How to achieve more efficient triathlon transitions

As an operations consultant, I provide information to my clients about doing things faster, more efficiently with less wasted time or money and repeatedly. If you are in business and want to grow, you really want to establish the least costly methods early on and then scale up as you expand. The same principles are applied to race car driving pits, when every second counts. When tires need to be changed during a race, every move is scripted and efficient with no loss of time or movement. This is how the pit crew assures that not only are the new tires installed correctly, but the minimum loss of time occurs for the change. As a triathlete, I have applied my profession and expertise in efficiency to races in order to perfect and reduce time for more efficient triathlon transitions.

These days, my transitions are slow only if I decide I’m not worried about the time and am using my race for training instead of competing. On racing days, however, I apply all my planning and motion analysis skills to reduce the time for each transition to optimize for my best times on the courses.

What You’ll Get Out of This Post

In this post, you will learn how to achieve good triathlon transitions no matter what equipment you feel you must have for each leg of the race. Additionally, at the end of this blog you will find a list of items you may want for your transitions- both my personal list of essentials, as well as a list of extras.

I don’t recommend using every item, but it’s a comprehensive list so you can consider what items you need versus want (a very important consideration!) At the top of the list you’ll find what is essential and what you absolutely must have to start.

Under that, you’ll find a second list of extra equipment. This will allow you to practice your timing with only what is needed to get your baseline down. That way you can factor in additional seconds or even minutes to your transition based on every item you add.

The Bare Essentials

Transition 1(T1): Swim to Bike

Take off wetsuit, goggles and cap, put on biking shoes, helmet and sunglasses.

This is really all you need to ride your bike. Protection for your eyes, head and feet. How fast can you get these things on? Start by timing yourself as you put each item on. What motions are wasted? Does it help to have your helmet on the handlebars with your sunglasses inside? I say yes because I put my sunglasses on first, then my helmet and snap it over the earpieces. Shoes go on next and I’m off.

Can you get this to 30 seconds or less?

Transition 2 (T2): Bike to Run

Take off biking shoes and helmet, put on running shoes, bib and cap.

This is really all you need to run if you use nutrition on the course. Can you save time by wearing your bib on the bike? You can, but only if you pin it on before the swim. If you use a race belt, you can put that inside your cap and put both on as you run out of T2 to save time.

Can you get this to 30 seconds or less?

Arrangements: put stuff in the order you will need it.

There is a factory system called 5S. It basically means “everything has a place, and everything should be in its place” Thus, it makes sense to put things in the order you will need them and then return them there when you get back. Minimalism helps a great deal here. I use the following arrangement:

  • I put down a towel or my mini Tatami mat and put my bike shoes in front with sunscreen and nutrition inside.
  • My bike helmet and sunglasses are on the handlebars.
  • On the mat, behind my bike shoes, are my running shoes, extra water bottle, and my race belt stuck inside my cap in one shoe.
  • I use my sunscreen pre-bike and put it into the open running shoe as a reminder to use it again pre-run.
  • I always throw my goggles and cap into the bag and hang my wetsuit next to my bike on the rack during the race.

Travel Time: plan, plan, plan.

As you plan your transition, consider how far you must travel from the swim to T1, from the biking dismount to T2 and the distances out of both. These can result in minutes. Some swim outs to T2 are nearly .25 miles long and your running speed is a factor. Plan for this time so you don’t get flustered if you see you are taking longer than expected.

Related: click here to try TriMonster! Sign up for a free visit & more info.

The Extra Stuff

Now that you’ve got the basic necessities down, you can start to factor in some extra equipment and how you might arrange it for the most efficient usage during your triathlon transitions.

Transition 1 Extras: bike socks, sunscreen, nutrition, water to wash your feet, towel to dry feet, other misc.

If you are a person who must have socks, you may need to wash your feet and dry them to get your socks on quickly. Once you have mastered the essentials of T1, add the socks and practice. Ask yourself, is it more efficient to put your socks in your shoes pre-rolled or are you better off if you put both socks on first then both shoes?

