Most of these non-traditional carrying cases are bulky and serve only as a safety hazard. Do yourself and your fellow athletes a favor and get a proper transition bag. There is a huge selection of transition bags on the market ranging in price. A transition bag will help to safely and effectively transport all your triathlon equipment.
Step 2 - Pack Your Transition Bag
Packing your transition bag the day before the race will help ensure you have everything you need and avoid last minute panic attacks race morning. Here is a list of items to consider::
- Wetsuit / Booties
- Transition Mat
- Swim Cap
- Body Glide
- Swim Wax or Plugs
- Bike Shoes
- Water Bottles
- Sun Glasses
- Race Belt
- Run clothes
- Race Number
- Running Hat
- Running Shoes
- Water Bottle Belt
- Sun Block / Lip Balm
- Race Belt
- Gels / Bars / Food
- Post Race Clothes
- Post Race Recovery Nutrition
Step 3 - Pick Your Spot
Arrive early to select the best spot for your needs. Note that at most races you cannot ride your bike inside the transition area. Also know most races set the "bike out and return" location opposite the "run out" to avoid congestion. Selecting a spot near the bike out (recommended) will reduce the length of running inside the transition area with bike in hand. Larger events will designate racks for male and female athletes and/or by age groups; example "Female 20 to 25". Other events may use race number ranges, example rack 1 will include race numbers 1 through 20.
Step 4 - Rack Your Bike
There are two ways to rack your bike; by the handle bars as shown in the picture to the left, or by the saddle as shown below left. For the novice or intermediate athlete, neither provide much of advantage. My recommendation is that you rack by the saddle for the follwing reasons:
- The saddle takes less room on the rack than your bars
- The bike will already be pointing in the direction you are going
- When congested and racked by the handle bars, it may be difficult to turn your bike to the direction you need to go
- It's easier to unrack from your saddle
- In some cases, the brake levers get caught on the rack
- Racking from the saddle is safer and faster.
Sample of racking your bike by the saddle.
Step 5 - Lay down your Tansition
Please follow the below common tranistion ediquette
- If you rack your bike by the saddle, your transition mat (or towel) should be on the side of the rack of near your front wheel.
- If you rack your bike by the handle bars, your transition mat should be on the side of the rack near your rear wheel
- Use a reasonable sized mat. Don't use a beach towel or take more space than needed
- Your mat (towel), transition bag, and equipment should be on your side of the rack, not across (spanning from one side to the other)
Place your equipment on your mat grouped by necessity; For example, place all of your bike equipent (shoes, socks, gloves, sunglasses, helmet, etc). Separately, put all of your run stuff together. Some transitions areas are rough (asphalt, gravel, sand) so leave some room on the mat for your feet. For safety and respect of fellow competitors, avoid bad habits some athletes make like:
- Don't bring a beach chair or bucket to sit on in transition
- Use an extra water bottle with tap water instead of a plastic container to wash the sand off your feet
- Don't arrive late and squeeze into the best spot. Be considerate to those who arrived early.
Step 6 - Walk the Transition:
Nothing is more frustrating than setting up the perfect transition and not being able to find it after coming out of the swim. Once you've set you your transition, go to the swim exit and walk the path from the water to your bike transition so that you don't loose time. Find a landmark (tree, light post, building) near your transition to help with its location. Some athletes use chalk to mark the ground. Helium balloons scream "I'm new at this and don't know what I'm doing."
Step 7 - Stand Guard:
There is one thing more frustrating than not finding your transition, it's the arrogant inconsiderate athletes who arrives late and think they desere the best spot in transition. This typically happens when you go to warm up. You return to find someone's bike racked directly over your backpack and transition. Time your warm up so that it coinsides with your race or wave limiting last minute athletes.
Another way to guard against this is to partner with a friend or other athlete at the race. Rack your bikes by their saddles facing opposite directions as in the picture to the left; chainrings to the outside. This creates a corridor between your bikes. Place your transition bags back to back under the rack bar in between the bikes and mats in front of the bags. The bikes should be racked close enough to discourage most inconsiderates from racking in between but wide enough for your transition and bag.