Triathlon Transitions 101

Transitions are commonly the most over-looked, last minute thought priority for triathletes. And for that reason, it’s a topic that isn’t commonly discussed or explained. I’m taking one for community by allocating time from my Wednesday night to shed some light on this individualistic, overly hyped, poetic sequence of events that we call T1 & T2. By the time you’re done reading this I want you to be able to confidently say “that blog post was pretty random, but surprisingly informative.”

What qualifies me as a Transition Guru is that I not only hold the fastest T2 in Ohio 70.3 history (confirmed :59 in 2018) but the fastest amateur T2 at the 2018 & 2017 NYC Triathlon (confirmed). Need I mention that I have ~12k followers on Instagram? (Btw if anyone hears me speaking like this in a serious tone feel free to karate chop me in the throat)

Since every athlete has their own ritual when it comes to managing this chaotic series of changes, I feel like I could help streamline some of the trials and errors for you tri-dorks. First, let’s start with the basic rules/ guidelines most of us agree upon.

10 Transition Commandments (in no particular order of importance)

#1. Make it quick.

#2. Breathe. This is a hectic time of the race, crowds, increased adrenaline and HR. Just remember to breathe like any other workout.

#3. NO WETSUIT RUNNING, have you ever tried running 50+ meters in a wetsuit? It feels like you’re doing lunges, do yourself a solid and step aside immediately upon swim-exit and rip that condom off!

#4. Take a DUMP – As soon as you get to your bike, DUMP the swim gear in wherever pre-determined area next to your bike.

#5. ABM... Always. Be. Moving.

#6. Bike is the Horse. You want your nutrition, water, shoes & spare kit all on the bike. If you’re not executing a flying mount (lame) then you can still mount with your shoes on the bike from stand still OR put them on before your Helmet-Bike-Go (see Rule #7).

#7. Helmet-Bike-Go. Helmet-Bike-Go, Helmet-Bike-Go. If you followed the rules so far, all you need to do is ‘DUMP-HELMET-BIKE-GO’ when you get to your bike.

#8. Shoes & number are life, everything else is just luxury. FACTS.

#9. Strait line. Figure out the most direct route of travel from entrance to exit and take it – you’re not Ponce de Leon.

#10: Practice makes perfect.

5 Most Popular Transition Formats

#1. ITU/ Draft-Legal. This format is the bucket concept and is the only format of its kind on the list. The most important rules here are 1. Everything must end up in the bucket 2. Don’t touch your bike until your helmet is buckled & visa-versa when racking. Your run shoes/gear can be placed outside the bucket. If you’re not a fast young-gun between the ages of 16-24 then you typically won’t see this format so I’m gonna leave it at that.

#2. Transition A to B. (two transitions): This format will typically be at middle/ long-distance events. T1 will be a different location from T2, making it a little more complicated but not really. You’ll have the opportunity to set T2 the night prior or morning of the race. Your T2 is pretty simple because you’re dumping the bike and heading out for the run so you only set up run gear. T1 is even easier because it’s only bike, helmet and bike shoes, that’s it. With these formats the event crews will transfer a Day Bag from T1 to T2 post-race but the downside is traveling back to T1 (especially after a few Michelob Ultras, holla).

#3. Swim-Run-Bike-Run. Long run from the swim-exit to T1 entrance – This is when there’s an obnoxiously long T1. Sometimes these Ts offer a chance for athletes to wear shoes (i.e. Alcatraz). I’ve done races where the distance from swim-exit to bike-mount is almost a mile long, I love these T’s because I end up making up so much time on the stronger swimmers. The goal here is to move swiftly while remaining in control of your breathe.

#4. Transitioning Transition. Typically found during larger races. For example, 1 transition hosts two race distances (Sprint + Olympic). These transitions will sometimes throw off your depth perception because when you get to transition it might be completely empty or full depending on the distance you’re racing. I noticed this because I got back in from the bike and it was essentially empty, the Sprint race had already cleared and there wasn’t many bikes returned from the Olympic, I was LOST.

