The Do’s And Don’ts Of The Triathlon Transition Area

This article provides tips on making sense of the chaos of the transition area.

With the inaugural TriRock Series Race set to take place in San Diego, Calif. in just a few days (Sept. 12), we thought we’d use the next few days to provide tips you’ll need when jumping into your first triathlon. This article provides tips on making sense of the chaos of the transition area.

Triathlon is about swimming, biking, running and surviving transition. Photo: John Segesta.
Triathlon is about swimming, biking, running and surviving transition. Photo: John Segesta.

Pro triathletes move through the transition area in poetic motion. You would never know they had just done a hard swim the way they dash in, don their helmet and sunglasses and swipe their bikes in one seamless movement, headed out for the ride. Seeing them come in to start the run is equally impressive.

Then there are the rest of us–the chaos theory in full effect. The blood has yet to move from the arms to the brain, and we’re dashing about, wetsuit pulled over the head, running, stopping … looking, doubling back, going down the row to the bike.

There are a few unspoken laws associated with the transition area. Sometimes you gotta learn by taking your lumps. Or just read below, avoid the trouble and earn the gratitude of your fellow competitors.


Bring a Pump. You could rely on the guy next to you, but that’s not fair to him as he’s trying to prepare for his race and is finding his pump pulled away every four minutes. Be self-sufficient and bring your home floor pump to top off the air in your tires on race morning.

Bring Toilet Paper.
You’ve stood in line for the Porta-Potty, made it to the front and entered to find no T.P. There’s more than enough stress on race morning than to have to deal with the drama of having your wetsuit around your ankles five minutes before your wave goes off. Bring a roll in, and once you’re done, leave it behind for someone else. It’s a karmic pay-it-forward thing that everyone will appreciate.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled. Folks dashing for age-group glory can move like a bull through a china shop, mowing over anything in their path. So keep an eye out for those overly excited competitors.

Take your Time. Haste makes waste in triathlon transitions. What kind of waste? Forgetting to put your race number on. Forgetting to take your bike helmet off. That kind of thing. Pace yourself through transitions just as you do when swimming, cycling and running, to ensure that you get it all right the first time. If that means sitting down to pull off the wetsuit or pull on your shoes, go for it.

Make a Pre-race Visual Cue. You’ve just dashed from the water and are headed into a sea of bikes. Where’s yours? Be sure before the race to make a visual marker of which row your bike is, and how far down the rack it is. Some tie a balloon to the rack to mark their spot (though you don’t see the pros doing this). Your best bet to find your bike is with a bright towel or transition mat—blaze orange, tie-dyed, the brighter the better.

Keep a spare set of goggles. It’s happened before: You pull on those favorite goggles and … snap! The rubber strap breaks. Don’t test the chaos theory; have a backup set in your transition bag. And if it happens to someone nearby, you can bail him out my tossing him your spare. You may be out 10 bucks, but you’ll make it up in good karma.

Practice. Before some Saturday bike ride, find a spot at the park and practice the transition procedure you plan to execute on race day. Bring a pair of running shoes and a towel. You don’t need a rack; just lean the bike up against a wall and practice running up to the bike, putting on sunglasses and helmet and getting onto the bike. Likewise, set up an imaginary dismount line and practice safe, straight-lined stops and dismounts. It’ll make your race-day experience a familiar one.


Move bikes to create prime real estate. Yes, that little space between the two bikes on the first rack would be perfect for your bike. If the owners of the bikes aren’t there to ask if you can squeeze in, don’t take it upon yourself to do so; these folks got in line early to get those prime spots at the rack, and they won’t be keen to find that you’ve usurped the space. Move on down the rack and find an appropriate spot for your own goods.

Overreach your rack space. With only so much real estate between bikes on a packed transition area rack, everyone needs only a bit of space to place his towel, running shoes and visor. Pick a spot to either side of your bike and claim no more than the width of your backpack for your gear placement. You only need enough space to place one set of bike shoes, one set of run shoes, a running hat and a race belt. Anything more is too much.

Bring the kitchen sink. A disturbing trend at races is that folks bring not only their essential gear (a towel, race shoes, visor) but also non-essentials. That would include a dish bucket to rinse feet after the swim and bike, folding chairs. It’s a race; leave the comfort accoutrements at home.

Try new moves. Never done a flying mount onto your bike? Started a ride with your shoes already clipped to your bike? Done a rolling dismount? Don’t try it on race day. These techniques save time when done well, but race day isn’t the time to try them for the first time. Practice and perfect them in training.

Forget anything.
The best way to avoid showing up at the race, opening your duffel–A duffel? Really?–and realizing you’ve forgotten your wetsuit is to use a dedicated triathlon transition bag. They really do make a difference, with pockets and partitions for everything from wetsuit and run and bike shoes to keys and phone (so you’re not on an Easter egg hunt post-race to call and tell your spouse about your epic day). There’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place.