Transition - the 4th Discipline

This article is discusses the importance of transition practice, often the forgotten 4th discipline of triathlon racing. Precious seconds, sometimes even minutes, can be either saved or wasted in the transition areas and its the one area of the race where it simply comes down to organisation and efficiency. Read on to see how you can improve your race time without a physical effort.

Importance of transition training

You may train almost to perfection and have a great race plan, but your efforts could be in vain if you do not have a transition plan. Often known as the fourth discipline of a triathlon, the transition is one of the easiest parts to excel in especially if you want to gain a solid ground over your competitors. A swift transition in between disciplines is the key to beating anyone who may be as fast as or faster than you, in any of the disciplines. Some triathletes tend to focus so much on bike, swim and run legs and in the process they forget about transition practice. Therefore, make sure you invest a good amount of time in transition training as well. The key is not to look at it as a rest area but an area to move in and out, in the least possible time, expending less energy in the process. Focus your transition practice on how you will change from swim to bike, and bike to run, and you will end up saving a few precious seconds and sometimes, even minutes.

Primarily, there are two transitions in triathlons. T1 is the transition from swim to bike and T2 is the transition from bike to run. A few tips can help you master the fourth discipline and improve your finish times significantly.

Transition Rehearsals

Transition needs practice. For this you need to have a plan and practice it repeatedly until you achieve precision. Do this on a regular basis during training and on race day you can rehearse it mentally as well. The more you practice removing your wetsuit, the easier and faster your T1 times will become on race day. Jumping off your bike and getting into your running shoes at T2 will also become easier only with practice. Therefore, make sure to incorporate transition rehearsals in your training program on a regular basis.

Mastering T1 – swimming to cycling

T1 begins the moment your swim has ended. This is the time to remove your cap, goggles and get to your racked bike. Remember, running to your bike in a wetsuit that is wet and heavy is a cumbersome task. Often, you may have to run up to 600m or climb steps in your wetsuit. Therefore, you need to practice T1 in your training sessions.

A good practice is to swim between 200 to 1000 m and then get out of the pool, walk to the end of the pool and then jump back in. Transitions are never the same from the end of the swim to the start of the bike race. You need to know your position on the transition rack. From swim to bike you will change clothing, put on your helmet, and then pick up your bike and wheel it to the mount line. Perform all these moves and you will be able to knock off a few seconds during the race. Practice with your bike outfit under your wetsuit, so that you don’t have to change clothes after the swim. There are several one piece tri-suits available. Why not buy the TriathlonOz branded trisuit? See ads this page.

Practice running with your bike since the distance from the rack to mount line can be significant in a triathlon. Run in an upright position along with your bike as you hold the seat with your right hand. Keep the bike upright to move straight and lean it to the side to turn. You can practise these moves in an empty parking lot.

Tips for T1 on race day

  • On race day, look out for where your rack spot is located and the exact route from the swim exit to the rack spot.
  • Make a note of where your bike is located or you may lose valuable time. Find a landmark so that it is easier to spot.
  • Make sure your bike is racked in easy gear.
  • Remove goggles and cap as you exit the water.
  • Jog to your bike. Never run at a very fast pace.
  • Wipe the dirt and debris from your feet with a towel in the transition area.
  • Put talc on your shoes when you setup your transition area so that you can slip them on smoothly and prevent chafing.
  • Lay your gear out in an organised manner.
  • If you need to put on a shirt after the swim, do it before your helmet!
  • Use bike shoes with single velcro strap to save time, and ideally learn how to do a triathlon shoeless mount so that you don't spend time putting your shoes on in the transition area.
  • Be confident with your bike mount technique. By leaving your shoes clipped to your pedals in transition you can run barefooted to the mount line.
  • Don't try anything new on race day unless you've rehearsed it

Mastering T2 - Cycling to Running

The bike to run transition is also known as T2 or brick. It is worth practicing T2 many times. You could incorporate a training plan where you bike for 5 minutes and then run for 3 minutes. Repeat the process 3 – 5 times. Try and accomplish this on the road rather than in the gym. Practice will prepare your muscles for making the transition. Your brain will be able to cope better with the heavy legs syndrome that you may experience during the initial phase of running.

Your bike leg will finish at the dismount line after which you are on foot and in the T2 phase. You need to wheel your bike to the transition racking point and remove your helmet. If you are in cycling shoes you will need to change to running shoes. Practice these moves during training and you will be in a better position to cope with issues like ‘jelly’ legs and change in momentum.

Tips for T2 on race day

  • Begin to concentrate on the T2 transition area over the last two kilometres of your bike ride.
  • To get blood circulation down to your feet stand up intermittently and pedal.
  • Strip off the Velcro from your shoes towards the finishing line and continue to pedal with your feet on top of your shoes.
  • Rack your bike in the transition area and keep your gear close to you.
  • Unbuckle your helmet after you have racked the bike.
  • Take a sip of water, slip on your shoes and pick up anything else you need (your cap) and go.
  • Perform last minute adjustments whilst on the run through transition such as tucking gels into your pockets etc. Some people take a gel from their transition area and hold it until just before the first aid station, where they gulp it down, then pick up a cup of water as they run past the aid station.
  • Start your run at a slower pace in order to avoid going anaerobic. Your legs will feel heavy for about one to two kilometres.
Transitions must be kept as simple as possible. Only practice can help you master the art of making a smooth transition from T1 to T2. On days that you do not practice each element physically, take time to visualise the order in which you are going to do things. It is as important to keep your mind well prepared as your body, in order to master the art of transition.

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Created: November 2012
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Triathlon Training, Transition Training, T1, T2, Swim To Bike, Bike To Run, Brick Training, Brick Session, Trisuits, Shoeless Bike Mount, Triathlon Bike Mount