What is a Good Transition?

a triathlete starting to transition to running
July 5, 2010

Mike Ricci


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A good transition can be defined many ways by many people, so before you decide what a good transition is, consider what your goals for transition are. My goal is for it to be EASY. Of course I want it to be fast, but first and foremost, transition is a time for you to let yourself recover, if only just for a few seconds, to let your heart rate come down and to change your mindset for a new sport segment. For a transition to be easy, it should be well planned ahead of time, perhaps even practiced physically and mentally. Everything needs to be in place so when you get there, you don’t have to think – you just DO. So this means that your transition area needs to be set up and well thought out.

For this article, I’m going to stick to traditional triathlon transitions, but I think most of the concepts will apply to other sports as well. So, when you come out of the water, what will you need for your bike ride?? This leads me to the two most frequent questions that I hear from triathletes – “What do you wear??” And “What do you eat?” These two questions need to be answered weeks before your event. I won’t get into all of the specifics what to eat and what to wear here, but you should certainly put some time into this.

OK, so now you’ve decided what you need for your ride: your bike, your cycling shoes, a helmet, sunglasses, water bottles, some food, materials for a mechanical problem, your camera… OK, this seems complicated… So let’s make it easy!! All of this STUFF should be attached to one of 2 things – YOU or YOUR BIKE! Your shoes and helmet will be attached to you. Your water bottles should be attached to your bike. And your food and riding flat kit can be in a saddle bag, bento box or something else, preferably attached to the bike. Other items, like your sunglasses should be IN your helmet or your shoes so you don’t have to think to remember them – they are right there. Your helmet should be on your handlebars or on top of your shoes so again – no thinking, just doing.

SO, now you’ve got your set up, here’s how it goes – you exit the water, remove your wetsuit (while running or after you get to your bike). Once you get to your spot, you put on your helmet and BUCKLE IT, put on sunglasses and maybe your shoes, and you go. It should be THAT simple. OK, so removing your wetsuit sometimes is difficult and takes a while – PRACTICE that AT HOME in your bathroom. I know it’s even worse to put it on when it’s wet, but PRACTICE taking it off as many times as you can. By now, you should be able to close your eyes and visualize yourself coming out of the water and going through an easy transition.

Here are a few additional hints for T1: When you exit the water, try putting your goggles up on your head instead of removing them completely – they are easy to drop. Sometimes the run is long and if you get hot, or if your suit gets too dry, it will be more difficult to get off, so you might try getting it at least partially off while running. If it is a large transition area, you might want to have your spot marked with some chalk, a bright towel on the ground, or something else to help catch your eye. Another important point is to make sure that your bike is in an appropriate gear. You don’t want to start an uphill course on your hardest gear. So you’re off and BIKING!
Now you want to be prepared for T2. So go through what you will need for the RUN. Shoes, socks, hat, number belt water bottle, or fuel belt, gel… again, this seems to be getting too complicated! One thing to remember is really to only bring what you need. This means that if there are water stations on the run at every mile, you don’t need to bring your own water. On the other hand, if they will ONLY have water and you feel you’ll need an electrolyte drink, you might want to bring that along with you! So don’t forget to check what will be available on the course.One strategy is to lay everything you’ll need on TOP of, or IN your running shoes so you CAN’T forget it. So T2 should go like this – Dismount your bike, rack your bike, remove your helmet, change your shoes and begin running while putting your hat on and your number around your waist. Again, KEEP IT SIMPLE. T2 is usually much easier than T1. This is probably because you’re not dealing with wet clothing and complicated equipment.

So how else can we make these transitions faster and easier? Keep your transition area simple – put your bag and other stuff back in your car. You don’t need to have extra stuff to trip over or complicate things. My last suggestion is to do a walk through on race morning. Once everything is set up, your bike is racked, your transition is READY to GO, head to the area where the swim exit is. Walk through where you’ll exit the water, where you’ll enter transition, go to your spot – is there more than one route to get there? Find your bike, put on your helmet, pretend to put on shoes and grab your bike. Head to the bike exit – which is the EASIEST path to get there? Come back to the bike IN area and find the easiest way to your rack.

Pretend to rack your bike, remove your helmet. Put on everything you need for the run. Then put everything BACK exactly as you had it ☺. You might be able to check this all out the day before the race, but if not, race morning is fine. You might also think – this walk through is only for people who want to be really fast, but the truth is that it will really help you to be less nervous when it’s your turn to actually do it.

So what is a Good Transition? An easy, simple one! A transition that runs seamlessly and without frustration or nerves, and one that allows you to relax while doing it. This means it has to be almost second nature. The good thing is that you can prepare every day! You can practice physically a few times, then you can go over everything MENTALLY every day if you want. I tend to “practice” a few times a day for several days before a race. Practice, and ENJOY!!!

Coach Julia’s Transitions Checklist
• Tires Full
• Bike Mechanical Check on site
• Computer mounted and reset
• Fuel on bike
• Water bottles full and on bike
• Chamois cream and sunscreen on me
• Glasses in helmet
• Shoes on or near bike

T2 Checklist
• Racing flats ready – powder and body glide
• Visor or hat
• Race # belt
• Gel/ fuel in shoes

Race Ready
• Wetsuit, Body Glide, Sunscreen, Cap and Goggles with you
• Shoes in transition
• Check TA, Swim In, Bike Out, Bike In, Run Out.
• Double check start time

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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