5 Simple Ways to Transition Better in Your First Triathlon

First-time triathletes tend to focus their training and preparation almost exclusively on swimming, biking, and running. After all, these are where the vast majority of race time will be spent. Unfortunately, this all too common approach leaves athletes unprepared for those few short minutes spent in transition—minutes that can easily mean the difference between a great race and a long, hard day on the course.

Here’s how to make the most of your transitions.

1. Practice Ahead of Time

Transitioning from swimming to biking or biking to running doesn’t seem like a difficult task. That’s why so many athletes wait until their first race and just “wing it.” This approach will result in surprises and avoidable frustration on race day.

You see, it isn’t what you are doing in transition that is so difficult. It’s the conditions under which you are working. In T1, you will be breathing heavy from the swim, dripping wet, and bumping shoulders with racers all around you. In T2, you will be dealing with tired legs that haven’t stood on solid ground for quite a while, a body that’s stiff from holding one position for so long, and, yet again, lots of other racers all around you.

Make things easier for yourself by practicing your transitions ahead of time. Find an outside space where you can lay out your transition gear and simulate both T1 and T2. (Tip: If you are practicing both in the same session, try T2 first, so you will be dry.) To get the most out of T1 practice, soak yourself down (or find a friend to help) and run through any clothing changes you plan to make before the bike.

For an easy way to practice T2, lay your running gear out before you head out for your next bike ride. When you get back, run through transition just like you plan to on race day.

2. Organize Everything You Need Before You Go to the Race

Start a day or two before your race by laying out everything you will need for both transitions. This is a good time to look at the weather forecast and decide if you will need gloves or a jacket for the bike. Once you are confident that it’s all there and ready, pack it up in it’s own bag and don’t open that bag again until you are at the race setting up your transition space. If you use a larger bag that will contain other race day items, package all your transition gear in a separate plastic bag you can place inside your larger bag and leave undisturbed.

3. Pack Efficiently on Race Day

Space is at a premium in transition areas. The best plan is to bring only what you need for your race and leave all the extras in your car. Stick with a single bag that contains your pre-packed transition gear, your wetsuit (if you’re wearing one), and your race morning nutrition. Many racers forego a bag and stash all their gear in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. It’s easy to carry and doubles as a convenient seat.

4. Arrive an Hour or More Before the Start of Your Race

All the planning and practice in the world won’t help on race day if you don’t give yourself enough time to get everything set up properly. If you arrive less than an hour before the start, you will feel rushed, and that’s not how you want to prepare for the challenge ahead. Extra time lets you relax and makes it easier to handle any last-minute surprises that pop up.

5. Pack a Little Pick-me-up

Including something special in your transition gear, like a candy bar, inspirational picture, or personal memento, can help push you through any low points that find you during a triathlon. Just knowing you have a treat waiting can help you keep pushing when things get tough.