You’re new to the sport and you know you need to learn to swim, bike, and run—but you also need to be able to transition. “Beginner’s Luck” author Meredith Atwood shares the basic ins and outs of this simple topic that can quickly feel complicated.
Transition was a confusing topic for me when I started thinking about triathlon. Everyone was talking about “T1” and “T2” and I had no earthly idea what that meant. Was it something to do with a potty? I need to transition? Sometimes. But really, transition means two things.
First, transition as a noun: the place where you store your bike (and other stuff) during a race. This location is usually a large, open-area with metal racks for the bikes. You will likely have an assigned space on the rack for your bike, and a space under your bike to place your triathlon “things.”
Second, transition as a verb: the action of moving between the sports. You transition from the swim to the bike. Then you transition from the bike to the run.
All you need to remember to ask yourself: Am I wearing what I should be wearing for the sport I am about to do?
Goggles go with swim. Helmet goes with bike. Really, transition is like a preschool game of Memory. The problem in the middle of a race is you are thinking like a cranky preschooler—so remembering to wear the proper gear is more challenging than you might initially imagine.
The best advice I have about transition in your first few races is: take your time. I know it is counterintuitive to “take your time” in a race. But making a strong exit from transition is more beneficial than making a fast (and potentially clumsy) exit.
In a later column in this series covering all thing having to do with race day, I will go into detail about the things you need for your race and how to set up your transition area—but for now, here’s a quick overview of transition—the noun and the verb.
T1 is the transition from the end of the swim to the bike.
As you are finishing up your swim, begin to think of your transition to the bike: Where is my bike? Repeat the order of your transition in your head: helmet, glasses, shoes, race number belt with number turned to the back (or whatever order you choose). This will make a smooth transition onto the bike.
Again, as a beginner, you will want to take your time in both transitions, especially in your first race. Yes, this whole thing is about racing. But you don’t want to come barreling out of transition without your helmet and get disqualified.
Take a moment to gather your composure and ensure that you have all your gear (and wits) about you.
Once you are helmeted, race number clipped on and ready, you can head out to bike. (And no, you do not use a towel to dry off your body before getting on the bike. Crazy, I know. Get on that bike sopping wet—you’ll survive, I promise!)
You must roll (not ride) your bike out of the transition area. There will usually be a banner or a sign: Bike Exit.
Head that way, walking alongside your bike, but do not get on your bike until after the mount line.
Mount line? What?
Before the race, make note of where the “Bike Mount” line is.
Most races have an actual line of tape or paint placed on the ground right outside of the transition bike exit. Sometimes they designate it with construction cones or a sign: “Mount Here.” Regardless of what the line is—it is only after this line or designated area that you are allowed to get on your bike and ride. Do not mount your bike before this line or you can get disqualified. Usually the volunteers are very good about letting you know (screaming, if necessary) where to be and when to get on your bike.
The best practice is to roll your bike past this line and over to the right side (to make room for those who are flying out of transition).
Clip safely into your pedals if you have clipless ones and pedal off for the bike leg. As a beginner, the race will be confusing enough. If you get nervous or confused, just move to the right side of the course (out of everyone’s way) and gain your composure before moving again. But always get yourself to the right or side—don’t just stop in the middle of anywhere in a race.
T2 is the second transition when you finish the bike and begin your run.
Much like the way out of transition—you do not ride into transition either.
You must walk and roll your bike back to your spot. As you are riding your bike towards T2, you will see a “Bike Dismount” or “Dismount Here” line. You must dismount your bike before this line. Sometimes the dismount line is the same as the mount line; sometimes they are in two different places—just check before you begin the race.
If you are shaky on the dismount, slow down well in advance of transition and pull to the right and take your time dismounting. Once you are off your bike, roll your bike to your transition spot and rack your bike.
At this point, you are ready to take off your helmet and bike shoes and get ready to run. Turn your race number to the front, find your hat or visor, slip on those running shoes (and socks if you are like me and bike without) and get moving!
As the expert says when he is spectating my races: “Run and done!” That is my favorite mantra after the bike. I repeat it often: run and done and run and done and run and done and run…
Fooled you. No such thing as T3.
Well, actually there is. T3 is the time after the race where you wander around aimlessly looking for snacks and pizza, and thinking, “I did THAT! I am AWESOME!”
Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com.