Practice Makes Perfect: Triathlon Transition Tips

From a first timer to an experienced triathlete, you may be asking what is the most efficient way to manage transition during a race? We caught up with IRONMAN certified coach Wendy Mader to discover her top triathlon transition tips and how you can streamline this crucial process.

Triathlon Transition Tips

Most of us are so excited to finish the swim section that we push too hard. This leaves us too exhausted to focus on making a smooth transition. Follow these 4 triathlon transition tips to minimize your mistakes and set yourself up for success during the race.

1) Know your INs and OUTs

One of the challenges many of us face during T1 (transition from swim to bike), is locating your bike. One reason may be due to the transition area looking different from when you entered the water.

You may have remembered several bikes or signs which are located around yours, however these might not be there once you have exited because of competitors in front of you, removing their bikes during the race.

Not being able to locate your bike quickly once you have left the water, could cost you those all-important seconds and result in a slower race time.

One of my favorite triathlon transition tips to try and overcome this, would be to tie a balloon (or some other bright object) to your transition rack. Make it notable to yourself, so even if there are several other bikes using the same technique, you won’t be distracted.

Another suggestion is to chalk arrows or symbols on the floor (if allowed in the race), which directs you to your bike.

Practice Makes Perfect: Triathlon Transition Tips | Wendy Mader | Linked Fitness CommunityBefore any race, I recommend taking the time to go down to the swim exit point and walk up to the transition area.

By waking the route several times, you can visualize and practice the process, so come race day, you are not thinking about the transition but instead focusing on the next section of your race.

So many athletes have trained for all the of the disciplines of the race, however, they have not practiced the transition part and have become disconnected and confused during this key process.

It is also important that you understand the flow of the race you have entered. For instance, Ironman and 70.3 races have changing tents, whereas your gear will be located on your bike in Sprints and Olympic Distances.

2) Practice Your Technique in the Pool

Transition can be a source of emotional distress which places a drain on your energy levels. It is therefore important for you to make the transition as habitual as possible so that you can minimize stress on race day.

Practicing the transition section of your race should form part of your training regime so that you can focus on other aspects of the race.

I recommend several techniques to help you prepare yourself:

  • Prepare for the sensation of going from prone to standing position. When practicing in the pool, complete your warm up and then swim 200 m/yd at race pace. At the end of the swim, quickly hop up into standing position and run in place. How did you feel? Repeat until it feels natural and you’re not having to think about it.
  • Practice swimming in a wetsuit. If it is causing restrictive breathing it may be the wrong size and you may need to consider a larger size.
  • Practice getting in and out of your wetsuit and find the best technique for you.
  • If possible, look at setting up your bike transition in the pool area. You can then practice swimming at race pace, to elevate your heart rate, and transition to your bike and start riding with an elevated heart rate.

3) Prepare for Swimming in Open Water

Practice Makes Perfect: Triathlon Transition Tips | Wendy Mader | Linked Fitness CommunityBE MINDFUL of the last couple hundred meters as you approach shoreline and start to visualize what you are about to do.

You will be quickly going from a horizontal swim position to a vertical run position. Practice these techniques to help you with this process in the transition phase:

  • As many of us don’t kick while wearing a wetsuit, you need to loosen up your legs and get the blood flowing. Around 200 meters to go, start kicking your legs and get ready to move quickly as you exit the water.
  • As it is faster to swim to the shore than it is to walk, keep swimming until your hand hits the sand, then stand up.
  • When exiting the water, move as quickly and calmly as possible. Try to avoid other competitors and don’t let them distract you.
  • When standing up, un-clip your wetsuit, and decide if you are going to run or walk to T1;
  • Go through the process of taking off your wetsuit, like you practiced in the pool. Unzip while walking/running to the bike.
  • If you are competing in an Ironman race, you may want to consider taking advantage of the wetsuit strippers.
  • As discussed above in Tip 1, understand the flow of the transition area. Know where to locate your bike and the direction of the next leg of the race.

4) Get Your Transition Set Up Right

One of the other key triathlon transition tips for achieving a good T1 transition, is to limit your choices. This is achieved by keeping equipment to a minimum. Space is very limited so your layout is critical to a smooth transition.

Only layout essential items including your cycling and running shoes, bib number on race belt, helmet, and glasses. Make sure your water bottles, nutrition, and tools to fix any mechanical issues, are already stored on your bike.

Some athletes save time if they have their cycling shoes in their pedals. Consider whether this is an option for you. The athletes that find this technique successful are usually the ones that practice running and jumping on their bike.

Once mounted they will then slip their feet into their shoes whilst cycling. You will need to practice this before race day as trying during the race may add additional time.

Practice the transaction frequently. A well organized and thorough practice of the process will ensure it becomes automatic on race day. Include these triathlon transition tips into your training regime and see the benefits.

Practice Makes Perfect: Triathlon Transition Tips | Wendy Mader | Linked Fitness CommunityAbout the Author

Wendy Mader

MS, Ironman Certified Coach, TRX and ACE Certified Winner, 2008 Kona 1st Overall Amateur

Wendy is co-founder and owner of t2coaching and has made a lifelong commitment to fitness, sports, coaching, and triathlon.

From her youth as a competitive swimmer to her current career in the fitness industry, her dedication shines.

Wendy is a former collegiate swimmer and has 25 years experience in triathlon including 15 Ironmans.

She is the Head Coach of SASfit Team in Turkey and also Head Coach at Endurance House in Westminster Colorado.

To find out more about Wendy Mader, visit her coaching website

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