Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks from An IRONMAN Certified Coach

Triathlon transition is often known as the fourth discipline of training. Many triathletes focus on the swim, bike and run, and forget that the clock is still running in the transition area. If you haven’t thoroughly practiced your transition, you could find you are getting a slower time than you deserve after all your hard work training for the other three disciplines.

IRONMAN Certified Coach and F.I.S.T. Certified Bike Fitter Michael Bieber from Treis Athlos Coaching, shares his tips and tricks for achieving a streamlined triathlon transition.

Triathlon Transition Preparation Tips

How do I get out of transition more quickly? This is a question I get all the time, from Triathlon beginners and veterans alike.

Whether it is in T1 (swim to bike) or T2 (bike to run), there are several key factors for achieving a successful triathlon transition.

Every athlete has a slightly different order or method of moving from one discipline to the next. However, there are a number of things to keep in mind to make every transition go more smoothly.

1. Set Up Your Equipment in the Order You Will Need It

Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks | IRONMAN Coach | Linked FitnessTypical event order is swim-bike-run, so set up your equipment in triathlon transition to be accessed in that order. Bags such as the TYR Apex are compartmentalized and can help keep your items organized by discipline and provide lots of storage room.

Using a transition mat or towel to lay your stuff out on allows you to see every item you will need. It also gives you a place to wipe/dry your feet coming out of the water.

My preferred set up is:

  • Bike racked by the seat with bars facing out.
  • Transition mat to the right hand side of my bike, with my cycling shoes and socks (yes, socks) at the front of the mat.
  • My race belt with my number attached, then sits next to my cycling shoes. I put my running shoes directly behind my cycling shoes with my visor sitting on top.
  • Helmet, sunglasses, and Halo Headband are sitting on my aerobars for quick accessibility.

2. Be Methodical & Purposeful in Your Actions

Do one thing at a time and do it correctly. If you watch triathlon enough, you will see that those who try to rush through and do multiple things at once, often spend more time in transition than those who go a little more slowly, but do so with precision.

Be prepared to sacrifice having your gear exactly how you want it just to save a couple seconds. It may come back to hurt your performance in the long run.

3. Know Your In’s & Out’s

Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks | IRONMAN Coach | Linked FitnessSome races assign your transition spot while others allow you to choose. Either way, you should do a walk-through of how your transitions will go.

Here are the things that I consider before each race:

  • Where do I enter T1 after exiting the swim?
  • After entering T1, what direction is my bike and approximately how far will I be running to get there?
  • How crowded will the transition be? If they start by age groups and assign my transition spot by age group, there is likely to be much more of a crowd than an age group start with self-selected transition area.
  • Where is the bike exit? After setting up my equipment, what direction do I need to go and how far do I need to move with my bike before I hit the bike mount?
  • Where is bike in? Most races utilize the same transition area, but there are a few where T1 and T2 are separate. Once I dismount, what direction do I go in and how far is it until I am at my spot?
  • Finally, where is the run out? I have seen many athletes make assumptions about where they need to go and end up running extra around transition to find the run out.

4. Know When Triathlon Transition Opens & Closes

If it doesn’t open until 6am race day, don’t show up at 5am and expect to get in. Likewise, if it closes at 7:45am for an 8am race start, don’t show up at 7:30 and be offended when you are told to leave and you aren’t set up.

Also be aware that many races do not re-open transition to allow you to remove gear until the last person is out of transition for the run. This is so that athletes who have finished are not interfering with athletes who have yet to finish.

If you require a race number to check your bike in and out, be thankful. It may be a hassle to make sure you have your number with you at those times. However it is for the security of your bike that they do it. It has been some time since I’ve heard about a bike being stolen out of transition but it does happen. Be appreciative of the volunteer checking to make sure the numbers match!

Step by Step Race Day Transition

Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks | IRONMAN Coach | Linked FitnessAfter the transition question about speed, I often receive a follow up question on how I do my own transitions.

