Transition Clinic Part One: Mastering T1 (Swim to Bike)


I’ve seen some amusing setups on race mornings, including everything from buckets of water to a full-sized suitcase packed with items for the race. Don’t do it! Standing around at transition and trying to make decisions about what to use or attempting to find things is a huge waste of time. Set up your transition area with a minimalist mindset. What do you really need to race? For most athletes this includes:

  • Bike
  • Bike shoes
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Running shoes
  • Race number belt
  • Fuel
  • Hydration

These items don’t take up a lot of space, making it far easier to find things when you arrive in the transition zone.

Here is a sample plan of attack for your race day T1:

Race Day: T1

  • Know the transition area. Walk around, ask volunteers about the entry and exit points. Make sure you are aware of how to hang your bicycle properly. A USAT official is often walking around and can help.
  • Bring a small, bright towel to mark your spot and then look around and make note of what landmarks you can spot from the swim transition entry point that will lead you to your bike. If the race requires you to store your transition items in a bag, mark your bag with permanent marker and obnoxiously bright duct tape. The transition area can look remarkably unfamiliar once it is full of stuff.
  • When you get out of the water, push your goggles up onto your head so your hands are free while you remove your suit. In most situations, unzipping and dropping your suit to the waist is adequate. Run to transition, pull off your cap and goggles, and peel off the rest of your suit.
  • Use Bodyglide or Trislide or another wetsuit-safe lubricant on the arms and lower legs of your suit. This will help the suit come off quickly. Ideally you can pull off one leg while standing and then use that leg to help release the other. Sitting and pulling can waste time, but practice various methods and see which is better for you.
  • Socks or no socks? Rule of thumb for a lot of athletes is no socks for short course, socks for long course. Putting baby powder in your bike shoes can keep feet from chafing if you go without socks. If it is rainy or muddy, I’ve found socks help. A muddy foot in a bike shoe can mean torn skin.
  • Put your helmet on! Leave it on the aerobars or somewhere you can’t miss it. Remember, it has to be buckled and secure before moving forward. Sunglasses can rest in the helmet so they are not forgotten.
  • Race belts are good for numbers but check with your specific race to see if you need to wear it on the bike. If not, leave it with the running shoes. If so, hang it over the bike or put it over your helmet so you don’t forget.
  • Have your water bottles already on your bike. If you are taking gels, blocks or other fuel sources, put them neatly by your shoes or belt so you put them in a pocket. Some athletes tape gels to the bike; this can work. Always leave an extra bottle of fuel in transition, as well as an extra of whatever else you are carrying in case you need it. Usually you won’t, but again, sometimes fuel gets dropped from a pocket, or temps change and you need more.
  • Remember, most IRONMAN races require transition items to be stored in a bag; it helps  to go through your transition set up the night before and then put the items in your bag.
  • Mentally prepare! Spend time visualizing what you will do at each point of the transition process and couple that with knowledge of the race environment. Doing this will lead to less stress and more fluidity on race morning.
  • Bring an extra pair of running shoes, clothes and food. Transition areas can close long before your own race start or be inaccessible after a race. Being able to warm up on your own schedule and then have dry clothes and food after is essential.

Having seamless, fast transitions doesn’t happen by accident. Know your course, practice before race day and keep it simple no matter what the race distance. Follow these guidelines and then race fast!

Active logo READ THIS NEXT: Transition Clinic Part Two: Mastering T2 (Bike to Run)

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