#5. Traditional. You literally only need enough space to fit your shoes & bike in a transition, if you’re laying out a bath towel then you’re just a complete jackass. If anything, a small 12x12 towel will suffice, comes in handy with beach exits or baseball field transitions. If you followed all the suggestions that I’ve given then you know for T1 all you need to do is dump your swim gear, lock your helmet and grab your bike. If you need to put sunglasses on they’re either in/ on your helmet. T2 is where you can test what works and what doesn’t. Typically, I have a hat, belt, shoes all stacked on top of each other in that order. That way I can rack my bike, dump my helmet and then slip on my shoes and grab my belt/ hat and then off to the run. I have my belt inside my hat so I can focus on constantly moving. While I’m running out of T2 I’m slipping my belt over my head like giant O ring while simultaneously putting on my hat. I will normally have my run nutrition on my bike so it will already be stuffed in my kit; if not I’ll have my run nutrition in my hat and stuff it in my kit during my run out of T2. The same goes with sunglasses, if I wear a separate run pair, they’ll be in the hat alongside the belt & nutrition. Bottom line, other than putting on my shoes everything is managed while running out of T2.

8 Miscellaneous Tips

#1. Arrival Time. Personal preference, at first I use to like getting there super early but as I grew in the sport I’m began to be more relaxed on race morning. The later I show up the more focused I am, less personal interaction and distraction before start but obviously I need to make sure everything is well prepared and laid out, this works for me.  

#2. Flying vs No Flying. Personal preference, to execute a flying mount in a race scenario you need to master it in a practice situation… over and over again. Practice is essentially a controlled environment. On race day you’ll have the elements to deal with alongside other competitors mounting and falling around you.  The decision to choose to fly or not to fly is one the athlete is going to have to make on their own. It’s an easy choice to make, you either can or cannot.

#3. Socks vs No Socks. Personal preference, who am I to suggest to another athlete if they should or shouldn’t wear socks? That should be left up to the individual. For me, it depends on how my feet feel that day, seriously.

#4. Markers. Establish a physical marker like a tree, sign, toilet, garbage can, rock or anything you know will be there during the race, that’s your north star. Some people think they’ve uncovered the Arch of the Covenant by being the first to hang a balloon or funky tape, it’s nice but just one more item to bring on race day. (Plus there’s most likely going to be other people’s tape and if you bring a balloon I will pop it, no questions asked).

#5. Bags. Transition bags are huge in triathlon, most races will provide clear plastic bags and people will still put their book-bags in these and that’s cool, I do the same. BUT I don’t keep that bag near my bike, I put it off to the end of my transition aisle or fence. I’ve never had issues with stuff being stolen at a race, other athletes will see you do this and follow suite, be the trend setter. Imagine if all the transition bags weren’t near the bikes and off to the side…yeah, I’m not a neat freak or anything.

#6. Bathroom. If you need to go to the bathroom then you better have a plan. My plan is, #1 can happen whenever & wherever but #2 doesn’t exists during a race. Number 2 is managed before the start so bring wet wipes & a headlamp, that port-a-potty is mysterious at 5am.  

#7. Slippers. Most swim starts are far away from transition, go on Amazon.com and order hotel slippers in bulk (you’ll thank me). Having tender feed, the slippers make the walk up to swim-start an easily avoidable nuisance.  

#8. BYOM. Bring Your Own Music. Nothing will take the wind out of your sails faster than hearing Ryan Seacrest and Z100 at 5am. Not having the music you’ve been training w/ can flat out suck. The MC is constantly barking out countdown times, weather updates etc… it can get very stressful. If anything important is being communicated, everyone around you will stop what they’re doing, turn and listen. When you see that then you take your music out. Know the time transition closes, race starts and estimated time it will take to walk to swim-start (~20min walk/mile).

Transitions are no different than any other discipline of triathlon, it gives you the opportunity to test what works and what doesn’t. Although they amount for only a small portion of the race, transitions can either send your race into Shitsville, population YOU or riding high like your rollin’ into a Scholastics Book Fair circa 2001 with a $20 banger in your pocket lookin’ do some damage. One day you might miss qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships by :30 due to a 4min T2 @ 2018 Ironman 70.3 Dubai (*I’m not salty*) so you better figure out what the heck you’re doing, don’t fuck around.

Love you.

Conor