Joanna Zeiger teaches the ABC's of race transitions

Transition help at Ironman California.  Credit: Robert Laberge/Allsport
The transition is an incredibly important but oft-overlooked element of triathlon racing.

A good transition fosters a flowing race, while a poor transition can cost you time, get your next bike or run off to a bad start, or even end your race altogether. Proper organization, a little practice and perusal of the following list will facilitate efficient and fast transitions.

Pre-race readiness

After you determine the items you will need for your race bag, write them down so you have a list to consult prior to each event. I use a backpack with multiple compartments, as it is easy to keep items separated, and if I need to ride to the start from the hotel or parking lot, it is not a struggle. A bag knocking you in the face as you ride to the race site is probably not the best way to start the day.

These are items that you may want to include in your transition bag:

- Goggles
- Swim cap
- Wetsuit
- Bike shoes
- Helmet
- Sunglasses
- Running shoes
- Singlet
- Race belt with race number
- Running hat
- Vaseline or other substance to guard against chafing
- Towel
- Food
- Sunscreen
- Lip balm
- Medications
- Post-race clothes

I highly recommend wearing a hat on the run, especially on hot days. With the sun off your head and face you will remain cooler and reduce the chance of sunburn.

On several occasions I have forgotten or dropped important items such as inhalers and gels prior to the run. To surmount this obstacle, I have attached a small pouch to my race belt, which handily carries these items.

Setting up the transition area

There is no ideal way to arrange your space in the transition area. The best you can do is to make sure that each item is easily accessible so that you can move through quickly without forgetting anything.

I set out a towel next to my bike with my running paraphernalia on it. I place my race belt and hat underneath my running shoes so they are easy to grab after I put on my shoes. Since I do not wear socks for the run, I smear Vaseline onto the insides of my shoes to help reduce friction.

I clip my cycling shoes into the pedals, and place my helmet on the aerobars with the sunglasses in the helmet. If you prefer putting on your cycling shoes prior to mounting your bike, set the shoes on the towel in front of your running gear. I loosen the straps to my cycling shoes as much as possible for easy foot entry.

Be considerate of your competitors. Use the space around you sparingly and move your transition bag out of the line of fire. If somebody is encroaching on your space, do not angrily rearrange his or her bike and gear. Instead wait for the owner to return and ask the person nicely to move their belongings.

Make a mental image of where your bike is racked. If there is a landmark near your bike, key off that. The first time I participated in what is now the Mrs. Ts Triathlon I spent several minutes weaving my way through the maze of racks to find my back. There are entire cities smaller than that transition area! When I finally found it, I realized it wasnt even my bike. I wasted quite a bit of time and lost a nice lead before I finally headed out onto the bike course.

Swim-to-bike

This is definitely the more difficult of the two transitions. You must contend with sea legs, possibly stripping off a wetsuit, and running to your bike all at once. If you are wearing a wetsuit, unzip the back and pull the suit as far down as possible before you approach your bike. When you find your bike, pull off the remainder of the wetsuit.

If you opt for a race singlet, it is easiest to wear it under your wetsuit. When wetsuits are not legal, put on the singlet first, followed by your sunglasses and helmet. For longer races, I use a fanny pack to carry provisions. Cycling shoes, when not clipped into the pedals, should go on last — and with good reason, too. I once put my shoes on prior to my singlet and helmet. As I tangled with my shirt, I lost my balance and fell in front of several people, including a photographer.

Once you are sufficiently ready, grab your bike and go. Do not forget to fasten your chin strap before removing your bike from the rack.

To pre-clip or not to pre-clip? That is the question. I grappled with the quandary of whether to clip my shoes into the pedals or to put them on in the transition area for a long time. Draft-legal races require incredibly fast transitions in which every second counts. A sluggish transition means missing the pack, which could mean the end of your day.

I finally came to a resolution of this issue when a kind soul offered me a scheme that did away with the clip-in woe of having my shoes upside-down when I mounted the bike. I have dubbed the solution the rubber-band trick. This trick only works if you have shoes with a pull loop in the back.

Youll need two rubber bands. First, loop the rubber bands through the back of the shoe. Clip the shoes into the pedals. Move the cranks so the left shoe is forward and right shoe is back; both shoes should be parallel to the ground. Attach the rubber band from the left shoe onto the rear bottle cage and from the right shoe onto the rear sprockets or rear derailleur.

Now your shoes are upright and should not move when you grab your bike and run out of the transition area. To mount your bike, step down on the left shoe, and swing your right leg around the back of the bike. The rubber bands should break with the first pedal stroke, but if they dont, reach down and detach them. Once you are moving safely, slip your feet into your shoes.

An added bonus is that the rubber band trick lessens the chance that your shoes will pop off unexpectedly. I have seen many angry and frustrated athletes scurrying back to the transition area to hunt down a lost shoe.

Bike-to-run

Running with your bike while wearing your cycling shoes makes you look like a waddling duck; it is much easier, more graceful and safer to leave your shoes in the pedals and run barefoot. To dismount your bike leaving your shoes clipped in the pedals, loosen the strap, slide your feet out of the shoes and place your feet on top of them.

When you reach the dismount line, swing your right leg over the back and hop off the bike. Run your bike back to your spot, rack your bike, and unfasten your helmet strap. Remember that unbuckling your chinstrap before you rack your bike will result in a penalty.

A couple of options exist that will enable you more easily to slide your feet into your running shoes. Elastic shoelaces or lace locks fastened to regular shoelaces allow you to shove your foot into the shoe without the hassles of tying.

One word of caution. I advise you to glue down your shoe inserts with tire glue or a similar substance. The extreme heat at St. Anthonys last year made my feet very slippery, causing the insert to slide all the way to the front when I jammed in my foot. Not willing to waste time remedying this uncomfortable situation, I kept on running. After four miles, the chafing on the back of my feet was intolerable (I had blood blisters the size of Texas), causing me to drop out.

Grab your hat and number belt as you are leaving, and put them on as you run out of the transition area.

Practice makes perfect. Race hard and have fun.


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