Home Training Ask the Experts: Triathlon Transitions Perfected

Ask the Experts: Triathlon Transitions Perfected

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A triathlon consists of four disciplines: swim, bike, run, and transitions. Most often, we only spend time training on three of those disciplines. You train hours on end meticulously fine-tuning our cardiovascular engines to produce the results we desire. What about your transitions? Perhaps you have never given much thought to this discipline because the greatest gains are to be made in the pool, on the road, or on the trails. Think back to a race where you were edged out by a competitor at the line, or lost your ticket to Kona by 10 seconds in your age group. You notice that your competitor completed T1 and T2 a full:20 faster than you. Had you cleaned up your transitions that podium position could have been yours. 


“I’ve actually won a race because I was faster in transition than the girl who came in second.”

Heather Jackson


What exactly is a transition?


In a triathlon, transitions in a race are either: T1 or T2. T1 refers to the transition from the swim to the bike portion of the race. An athlete will exit the swim, run to the transition area where the bike is staged, and then exit through the “bike out,” and onto the course. The second transition, T2, refers to the bike to run portion of the race. Athletes will dismount their bike at the “dismount line,” then proceed to run their bike through the transition area to where their bike was racked previously. Once athletes find themselves at the correct position, they will rack their bike, remove their helmet, and proceed to place their run shoes on and take off to the run course. 


Below we can review some quick tips and tricks to ensure your next transition is the best one yet:


T1: Depending on the temperature of water you may find yourself racing in a wetsuit, which will require a bit more time to remove, but you’ve prepared for this, don’t panic. Advice: pour some baby oil down your wetsuit after you have it on and zipped for quick removal over the hips and knees in T1. You can use some cooking oil or body glide around your joints to help if you’re not looking to become an oil slick! As you exit the swim, immediately begin to grab your wetsuit zipper and unzip the wetsuit mid-run, by the time you reach the transition zone, you should have the wetsuit down around your hips ready for complete removal once at your designated racking zone. 

If racing with sunglasses, it is quickest to have them attached to a water bottle or aero bottle mount that is already on the bike. This decreases time in transition, and you can place them on your face once mounted and riding your bike! Simply place a rubber band around a bottle and slide one of the ear socks through the band to ensure they don’t slip! When dealing with your helmet, be sure to have the buckles already undone and the inner retention system open to the widest setting so that you can tighten it once mounted. If you have this set tightly, it will be difficult to place it on your head in one swift move!

Lastly, it may be daunting, especially if you are new to triathlon, but learning how to mount your bike with your shoes already clipped in will save you time for sure! Make sure you practice your mounts prior to the race, and when the race comes take a deep breath and focus on the process. Don’t stress over time the first few tries, the speed will come later! 

T2: When approaching transition, be sure to time when you take your feet out: too early and you’ll be pedaling on top of your shoes too long. Too late and you’ll quickly realize you are at the dismount line with one foot still attached to the bike! Take a deep breath and relax when dismounting your bike, you want to be quick, but you also want to be smooth and precise. 

Whether you race with socks for the run or not will depend entirely on the athlete and the race distance. For event distances such as a sprint or olympic, most triathletes do not run with socks for the race. You can practice this prior to see if it will work for you. For half ironman and full ironman distances, it would probably be best to ensure you take time to wear socks as your feet could be worse for wear when you finish! When it comes to shoes, ensure you have a quick tie shoelace system installed like a bungee system. Tip: Placing baby powder around the opening and tongue of the shoe will allow your foot to quickly slide into the run shoe!


One of the most important aspects of transitions for racing is ensuring you have your data up and running when you begin the next segment of your race. There are many multisport watches on the market that can measure swimming, cycling, and running paces/distances: the only issue is that they require the user to indicate that the transition to a different sport has been made which costs time.

Enter: ELEMNT RIVAL. The RIVAL Multisport Watch headlines with the Touchless Transition feature that is a game-changer in racing and training. The RIVAL uses a combination of sensors including the accelerometer, barometer, and a proprietary algorithm to determine which activity you are performing and transitions you through the different legs. You only have to hit the start button when the triathlon starts, and then again to stop when you cross the finish line. RIVAL also offers Multisport Handover. With this, a compatible ELEMNT Bike Computer can seamlessly connect and display relevant data during a multisport activity from your RIVAL. This would enable the bike computer to show the cumulative time and distance of the activity on the computer alongside the other data fields set by yourself on the computer.

The ELEMNT RIVAL makes transitions a breeze, ensuring all of your data will be recorded with nothing more than a start/stop button. When the seconds count, be sure you have the right setup to propel you to the results you are looking to achieve.

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