Transition – The 4th Sport of Triathlon and How To Nail it

Today I’m linking up this post with Cynthia at You Signed Up for What?, Courtney at The TriGirl Chronicles, and Phaedra at Blisters and Black Toenails for Tri Talk Tuesday! Check out their awesome blogs if you have a minute.

One of the first things I do when I look at my triathlon splits is look at my transition times. Transition is an oft-neglected part of triathlon, but it’s really the 4th sport, one in which you can gain – or lose – a lot of time. Make no mistake, you can lose placings by taking too long in transition. So, while you’re working on your swim, bike, and run, don’t forget to work on a speedy transition.

I generally have fast transition times and so I thought I’d share my tips for getting in and out of the zone as fast as possible.

Before the Race:

1. Lay everything out exactly as you need it. When you come out of the swim you’ll need to don helmet and possibly sunglasses, a race number, and bike shoes. These should all be laid out ready to go, on a towel laid on the ground to the right of your front wheel. I have seen people put their stuff IN FRONT of their bike…kinda hard to get the bike out that way. I put my helmet on my towel on the ground because it’s been knocked off my bike too many times. You can lay it on top of the handlebars or brake cables if there’s room. DO NOT hang it on the handlebars. This is guaranteed to cost you time as you try to pull it off. Inside my helmet I put my sunglasses, open, and my race belt with number attached, if I’m required to wear it for the bike. My bike shoes are on my bike (timesaver) but if you’re not ready to try putting your shoes on while riding or you wear running shoes for biking, make sure those are ready to slip your feet into. Put talcum powder inside your shoes to make them easier to put on. Put your running shoes BEHIND your bike shoes – you don’t need those getting in the way on your swim to bike transition. If you’re going sockless, lube up the insides of your running shoes with vaseline to make them easier to slip on and prevent chafing. If you’re wearing socks, have them ready to put on.

Separate transition bags for Austin Half Ironman

2. Practice. Once you’ve laid everything out, don’t just walk away. Practice putting it on. I always do this. Grab your race belt and practice clipping it. Was it easy to do? Lay it down so it’s ready to grab. Same with sunglasses – you want to be able to slide them straight on so have them open and facing the right way. Then put on your helmet. Someone always puts on their helmet backwards so make sure you have it facing the right way and the straps aren’t twisted.

Where did I leave my bike?!

3. Memorize where your bike is. I usually look for a tree, something visual, that I can refer to. Looking at the numbers on the racks takes too long. Some people put flowers in the top of the open tube at the end of the rack, or write on the ground in chalk. Balloons are kinda annoying for other racers and aren’t allowed in some transition areas, so I don’t recommend those. Just make sure you have a way of knowing where your rack – and bike – is. I have made the mistake of going to the wrong rack and it’s very frustrating!

4. Find the BIKE OUT. Once I’ve set everything up and made a note of where my bike is, I go and find the BIKE OUT area. Don’t wait until the race to find out where it is. Once I’ve found it, I then look for the BIKE MOUNT line. Remember that you’ll have to wheel your bike to the line before mounting it. Mounting in transition is not allowed and can lead to disqualification!

5. Find the RUN OUT. Next, I go find the RUN OUT area. This is often (but not always) the opposite direction from BIKE OUT. Again, go and look at it so you know where it is. People are always going the wrong way because they didn’t look beforehand. Don’t be that person!

6. Prepare mentally. So, all set, right? Now I go back to my bike again and check I have everything set up. I’ll mentally run through what I need for the bike and run legs. Do I have water and fuel on my bike? I check everything one last time before leaving transition with my cap and goggles.

During the Race:

Added complication: removing wetsuit!

7. Swim to bike. As I exit the swim and start running to transition, I remove my goggles and cap. Then I go through in my head what I need, in the order I’m going to pick it up. When I get to my bike, I throw my cap and goggles to the back of my towel (not in someone else’s space) and start putting on my number (if needed), sunglasses, and helmet. Don’t forget to secure your helmet before grabbing your bike!

8. No time for tea. At NO time in transition should you sit down. This is not a break. The clock is still ticking and you are still racing. Plan to get in and out as fast as you can without panicking. Do everything calmly but quickly, so you don’t forget anything.

9. Bike leg. I run/jog with my bike to the mount line, which I looked at before so I know exactly where it is. NOTE that the mount line is NOT the timing mat. The mount line always comes after the timing mat!

