6 Simple Tips to Improve Your Triathlon Transitions

As triathletes we are so focused on swimming, biking, and running that we overlook the importance of transitions. In shorter distance triathlons just a few seconds can separate the top finishers. Taking that extra minute in transition can mean the difference between first and fourth place. This is a lesson I learned long ago and I have perfected my transitions over my career. In my recent triathlons I have been minutes faster than my closest competitors and it has absolutely been a huge key to my success!

Check out those speedy transitions!
Check out those speedy transitions!

In every triathlon I competed in in the last year I had the fastest transition splits in the entire race. Male, female, young, or old it didn’t matter I was in and out of transition faster than all of them. My splits are always under a minute and usually closer to just 30 seconds (varies based on the transition set up at the race). My speedy transitions have baffled my triathlon team mates and their pleads for advice on how to shave minutes off their overall times has prompted me to share these 6 tips. These are very basic simple tips that anyone can apply to help you have a speedy and flawless transition every time!

1 – The Left is Always Right
Setting up your transition area correctly is essential to speedy transitions. One easy rule to follow when setting up your area it to always be on the left side of your bike opposite your bike’s most important feature, the gear components. To protect your gears and your leg it is important that whenever you are walking or running with your bike you keep the bike on your right. To better prepare for this you want to set up your transition on the left side of your bike opposite your gears. This way you will be on that side when you go to grab your bike and run out. If you set up your area on the right side of the bike you will have to step around to the other side to grab it before you start running adding unnecessary steps and therefore seconds!

2 – Minimize
I am so often surprised when I look at other peoples transition areas. It seems like they have so much stuff that I look at mine wondering if I am forgetting something! In short distance triathlons you do not need much at all in your transition area. Look at your setup and find what you can eliminate all together and what you can do while riding or running. Simple things to look to eliminate include water bottles, food, towels, clothes, and socks.

Rather than stopping to re-fuel and hydrate in transition take food and water bottles on your bike to fuel and hydrate on the move. Don’t take the time to dry yourself off after the swim your bike is essentially a self-propelled hair dryer. Invest in a tri suit or just a comfortable swimsuit to eliminate the need to change clothes.

3 – Know Where to Go
Transition areas are a maze of bikes. You may think you know where you set up but when you enter winded and disoriented from the swim all the bikes look the same and it’s easy to get lost.  Taking a direct route to your transition area is the easiest way to save time. People try many things to help them be able to easily find their transition area. If the race allows it you can tie balloons to your rack or draw big chalk arrows on the pavement. However, these methods are not entirely fool proof and some, like me, would rather not be so flashy or add these extra chores to my pre-race schedule. There are several things that I do to make sure that I can quickly find my transition area.

First I use a bright towel and set it out to extend the full length of my bike. I see many fold their transition towels small and place them close to the rack. There are several reasons why you should keep your towel long, but the most important is that it makes it more visible! With all the bikes it is hard to see things on the ground no matter how bright they are. Your bright towel will come in most handy when you hit T2 and most of the bikes are out of transition. What helps me spot my transition area in T1 are my bike handle bars. I use bright handle bar tape that not only helps me to find my bike, but it also looks cool and fun! Wraping your handlebars is easy and cheap! You can find a rainbow of tape colors on Amazon for less than $15 and there are a million YouTube videos on how to do it.infographic-6-tri-transition-tips

Once I have my transition area set and ready I always take the time to walk the entire transition. I start from the swim in and try to get a feel for how far down the row I am. I then inspect the bike out and mount areas for anything that could be dangerous such as wires or mats from the timing system. Sometimes it it better to mount past the official mount line to avoid anything that can take you down especially if you are doing a flying mount. I then inspect the dismount area for the same obstacles and walk back to get a feel again for where I am at. Finally, while I am walking I look for other visual ques that can help me locate my transition area. Am I in line with any trees or poles? Is there a crack or line in the pavement that tells me I am close? Does someone around me have balloons or easily noticeable items in their area?

4 – Multi Task
Of course the key to any race is to always be moving, but many seem to forget that this does not mean you can only be doing one movement at a time. There are many times to multi task in a triathlon, but transitions are the most essential time to multi task in the entire race. Look at your transition setup and think about what you can do while moving in and out of the transition area. You should be able take your cap and goggles off and start to take your wet suit off as you run from the water. Then you can take in hydration and nutrition while on the bike. Finally you can put on your hat and race belt as you run out of transition. If you are an advanced triathlete you can even put on and take off your bike shoes while riding your bike. There is very little that you need to actually stop for in transition. More than 50% of the stuff you need to do in your transition can happen while you are running in and out of the transition area!

5 – Know Your Order of Operations
When you hit transition what do you do first? There are a few important rules when it comes to the order in which you do things in transition. Not only do these order of operations rules help you to have a faster transition but also prevent disqualification. Knowing your order of operations is something that is mastered with plenty of practice!

Order of Operations Rule 1:
The first order of operations rule to remember comes before you even reach the transition area. Especially if your race involves an open water swim where you wear a wet suit. You just had an awesome swim and you are running up the beach to transition. What is the first thing you want to do? Take off those annoying goggles that are making to hard to see? Bad idea! Lets say you do this and take your cap and goggles off now they are in your fist. At this point you should be multi tasking and taking the top of your wet suit off while you are running. A wet suit is hard enough to get off, let alone try to fit your fist, cap, and goggles through the arm hole as well! As uncomfortable as it may feel wait to take those goggles off till you have the top half of your wet suit off!

Order of Operations Rule 2:
The most important order of operations rule is to always have your helmet on and buckled before you ever touch your bike! It’s sounds like a duh rule but you would be surprised how many people start running off without their helmets. It’s easy to get confused and ahead of yourself when you have your adrenaline running and you are still grounding yourself after the swim. Running off without your helmet on or buckled is an easy way to get disqualified! My suggestion is to put your helmet on your bike so you can’t miss it!

Order of Operations Rule 3:
Our T2 order of operations rule is shoes before race belt! So many times have I seen people standing in transition while time ticks away struggling to clip their race belts when this is something they can be doing on the move! Earlier we talked about multi tasking in transition and this is a simple multi tasking task to do. Get your running shoes on and get moving!

6 – Practice Makes Perfect!
My last, but certainly not least, tip is to practice!! The more your practice your transitions the better and faster you will be. Practice until you don’t even have to think when you enter the transition area and it’s just instinct!

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