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Setting Up a Successful Triathlon Transition

Setting Up a Successful Triathlon Transition

Setting up for fast and stress-free transitions in triathlon, while also being respectful of your neighbors, is the mark of an experienced triathlete. A well laid-out transition looks very simple, but there are a lot of small items to think about before heading out to your swim warmup. Having a clean, minimalist arrangement will help your transitions go faster, but you need to pay attention to a lot of details to avoid a nasty surprise during the race. Here’s a checklist of items you must consider:

Bike checklist

                Tires pumped to correct pressure

                Narrow towel, if using

                Bottles full and in place

                Other nutrition

                Flat kit

                Power meter zeroed on head unit

In appropriate gear

Shoes & socks – if on pedals, rubber banded

                Helmet, on ground or handlebars depending on race rules


Run checklist

                Running shoes with speed laces

                Socks – if putting on in T2

                Nutrition/hydration, if carrying



                Race belt/number


Standard/Local Race

Different races have different transition rules, but let’s start with the “standard” arrangement where there is a single transition area for swim-to-bike and bike-to-run and they allow all of your gear to be laid out at your bike without the use of transition bags. The first thing to understand is transitions are crowded spaces. Typically, the bike racks are horizontal poles that bikes hang on by the nose of the saddle. Bikes will be racked on both sides, alternating which direction they are pointing. The amount of space you should expect to have to the sides of your bike is a few inches wider than the width of your handle bars. If you arrive in transition and there is still a lot of space, expect more people to arrive, so do not spread your gear out beyond this narrow slot of space.

The order you do things is flexible, but here is the flow that I like.

Tire Pressure: Pump up your tires to your desired pressure. This will depend on the width of your tires, your weight, and the roughness of the roads you will be racing on. It could be the subject of an entire blog post, but here is a link that can help you get close to the best answer. Races will almost always provide pumps in transition so look around for one and ask if you can be next in line for it. If you bring your own pump, do not leave it in transition. You must have a place outside transition you can leave it for the rest of the race. At larger races like Ironmans, this will usually mean giving it to your race helper to hold on to, if you have one.

Towel: A towel is not required but it can be nice to wipe dirt off your feet or dry them. Have a small towel, folded so that it is around 10 inches wide or so, laid next to your front tire. It can stick out in front of your tire a foot or two so you can stand on it to wipe your feet, and also extend back alongside your bike as a space on which to arrange your other gear.

Bike Nutrition/Hydration: Make sure your bottles are and place them in their appropriate bottle cages. Gels, gel flasks, or bars should be stored in their appropriate places on the bike or set on the ground next to your front tire so you can put them in your pockets when you get to the bike.

Flat Kit: Make sure it contains all the appropriate items for your tires, whether that is for a tubeless or tube setup, and it is stored where you expect it. It is common for someone to forget that they used their CO2 or tube on that training ride a few weeks ago and just assume their kit is complete, only to find out when they need it that they are missing something, so check!

Head Unit & Power Meter: Attach your head unit to your bike, turn it on, and make sure it is set the way you need it for your race. If you are using a power meter, then make sure you zero out (sometimes called calibrate) your power meter. After zeroing my power meter, I typically start a bike ride and pause it right away. The computer will go to sleep, but after I get on my bike all I have to do is wake it up and hit “go.”

Put Bike in Appropriate Gear: Make sure your bike is not in a super heavy gear. Otherwise at bike mount, you will have trouble getting moving. If there is an uphill immediately at or after the mount line, then go for an even lighter gear.

Bike Shoes and Socks: If you put on your bike shoes before running out of transition, lay them on the ground, facing away from you, right next to your front tire. If you will be wearing socks for the bike, roll them carefully and place them with the opening facing you, tucked lightly into your shoes so they are already pointing the right direction for you to grab and roll them onto your feet. If you are pre-attaching your shoes to your pedals to do a flying mount, it is important to do this AFTER you have zeroed out your power meter. I recommend using rubber bands to hold the shoes in a horizontal position, and in their appropriate crank angle positions so you don’t have to mess with any of that at the mount line and your shoes don’t smash on the ground and fly off the pedal while you are running.

Helmet and Glasses: I prefer to place my helmet upside down on, tail facing away from me and straps laid out, in front of all of my gear, or on top of my cycling shoes, if they are on the ground instead of on the pedals. This makes it very fast to put on. I do not like trying to balance it on my handle bars, as many people do, because it is just too easy for it to fall off and not be where I expect when I get there. Putting on your helmet should be the very first thing you do when you get to your bike to avoid being on the wrong side of any helmet rules. Sunglasses can go directly under or behind your helmet and be the next thing you put on.

Body Glide & Chamois Cream: There are many places you may want to apply these products, for different reasons. Chamois cream to avoid chafing on your saddle can be important for some people. Body Glide on the back of your neck can prevent your wetsuit from rubbing a painful raw spot. Putting more around your ankles and wrists can assist with wetsuit removal. Putting some on the tops of your feet and on your heels can aid in getting your shoes on quickly during flying mounts. You can also put some chamois cream or Body Glide directly under the tongue of your cycling shoes or on the top of the liner of the heel of the shoes, also to aid in flying mounts.

Number Belt: For some races outside of the US you are required to wear your bib number during the bike, but that is becoming less common. In the US, you never have to. I recommend using an elastic race belt to attach your number to. Place it flat on the ground behind your cycling gear.

Running Shoes: Place your running shoes, pointing ?? on top of your bib number to keep it from blowing away. I advise some sort of elastic speedlaces in your running shoes.

Running Socks: If you did not put on socks for the bike and you will for the run, roll the opening up towards the toe and place them sole down, toe away from you into the opening of your running shoes so they are easy to pull onto your toes and roll up.

Sunglasses Part 2: If you did not use sunglasses on the bike (usually because the helmet has its own visor) then place these on your shoes.

Hat: Place on top of or behind your shoes.

Run Nutrition: It can often be a good idea to bring a gel flask, extra salt, or even a bottle with you on the run. Place this behind your shoes as well and put them into your pockets as you’re running out of transition.

Do Not:

  • Spread out a 4-foot-wide towel across the ground, encroaching into other athletes’ space or preventing someone from using the space next to you.
  • Bring Home Depot buckets to use as stools, or full of water to wash your feet in.
  • Leave your gear bag full of all the other stuff you brought to the race, but will not be using IN the race by your bike.
  • Tie balloons or other markers to the racks in an attempt to make it easier to find your bike. Find other landmarks or rack numbers to guide you. You can take photos of the location/landmarks/rack numbers to study later to remind yourself.

Races with Gear Bags

Many larger races, including Ironman-branded races, will require you to put certain gear into bike and run gear bags, which you will retrieve after you exit from the water or after you rack your bike. The instructions above largely still apply, except the items that would have been placed on the ground next to your bike will now be in their respective bags. There may be a changing tent where you will put on all the gear from the bags, or you may be opening up the bag next to your rack and putting it on there. It can vary from race to race. Make sure you read your athlete guide and go to the race briefing to ensure you know what the procedures are at your race and plan ahead of time how you will handle each piece of gear.

A well thought out plan can make your transitions go smoothly and reduce the chances that you find out mid-race that you forgot a detail - and the details are important! Have a great race!

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