10. Bike to run. When I return from the bike leg, I jog/run my bike back to its spot. Again, as I’m entering transition I run through in my head what I need for the run. I return my bike to the rack, facing the same way I got it out. This may not be a big deal to you but it is to the people on either side of you, because if you do it incorrectly they may not be able to get their bikes in correctly. This has been done to me and it really pissed me off! Not to mention that some races will penalize you for incorrect bike placement. Don’t be that person. Once my bike is in, I take off my helmet and put it at the back of my towel (you can put it back on the handlebars if that’s where you had it before). Then I grab my running shoes, which I’ve positioned to put on easily. I recommend lock-laces; you do NOT want to have to tie shoelaces! Again, do not sit down! I grab a hat/visor if I’m planning to wear one and any fuel I need. If I’m wearing my number I just turn it to face the front while running; no need to stand there wasting time. If I didn’t wear the number on the bike, I grab it and put it on while heading out of transition.

It may seem like a lot to remember, but follow these 10 steps for your next transition and you’ll be sure to save time!

How are your transitions?

Did I forget anything?

Was this helpful? I hope so!



  1. Great reminder and checklist. For those of us who don’t have a waterproof GPS, I’d recommend not putting in on for the bike, but only for the run. After you’ve racked your bike, removed your helmet and put on your running shoes, you can, grab a hat if you wear one and your GPS and put it one while running out of T2. But remember tot turn your GPS on prior to the race so you only have to press the start button.
    Stuart recently posted..The Best Camouflage Ever!!My Profile

    • Racingtales says:

      Good points. Although you’ll want to wear it on the bike if you don’t have a bike computer! I have a 310XT so I can wear it for the whole race. I use the multisport mode which I love! Thanks for the comment! xx

  2. I needed to read this write now, thank you!! Soaking up all I can. 🙂
    Laura recently posted..June recap and Winners!My Profile

  3. Great post! I agree about racking the bike the same way it was set up. It’s annoying if people change things around and you can’t end up reaching your area. Also agree about the balloons. And most races will come by and cut them off. I stick to the old “count the racks” method from the bike in or out. Thanks for the tips. Really great post!

  4. Thanks for linking up your awesome post – I know you are the transition guru! Reading this it seems like the emphasis is mental preparation and I need to really think things through so that I can just go through the motions quickly. Thanks!
    Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! recently posted..Tri Talk Tuesday: Triathlon Transition ChecklistMy Profile

    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Thanks for giving me an opportunity to link up – such a great idea you have there, and it was so easy to do! Yes, I would agree that so much of this is mental prep – knowing what to do without thinking about it. I do having a “race mode” and maintain this in transition, while I see some people stop and take a break, which confounds me…the clock is still ticking!

  5. I am considering doing my first sprint triathlon and the transition area is a little confusing to me. Are their problems with theft? With you bike and other gear laying out, is their security or something that prevents others taking your things? Seems scary to me to leave my bike not locked.

    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Hi Laura,
      No, theft isn’t an issue. Most races will not let you take your bike out of transition after the event without checking the number on the bike matches the number on your arm. If you’re racking your bike overnight, the event provides security. In addition, only racers are allowed in the transition area; spectators must keep out. That being said, I have heard of an incident where someone managed to get a bike that wasn’t theirs out of transition. However, I have never had an issue in the many triathlons I have raced. I hope this helps!

  6. #8 makes me laugh!!! Thanks for the chuckle. It drives me insane when I see people show up with milk crates and 5 gallon buckets which they turn over and sit down on.

    I love the talcum powder tip. Never thought to try that. Adding it to my own checklist for the next event.
    Cassandra @PoweredByBling recently posted..Bike MS Chesapeake Challenge + GiveawayMy Profile

  7. GREAT post as usual Allison! Point #10 is HUGE. It drives me bananas when I find bikes racked incorrectly!
    Phaedra @ Blisters and Black Toenails recently posted..Tri Talk Tuesday – TransitionsMy Profile

  8. Good list. I remember looking at my splits for the 2nd tri I ever did and I had a 5 minute T1. There was probably a 1/4 mile run in there, but still! I think I sat down to take off my wetsuit and put on bike shoes because I was dizzy after getting out of cold water and the ground was soft. Needless to say, I gotten faster at transitions since then!
    Kelli recently posted..TriTalk Tuesday: TransitionsMy Profile

  9. Thanks for linking up! These are some really good tips and i really like that you emphasize some etiquette to others around you. So many people get so wrapped up in their own race they become pretty thoughtless to those around them. It’s always helpful to read the step by step process others use in transition too!
    Courtney@The TriGirl Chronicles recently posted..Weekly Recap and Summer CountdownMy Profile


  1. […] and out of transition in 54 seconds: fastest female T2 time. (I pride myself on being fast in the 4th sport of triathlon!) In the past, the run has been hot, hilly, and felt way more than 3.1 miles. I was determined to […]

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