Changing Clothes During a Race: Should You, or Shouldn’t You?

When you train for swimming, biking, and running, each discipline employs specialized clothing designed just for one activity. So, it only seems logical that each discipline in a triathlon requires its own clothing, and you should plan on changing clothes during your race.

Not so fast! (Quite literally.)

If you decide to change clothes during your race, you will spend considerably more time in transition than if you race in the same gear from start to finish. That said, it may still be in your best interest to swap out your wardrobe along the way. Confused? Don’t worry. I’ll explain the basics of clothing strategy and lay out the pros and cons of changing mid-race so you can make the best race day decision.

Changing in T1

If you swim in a wetsuit, you can almost always wear the clothes you will need for biking underneath and not worry about changing in T1. Keep in mind that everything will be dripping wet, and bike shorts with thick padding will be heavy and feel a lot like a diaper as you move through transition. (Tri shorts are designed with thinner, smaller pads to alleviate this issue.)

If you swim without a wetsuit, you aren’t going to want to drag a loose-fitting bike jersey through the water. (Think underwater parachute.) You are better off waiting until T1 to put it on. This is where things can get tricky. Trying to pull a dry jersey onto a wet body is difficult to say the least, especially when you’re in a hurry. (If you’ve never done it, be sure to try it out before your race.) It can leave you feeling (and looking) a lot like Harry Houdini on a bad day.

• Bike-specific clothing typically offers maximum comfort.
• Starting the ride in dry clothes can make a big difference on cold days.
• Provides an opportunity to catch your breath.

• Increases time spent in T1.
• Potential for public nudity. (You may be cool with it, but most race organizers aren’t.)
• Putting on clothes while wet is frustrating.

Changing in T2

Many first-time triathletes run in the same clothes they ride in, perhaps pulling a pair of running shorts over their bike shorts if they aren’t partial to the revealing nature of spandex. This strategy works well as it gets you through transition quickly and on to the final leg of your race.

• Looser, more breathable running gear can better shed body heat.
• Provides an opportunity to catch your breath.
• You won’t have to walk around in spandex after you finish the race.
• Running in loose-fitting bike shorts can lead to major chafing.

• Increases time spent in T2.
• Potential for public nudity.
• Legs can stiffen up while standing in place to change.

Not changing at all

If you have triathlon-specific clothes and are comfortable in them, this will be your fastest overall option. (Tri jerseys and shorts should fit tightly enough so you can swim in them with or without a wetsuit.) If you employ this strategy, the only changes you will be making are removing your wetsuit and putting on shoes & socks (if you plan to wear them). Your transitions will be as quick as possible and should help you achieve your best possible overall race time. It’s a great feeling to look at the results list and see you beat out a competitor simply by transitioning faster than he or she did.

So, which strategy is right for you?

This is a question you have to answer for yourself. It is ultimately a choice between comfort and speed. Go with the strategy that lets you perform at your best throughout the race. If that means changing in transition, go for it. If not, power on to the next leg of the race.

Just as with clothing, there is no one-size-fits-all.