Improving your transition times

Transition bags ready!

Did you know that the key to getting a PB is improving your transition times?

I’ve been to support a few friends at various multisport events recently. It is amazing how often winning or losing is determined in transition. In an aquathlon, a woman who was one of the first out of the lake and is known to be a very strong runner finished way down in the field. This was because she spent so much time faffing around in transition. She hadn’t decided what she was going to wear in advance, so a range of options was laid out for her. Then it became clear that she hadn’t practised which order she would put things on (and how much harder it would be when she was damp). In contrast, I watched someone who had struggled with the swim make a very quick transition. Even though their run was average, their end result was high up in the field.

A coach once told me that it’s much easier to save 30 seconds in transition than it is to cut 30 seconds off your runtime. He was definitely correct. (This same coach had narrowly beaten a stronger opponent at Ironman Bolton. He secured a place at Kona because his transitions were quicker, so he knows what he’s talking about!)

Setting up in transition

It’s important to get your transition area set up well before the race starts. Some events number transition according to your race number (or at least allocate you to a specific rack), whereas others give you free choice. Usually, the entrance and exit from transition are located in such a way that everyone has to complete exactly the same distance… but where you prefer to rack can depend on when you put your shoes on and how easily you can locate your kit.

Triathlon rules are very similar in most countries and usually state that you cannot mark your transition area, meaning that you can’t drape anything on the rack/attach a flag or balloon… but you can go for natural markers, such as choosing the end of the rack, or a rack that is near to a tree (if you’re at a local event that doesn’t have transition in a car park). You can also normally use a small towel to mark your space and dry your feet on it. (I use a New Wave Launchpad).

shoes and towel

Using transition bags

Transition is often handled differently in longer big brand events. At Weymouth Half (which was part of a Challenge Family event) and Ironman Dublin 70.3, all of my kit was placed into a numbered bag, which I had to grab and carry through a changing area. This meant that I couldn’t lay my kit out in order. I tried to ensure that I didn’t clutter up those bags with unnecessary items! (However, it’s worth bringing a spare pair of goggles, just in case the strap breaks).

Anyway, whether your kit has to go in a bag or whether you have a specific area for all of your kit, make sure you know exactly where it is and walk the route from transition entry to your kit. Look for any identifiers that might help you to locate it when you’re a bit disoriented from your swim. (Don’t rely on a brightly coloured bike being nearby as that person may have left transition before you get there!)


Remember that you’re not allowed to move anyone else’s belongings to make more room for your own. If you’ve been allocated a particular space and someone else’s kit seems to be in the way, speak to a marshal.

Attaching as much as possible to your bike can help with improving your transition times.  Put bottles in cages and makes sure there are snacks in your bento box/gels taped to the top tube etc! You might also want to bring a track pump to transition with you so that you can make sure your tyres are adequately pumped up. Don’t forget to go for a quick spin to make sure your bike is in the right gear for when you start the bike course.

Finally, you might want to bring a loo roll, just in case there’s nothing left in the portaloos!


T1: Swim to bike transition

For many people, this is the most challenging transition for two reasons:

  • your body has to adjust from being horizontal to being vertical, which can cause dizziness. (This is why some people stagger out of the swim as if they’re drunk!)
  • you are wet, so putting on clothes/shoes can be more challenging

Before you leave the water, swim as far as you can. Consider whether you can move more quickly by swimming to the edge or by wading. Swimming is quicker for most people.

Removing your wetsuit

It’s also a good idea to flush your wetsuit to make it easier to take off. Undo the zip a little (if it unzips from the top) and then pull the neck down so that water floods in. Depending on the temperature, it probably won’t feel pleasant, but it will make it come off more easily. (I’d recommend practising this every time you go open water swimming so that it’s second nature on race day).

Many people will recommend that by the time you get to T1, you should have stripped your wetsuit to your waist. You can remove the top part whilst running. Some people will also recommend that you put your goggles into your swimming hat and tuck them in the arm of your wetsuit. As someone who wore prescription goggles for several years, I’ve never risked that. I’d be too afraid that they would fall out!