Place items you need in order on your mat and practice each in order to see what works. Normally it is better to do the same motion twice rather than changing motions, e.g. put both socks on first then both shoes so that you do one motion twice. However, you may find your mind works better with a sock-shoe-sock-shoe order.

If you did not put sunscreen on pre-swim, you will want to put some on now. Some races have sunscreen volunteers but personally I prefer the spray on stuff because I make sure to get my ears, that “tramp stamp” area and my shoulders and nose. Plan your method and stick to it.

Finally, you may want to start your nutrition in transition. I use a Gu packet pre-opened and just stick it in my mouth as I put on my shoes and helmet. I can suck on it in small doses as I’m getting all my stuff on.

Transition 2: running socks, sunscreen, nutrition, water belt/bottle, towel, other misc.

Same thing here – when you run into transition, you may want to dry your feet and put on dry socks. Personally, I don’t use socks ever, but I know many who must have them. Once again, plan your order and practice it. If you like to carry water, you only need your bib on the run (usually), so you might have a water belt that has the bib on it. Put this on as you run out of transition. Maybe reapply sunscreen to make sure you don’t get burnt shoulders or a burnt nose on the run.

Related: anyone can be a triathlete! Check out this amazing story of how member Maria finished her first triathlon at 70!

Getting in and out: visualize it.

Before the race begins, practice your swim transition by “walking in” from the swim and looking for milestones to remember so you can find your bike and transition area quickly. Visualize yourself running in, tired and excited, past others ahead of you to your spot. Imagine how you will take off your cap and goggles on the run in, when you will remove your wetsuit and how you will put on your bike attire. See yourself doing this calmly, yet fast and efficiently.

Then, walk to bike out. Walk to bike in and back to your transition area, again looking for milestones or landmarks that will help you find your spot quickly. Visualize yourself jogging with your bike to your spot quickly and efficiently, staging your bike (“Will you hook with handlebars or seat? Did you come in on the right side to do that?) and removing your bike attire, calmly and quickly putting on your running gear. Walk to run out. Plan the route you will use to avoid those coming in with their bikes and those still leaving with their bikes. Find a wide row that will allow passing.

Cleaning up and keeping all your stuff.

If you are efficient with your gear up process, you will also have time to put your things into your bag as you remove them, or stack them neatly on the towel. I use my wetsuit as a locator for bike in. I remove it, hang it over my bike slot on the rack and when I return I look for it to find my rack slot.

Putting your goggles and cap into your bag can be done quickly if you plan for it in your practice and will keep your things near you as others jostle their bikes around. I’ve seen many lost goggles, wetsuits and other gear in transitions. I tend to finish later than many younger racers and could probably make a few bucks on the items that remain behind! You will be tired when you return. Having stuff neatly stacked or already in your bag makes it easy to NOT forget stuff and a relief for tired legs and back.

Bonus Tips

Remember, any time you spend in transition is part of your race time. Aim for 3 minutes for your triathlon transitions, including travel time. The pros often have VIP locations and can do transitions in less than a minute. If you can get down to 2 minutes, you are doing great. This means you are taking little time to chat, think about options or anything else but just executing your plan.

After the swim and bike, I will often sit to put on my shoes to avoid dizziness due to bending over. This actually seems to improve my transition times because I’m not stumbling around trying to put my shoes on one-legged. I’ve eliminated a lot of extras and “just in case” extras – leaving only what I really need:

Bandaids are in my bike bento box and my running belt. I do carry aspirin but only in case of dire emergency. All nutrition and water is on my bike pre-race, ready to head out. My Garmin is set to multisport and I hit the lap button at the bike mount and dismount and swim in and run out, to capture all transition times. If I forget, I hit it when I remember. The race will have your official times but it’s good to know during the race how well you executed this part of your plan.

My one final piece of advice: plan your transition and transition according to your plan.

Post written by FFC Oak Park Endurance Coach Terri Friel.

About Terri

Terri Friel is an experienced endurance coach at FFC Oak Park. Have questions, want to better your race times or even try an endurance event for the first time? Email Terri at tfriel@ffc.com!

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