Today we’re going to look at transitions in the triathlon. Those moments you pass form one sporting discipline to another.
There are just two types of transitions in the triathlon:
- From water to bike (Transition T1): this first transition goes from swimming to cycling. In the classifications, it’s normally indicated as T1 (and sometimes the time taken to realise the transition is recorded).
- From bike to road (Transition T2): this transition is key, and passes from cycling to running. In the classifications, it’s referred to as T2 (and it’s also usually timed)
Preparing for the transitions
Before starting to deal specifically with transitions, we’re going to explain some key concepts that have to be carried out before starting the competition in order to prepare not only for the beginning of the triathlon, but for leaving everything correctly set up for each transition, with equipment and food at the point(s) the organisation explicitly creates for that function.
We can say that there is a pre-transition phase, that doesn’t really count for the competition, nor add time to the event, but which we must put as much emphasis on, or even more, than the rest of the transitions, so that when we arrive at them we have all the equipment and food that we’re going to eat set up and ready to go.
The first aspect to take into account is your arrival at the race area. You have to arrive early. You know that rushing is not a good idea, and this time is going to be no different, so you should ideally get to the information point two hours early (if you’ve not done it the day before), and once you’re there, you should find out everything: location of the zones, timetables, collection of bibs…
Your items must be left in order to be easily accessible: helmet, glasses and bike shoes (loose and untied), bottles in place, strategically placed energy bars, in pockets or on your bike, possible food for transitions (very useful for long distances), spare socks to avoid chafing and blisters or sunscreen.
In each discipline it is very important to have a visible number assigned to you by the event organisers. In swimming, it’s worn on the cap, and will normally come pre-registered by the organisation, but you must check that it’s yours and that it’s visible and correct.
In the cycling part, it must be worn in three visible places: on the helmet, on the bike and on the body. For the bike and the helmet, the organisation usually gives you stickers to put on correctly. Usually two on the helmet (side and front) and one on the bike (usually on the seat post). The one on the body varies, as in cycling it should be worn on the lower part of the back, and in running it should be worn on the front of the body, and using a number holder is recommended.
The number holder is just a kind of belt hang the number on (with safety pins or hooks that it has itself), and the only thing you have to do when you reach the transition from the bike to the race is turn it from back to front, without wasting any time (imagine if you hook it with safety pins).
We’ll look at this first because it’s normally the first transition in the triathlon, when we finish swimming and get on the bike, going from water to pedal. In this transition, the most important thing is to get rid of the swimsuit quickly, therefore a somewhat obvious recommendation is to do several run-throughs at home the week before the competition, or even in the swimming training sessions (it’s better to do it when you train in the sea because you don’t normally see anyone with a swimsuit in the pool).
It’s not the same to take off your wet wetsuit as to take it off dry, so try both ways to learn the difference and how to step on it to get it off more quickly. One tip is to use body oil before you put it on, it will help us get it off and also avoid possible chafing in friction areas such as the armpits, neck or groin (vaseline is also often used).
Ideally, as soon as we get out of the water, as we approach the area where the bike is located to make the transition, we’ll remove the upper part of the swimsuit. It’s important not to remove the glasses and hat until you get to permitted area (you should ask everything right before as we said in the previous post) to avoid being penalised.
The upper part of the swimsuit comes off easily thanks to a long cord attached to the zipper that we can easily grab, and we need to check it works properly, and lubricate it otherwise for it to do so.
Once we’ve reached the transition area, where the bike and the rest of the equipment and food are, we need to move quickly to take off our swimsuit as fast as we’ve trained, and put on both the helmet and the bike glasses. If the competition is going to be long, it’s important to dry your feet and put on some socks to avoid chafing or blisters that could cause problems at the finish.
It’s advisable to wear a swimming costume or a specific triathlon suit underneath the swimsuit, in case it’s used, and that will serve as a single items of clothing for both the bike and the run, thus avoiding unnecessary loss of time when having to change clothes for each discipline.
Just as there’s an area where you need to still wear your swimming cap and goggles, there’s an area for the cycling part where you need to put on your helmet and goggles (if you use them) before going out with your bike. So, before riding your bike to the start of the cycling section, put your helmet and your glasses on so you won’t be penalised or lose time.
There is an optimal way to lose as little time as possible when putting on your cycling shoes: leaving them on the pedals of your bike, and when it’s time to get on the bike in the marked area, stepping into the shoes and then putting them on when you’ve picked up some speed.
This technique is not easy to perform, so you need to practice it a lot until you’ve mastered it, because if not, you may lose more time than you can gain using the technique.
The traditional technique is to put the shoes on in the box and run with them to the start line with the bike, but you need to be careful with this because the shoes, having a studs on the sole, skid a lot.
Use the technique that works best for you, but look for shoes that tie very fast, with a single strip of Velcro if possible, so that if you do it on the bike you only have to bend down once on each side, gaining a lot of time. Don’t use fasteners that are too technical, as is common in today’s specific cycling shoes, as they can be more complex to tie and would penalise you in your transition time
This one takes place when changing from cycling to running, or as we have colloquially baptised it from pedal to tarmac. Although it seems like it’s going from tarmac to tarmac, the legs notice this brutal change.
This transition is the most important of the two, since the change of sporting discipline means the legs have to bear a powerful contrast in movement, the impact and the force to be performed, so we need to get our body used to it progressively.
In training, the change from one discipline to another should be made with less than 10 minutes between them, because if we exceed this time the training isn’t going to resemble the competition, as the muscle fibres will have rested enough to adapt from the bike to the run.
As far as the transition area is concerned, we have to enter on foot via the area indicated by the organisation, which is generally the same for the exit. You can remove your helmet from your bike in this area, but not before, as you may be penalised (sometimes you have to put it in a box).
As well as getting on the bike and starting to pedal, there are also two ways of getting off the bike: with the bike shoes on, which carries the risk of slipping, or going down barefoot, leaving the shoes attached to the pedals.
To get off with the shoes still on the pedals and run barefoot, you need to work on the technique a lot in the training sessions to learn how to loosen the velcro of the shoes while riding. It’s best not to use shoes with complex fasteners as these will just add time.
If you’re doing a long distance triathlon, it’s a good idea to wear a different pair of socks, as the ones you’ve worn while cycling will probably have been sweated out, and may cause uncomfortable rubbing or blisters that will bother you when you’re running.
As far as running shoes are concerned, it’s best to use shoes that are as easy to tie as possible, either with Velcro or better still with elastic laces that allow us to add pressure without having to loosen or tie the laces, as quickly as possible. The elastic cords can be purchased separately and attached to the shoes.
The techniques we’ve explained are aimed at losing the minimum amount possible time and are not totally necessary if we simply want to compete. But in the end, if we compete regularly, even if we’re not going for the first places, we’ll likely want to cut down the total time as much as possible.
Don’t forget to have a look at the other content on Triathlons:
- The 3 Indispensable Supplements for Triathlons, here
- Find out about gym work for the Triathlon