Putting on your cycling kit

The most important item that you have to put on in T1 is your bike helmet. If you intend to put on another layer that goes over your head, make sure you do that first! If you’re a novice triathlete, you might not be aware that you are not allowed to unrack your bike unless you have your helmet on. I usually have my sunglasses (or clear cycling glasses) open in my helmet so that I can slip them on.

You need to put on your race number in T1. It’s easiest to do this if you have a race belt (an elasticated belt with hooks to attach your number). I find that it’s quicker to step into it than to try to clip it with cold wet hands.


You also need to make a decision about socks. Pros don’t wear socks, but I’m not a pro and I don’t like blisters. If you are going to race without socks then you need to make sure that your cycling and running shoes are intended to be used in that way, so that they do not rub. Adding plenty of talcum powder can help to prevent blisters. I prefer to ‘waste’ a bit of time putting socks on. (The same goes for wearing cycling mitts. It might lose me a few seconds, but in the event of a cycling mishap, I’m less likely to get grazed hands).

The next decision you need to make is whether or not to exit T1 with your cycling shoes attached to your bike. This only works if you have tri shoes with large elastic straps. Any kind of toggle closure will make it impossibly difficult to get your shoes on whilst moving. If you have the right shoes, you can attach them to your pedals and keep them in place using small easily breakable elastic bands. If you use industrial strength elastic bands then they won’t snap when you start pedalling. This should save you time in transition. It will also make you less likely to slip in your cleats or damage them.

What to practice

Finally, you need to be confident about running with your bike. Make sure that you are on the side of the bike that you want to mount from. Practise running whilst pushing your bike holding its saddle. I would also recommend practising turning around corners to the left and the right


T2: Bike to run transition

Before you arrive in T2, you should slip your feet out of your cycling shoes. It is possible to pedal with your feet on top of the shoes. This doesn’t take nearly as much practice as getting your shoes on. (It’s so simple, even I can do it!!!) You may also want to practise doing a flying dismount so that you can easily dismount at the mount line and then run to your rack. (Check the race details. If it’s a fancy event then there might even be people who will take your bike and rack it for you. Just make sure that you don’t leave anything on it that you need!) Don’t remove your helmet until your bike is racked (or has been passed to the marshals).

You then need to put on your running shoes, but you definitely don’t want to waste time doing this:

tying laces

Elastic laces can save you valuable seconds in transition. If you’ve practised with them then you can ensure that the tension is perfect before your race.

Phoenix fit UK elastic laces can help with improving your transition times
Phoenix fit UK elastic laces

On your run out of transition, twist your race belt around so that your number is on your front.

After that, you just need to do your run!

Is there anything that I’ve missed? What transition time-savers can you think of? What tips have you been given for improving your transition times?









3 Responses

  1. Great stuff here. Think you’ve covered it all. The dry mats are a good idea, and if you have the space, a litre bottle of water, mainly to rinse the feet. Some transition areas can get fairly gritty, and you don’t want that in your socks! I made sure to buy a garish coloured towel too (lurid, luminous green) to help me find my spot. Of course, if you are a total philistine and have normal pedals (gasp!), then you can achieve cracking T2 times as you will be wearing your runners on the bike, so you just rack and go. Not the worst idea! I’ve done that on a few sprints with the elasticated laces (and no socks), and it worked a treat. Having said all that, don’t be in such a mad rush to shave seconds that you feck up on the helmet, or forget your shades, race belt, or gels, or something else. I’ve done that too; sometimes a few seconds to check yourself can save a lot of trouble, not least on the longer events.

    • Good thinking on the water – I’ve done a few sea swims and managed to coat myself with sand between the swim and the bike. I agree that normal pedals can work better in sprints and super sprints.

      Being calm is also important – I nearly left T2 in my first duathlon with my helmet on!

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