In an effort to practice what I preach, I do things the same way whether I am doing a local sprint or a destination 140.6.

There is a method and an order to every transition, and I have found what works best for me, regardless of race distance.

I’ve already detailed how I like my transition set up, so here is a breakdown of how I go about moving through my transitions once the race has started:

1. Swim Exit 

As soon as I can stand, I begin stripping my swim gear. Goggles and cap come off in one motion. I run my goggle straps under my cap, so I can just slide my thumb under the goggle strap and lift up. I then reach back and undo the Velcro of my wetsuit and pull the zipper down.

All of this is done while I am running toward T1. I continue by pulling off one side of my wetsuit to the waist, and then the other side. The rest of the removal (from the waist down) finishes up at my transition spot.

I toss goggles and cap to the back of my mat and use both hands to shove the wetsuit down to my calves. I then step on the left side of my suit with my right foot and remove the left foot. Then the right side comes off in a similar fashion.

2. T1 Transition

First, I wipe my feet on my mat. Then I put on my left sock and shoe, followed by my right sock and shoe.

People ask why I do socks and the answer is simple. I find that if I don’t, I will blister later in the race. The extra few seconds in T1 saves me from heel blisters every time.

After shoes and socks, I clip on my race belt with number attached and position it on the small of my back. I then put on my sunglasses, headband, and helmet, in that order.

Next the bike is off the rack and I’m heading out for the bike leg of the race.

3. T2 Transition

I rack my bike the same way I had it at the start – by the seat with the bars facing out. My helmet, sunglasses, and headband come off and go back on the aerobars.

I then lean down, undo the Velcro on both shoes, and remove the left one first and then the right. Next I put on the visor that was sitting on my running shoes.

My running shoes are now right in front of me. I put the left one on first and snug the quick-pull laces, once again followed by the right.

I start running toward the run out and turn my race belt so the number is in front as most races require this.

Triathlon Transition Training

Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks | IRONMAN Coach | Linked FitnessAs you can see, it’s not difficult to have efficient transitions. Being methodical and doing things consistently greatly improves, not only the speed of triathlon transition, but the ease of transition as well.

Triathletes tend to overlook transition practice in their training, so I will often have a day where I make my athletes set up their transition in their front yard and practice doing it over and over again.

Start in your wetsuit and make sure it is wet (a garden hose is fine), transition from the ‘swim’ to the bike, go ride a mile and then come in and transition from bike to run.

Do this several times to really nail down the process and then take a video (if available) so you can watch from the outside looking in. Look for areas that you are losing focus or time, and see if you can streamline a particular thing without sacrificing another.

Every triathlete wants to be great in T1 and T2. All it takes is a little practice and finding your own rhythm.

Just because something works for me, does not mean it will work for you. You may find that adjusting the order of your transition items makes it go more smoothly.

Play with it a bit in practice, and when you found something that really works, stick with it!  Don’t do something different on race day just because it’s race day.

Stick with your method and be consistent and purposeful. Those 3 things will take you to triathlon transition success!

About Michael Bieber

Triathlon Transition: Tips & Tricks | IRONMAN Coach | Linked FitnessMichael Bieber is based in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, and has experience working with athletes ranging from high school freshmen to elite age group athletes.

He is an IRONMAN Certified Coach, F.I.S.T. Certified Bike Fitter, Licensed Physical Education and Health Teacher, and has been coaching for over a decade.

Main areas of coaching expertise include triathlon, distance running, strength training, cross training, and injury prevention/maintenance. He is also qualified to perform bike fitting, form/gait analysis, and swim analysis.

Michael’s philosophy is that everybody has room to improve. He believes that adding the accountability of a coach is a great way to aid in an athlete’s development.

Michael loves to work with anybody who is willing to commit to the process of improvement and he gets a great sense of satisfaction from helping people work toward their goals.

To find out more about Michael Bieber and his coaching services, head over to his website Treis Athlos Coaching

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