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Race Tips

Triathlon Transition Basics

A smooth, quick transition can make a big difference in a race that comes down to the wire.

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We asked former Olympian Dirk Bockel to share some triathlon transition techniques and tips that work.

T1: The Swim-Bike Transition

Know your way around: You should know the triathlon transition area like the back of your hand, so do a pre-race walk-through from the swim exit to where your bike is racked. You should also know the fastest path from the bike to the mount line, from the dismount line to where you will transition off the bike, and how to get from the exit of transition and onto the run course. If you walk it a few times, the route will crystallize in your mind, which will be helpful on race morning when your mind is overstimulated.

Visualize: Run through a successful transition a few times in your mind before the race. Visualization is a very strong and useful tool.

Dial in your T1 spot: This may vary according to the race format, but for the most part, prepare your helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes so you can access them as quickly as possible in transition. Think about which side you will approach your bike from, and what direction you will leave with your bike. If you use aerobars, try resting your helmet upside down on the bars with sunglasses sitting open inside the helmet.

Bike shoe placement: Use rubber bands to fasten the back of your bike shoes to the frame of the bike. The bike shoes will then stay horizontal until you mount the bike. Once you start to pedal, the rubber bands will snap. You should avoid running in your bike shoes for several reasons: to prevent cleat damage; increase your running speed in T1; and avoid overstretching your Achilles tendon.

Swim exit: Start planning your approach to the exit in the final minutes of the swim. Is the right or the left side the more direct route to the transition area? Always stroke as far as you can, then decide whether you should dolphin dive through the water or run the last bit to shore. Once you are running, put your goggles on your head rather than taking them off to keep your hands free. Get up to speed then begin the “peeling off” process (if it’s a wetsuit swim). The suit should be at your waist by the time you reach T1.

Mounting the bike: Once you reach the mount line, don’t necessarily jump on your bike right away. This area is usually congested and oftentimes you have an opportunity to pass several people simply by running a bit farther into the free space where you can hop on your bike with ease.

T2: The Bike-Run Transition

Approaching T2: Start to mentally prepare and remember where you have to go. Will you have to rack your bike yourself? Or can you hand it to one of the volunteers? Get ready for the transition of T2 by sliding out of your shoes, while always looking ahead and never down (don’t be one of the guys who crashes or swerves while trying to get out of his bike shoes). Pedal the final few yards with your bare feet atop the shoes.

Off the bike: Dismount and run to your transition spot, using visual aids to help guide your way. Once you’re there, put your helmet down and get into your running shoes. Grab your gels, race number and hat, and off you go. Every second should be planned out. You practiced it, right? Run the fastest route to exit T2 and proceed onto the run course. Now you should have time to turn your race number around to the front and put things into the pockets of your race kit.

General tips for triathlon transition

Be a spectator: If you have the opportunity to just watch a triathlon, stand near the transition area and pick out a few people to observe and analyze. You’ll find examples of what to do and what not to do out there.

Try this at home: Set up a personal triathlon transition area. Run 10 yards toward your bike, put your helmet on and go. Put your shoes on while you accelerate on the bike. As soon as you can ride normally, relax for a second and start the T2 practice run, meaning do the same thing in reverse: Get your feet out of your shoes, approach the makeshift dismount line, jump off your bike, run to your spot and quickly get your helmet off and put your running shoes on. Grab your run gear and off you go. Can you do the whole thing in less than 10 seconds? Do it again and again until you can. The perfect place to practice this is a 400m track. After 200m you must be in your shoes, you have 100m to relax, and 100m to prepare to get off your bike. I usually start this practice two weeks before my first race. If you think this won’t help your overall performance, go back and check your split times in T1/T2—I’m sure the numbers will speak for themselves.