Triathlon Training: Setting Up Transitions

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Written by: Bree Wee

Professional triathlete Bree Wee provides advice on how to efficiently set up your transition area. Whether it’s your first race or your 20th, Wee’s tips will come in handy.

From first timers to seasoned professionals, everyone has to deal with the transition area of a triathlon.  Swim to bike, better known as T1 and bike to run (T2), both require a few necessities. The more racing you do the more you know what you need and what simply takes up space and time in your transition area.  After a couple races you learn not to forget your visor, and that you may find that you don’t really need that huge tub of water to rinse off your feet. Eventually your transition area becomes “yours” and you breeze through it without having to think twice.

t’s not uncommon to find some professionals’ T1 area bare except for a race belt. They simplify their space by having it empty.  Fuel and fluids for the ride are on their bikes.  Shoes are clipped into the pedals, the helmet is hanging on their bars, and the shades are tucked into their helmets or another easily reachable spot.  Their T2 area is similar with only the bare necessities, usually just shoes and a hat.

Of course what works for one person does not work for everyone. Just for the fun of it, I’m going to pretend you are tackling your first ever triathlon this season.  If that really is you, CONGRATULATIONS!  Since you have not fumbled, raced, flopped or breezed through a transition yet you might not even know what to pack.  Let me help.  I am also assuming your first triathlon is not an Ironman.  If it is an Ironman, you won’t be dealing with a transition area, you will get a handful of bags to stuff and that is a whole other story!

T1-Swim to Bike

1. Helmet

2. Bike shoes

3. Sunglasses

4. Race belt

5. Nutrition/hydration/electrolytes

6. Vaseline, gel, or Body Glide

7. Sunscreen

8. Tub with water to rinse feet

9. Transition towel

10. Gloves

Okay, we’ve got 10 things listed.  These are not all necessities, and there are many other things you can cram into your transition area if you want.  This is a good start, but let’s simplify.  Items one through five can all be on your bike with a little practice and organization.  A really simple way is to place your helmet on your bars with your sunglasses in your helmet.  Once you get back to your bike, simply put the shades on your face and the helmet on your head.  Some races require you to ride with your race belt, so have that loose in your helmet for easy access too.  It’s all right there, put it on, and vroooooom!  You’re off!   Yes, your shoes are already hooked to your pedals.  This is something that can be learned by anyone of any age with just a few practice sessions, trial and error.  Check this link for more help:

As for nutrition,  your water bottles should be filled prior to the start of the race.  You can tape gels to your top tube or use a bento box to carry all your nutritional needs.  Items six through seven are easy.  Have these steps finished by the start of the race.   Your sunscreen should be waterproof and sweat proof, so it will stay on strong all swim long.  Your gel and Vaseline will also last through the first leg of the race.  As for item eight, it really is not necessary. Nearly all race organizers are aware that racers want to rinse their feet after the swim, and have set up areas prior to entering transition where this can happen. I recommend that you use these and avoid your personal spa at the bike rack.  Item nine is actually a favorite of mine.  The transition towel helps you easily locate your bike.  Choose a fun or bright-colored one that will be easy to identify.  Truth be told, you don’t have to ever touch the towel.  There is no need to dry off before you ride, just let the towel be a place to mark your spot if you want to use one.  Number 10 is totally personal.  Gloves aren’t nearly as common in a triathlon as they are on at a road race or on a training ride..  If you can go without them, do.  If you love them, use them.

T2-Bike to Run

1. Sunglasses/race belt

2. Shoes

3. Socks

4. Hat/visor

5. Nutrition

Great, only five items!  You may already be wearing the sunglasses and the race belt from the bike leg.  Slip on your shoes (speed laces help with the quick foot-in), grab your hat (optional), and off you go!  If you race sockless have your shoes pre-lubed.  Just rub a little Vaseline on areas inside your shoe where you tend to get blisters and put some powder inside the bottom of your shoe before the race starts. If you race in socks be sure you practice slipping on the ones you will race in during training sessions.  Some socks are more difficult to slide over wet feet (you might be sweaty or wet off the bike).  Nutrition is always available out on the course, and it makes racing easier if you can race on what the course offers.  Do your research, and if possible train on what will be used on race day.  As for salts, those might need to be carried if you use them.  Stuff a few into a small plastic container (NUUN or a film container work well), and off you run!

Remember, transition areas are personal. Use only what you need and avoid the temptation to bring your entire closet. In third grade my teacher told me it is okay to “kiss”.  I think transitions are great spots to kiss: keep it simple silly.

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