Beginner Triathlon Transition Tips

Triathlon Transition Area

Your fingers scrape against dense sand, a startling and unfamiliar texture, after having swum across a bottomless and vast expanse for what seemed an eternity. As you near the end of your first triathlon swim course the roar of a crowd cheering penetrates the sloshing water and the guff of your hardened rhythmic breathing and your adrenaline spikes. The next few seconds become an overwhelming blur as your body wills itself through sand, sound and silhouettes towards the transition area, all the while your mind focusing on one question. What happens next?

The transition area is at best controlled chaos. You’re in race limbo, trapped within a fixed space where you must prepare yourself for the next stage of your journey, and all the while the omnipresent race clock continues to tick. Upon entering this area, triathletes, no matter their age, sex or elite status are immediately sorted into one of two categories. Prepared and unprepared.

This is a guide for beginner triathletes who want to better prepare themselves for triathlon transitions.

Swim to Bike – Transition One (T1)

Before you arrive to the course you should be practicing taking off your wetsuit. Don’t be that person searching for the pull zip while running through the transition chute. Instead take the time before your race to practice running while finding your wetsuit zipper and stripping it down to your hips. Run, don’t walk, out of the water while immediately taking off your cap and goggles.  When you do pull your arms through your suit pull your cap and goggles through too, lodging them into the arm of the wetsuit. This helps to keep the clutter of your own transition area to a minimum and will ensure that you don’t forget them when you’re packing up after your race.

Practice taking your wetsuit off beforehand!

Before your race you should have already mastered the art of taking off a wetsuit as to avoid the time-costly and comical transition wetsuit wiggle. And honestly it just takes a few tries to get it down pat.

How to arrange your transition area:

Transition Area Setup

Transition Mat Setup

  • Choose a spot as close to the bike exit as possible
  • Set bike equipment in front of your run equipment so that it is quickly accessible.
  • If your swim exit took you through sand you may want to have a tiny bucket or water bottle available to quickly rinse your feet of sand and pebbles
  • Never eat or drink while in transition. Attach all nutrition to your bike (taping it to the tube or inside a bento box). There will be plenty of opportunities to eat and drink while cycling!
  • Put your bike helmet on first! You should mount your helmet between your aerobars or on your handlebars making it easily accessible and immediately visible. You must have your helmet on and clipped before having any interaction with your bike otherwise you will suffer a penalty.
  • Run your bike to the mount line and mount your bike in one of 3 ways.
  1. Running bike mount – This is the fastest and most difficult mounting technique. With your shoes already clipped into the bike’s pedals, the triathlete runs alongside the bike and jumps onto the saddle while taking a few pedal strokes to gain speed and stability before slipping his/her feet into their shoes. 
  2. Push-start mount – Somewhat fast. With your shoes once again already clipped into the pedals, stand next to the bike with one foot on the pedal pushing off with the other foot before pedaling away and slipping your feet into your shoes.
  3. Over the bike standing mount – This is the slowest and most common form of mounting your bike. Chances are this is how you start off every training ride and is the way that most of us have gone about mounting our bike since our first ride. There’s nothing wrong with this technique, you’re just losing time putting on your shoes and beginning from a static state instead of doing all of this while gaining momentum and distance using either of the above techniques.

Bike to Run – Transition 2 (T2)

Some Triathlons will mark exits in chalk

When approaching the end of the bike course, shift to a higher gear and spin at a higher cadence to help prepare your legs for the run. Remember to keep your helmet on and clipped at all times until your bike is completely racked to avoid a penalty! After racking your bike, unclip your helmet and put on your triathlon running shoes and race belt before grabbing any extra gels or equipment. When making your way to the run exit, put on any extra run gear instead of staying static at your transition-mat. Finally, shorten your stride until your legs loosen up from biking. It may take a mile or so but don’t worry, you’ll find that running groove in no time!

I hoped to answer some of the following questions in this post. Let me know if I missed something.
– What do I need for my transition area?
– How to set-up a transition area?
– What is a transition area?
– What is the best way to set-up my transition area?
– How do I set-up my transition area?

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