Salty Triathlete: The Golden Rules of the Transition Area

Kelly O'Mara on zen and the art of triathlon's most hallowed meeting place.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

You’re serious and focused. Lining up your shoes next to your bike just exactly the way you like them, getting in the zone as you jog up and down the transition area and put on your game face. And then someone comes along and starts chatting, “How you doing? You ready? Is this your first one? Do you think I should line my bike up over here or over there? What do you think about this weather, huh?”

And all of a sudden, your whole pre-race routine is thrown off. Transition is a tough place to maneuver—literally—if you’re pushing your bike in circles and searching for your rack spot. It’s full of unspoken and definitely spoken rules. Besides the actual rules listed in your athlete’s guide, don’t forget these:

Rule #1: Confine yourself to your actual transition spot. Please, no chairs next to your bike and, ideally, no kiddie pools. Which, yes, I have seen.

Rule #2: An addendum to confining yourself to your spot: Leave space for everyone else. Face your bike in the opposite direction of the bikes next to it. You know what happens when handlebars overlap? Bad things. Put your dry clothes and backpacks off to the side too, out of the lane of traffic, or give them to a friend. Use your Type A personality here.

Rule #3: Headphones and chatting are fine before a race (more on that in our next rules), but not during.

Rule #4: Share information. Know when your wave starts, where the bathrooms are, or if it’s a no-wetsuit swim. Share that knowledge with your neighbors—but only as much as they’re asking for it. No one wants unsolicited advice before a race.

Rule #5: Share bike pumps. And anything else extra you might have that someone else needs. A borrowed pair of goggles from a stranger saved a race for me once.

Rule #6: Respect the vibe. I’ve been at college races where the transition zone could be mistaken for a party. And I’ve been in pro racks where no one spoke a word. If you’re a talker or, heaven forbid, a hugger, then find the other talkers and huggers. But stay away from anyone wearing headphones. They’re not wearing the headphones because they want to invite conversation.

The ultimate rule: Remember it’s your race, but it’s also everyone else’s race too. Do what you need to do, but let everyone else do what they need to do too—as long as what they need to do doesn’t involve being naked in public. Someone else has to sit in that seat after you, and volunteers have to stand around transition all day. Ask for what you want from them, but don’t yell. Transition is an emotional place. We understand. But let’s not let our emotions or nerves or game face get the best of us.

Above all else (and I wish I didn’t have to write this): Please don’t pee in the changing tents.

Trending on Triathlete

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.