Often overlooked by beginners and considered by many as being too small a part of the race to matter, the transition is rarely given the attention it deserves.  Don't be fooled--the transition is just as important as any leg of the race and is often your best opportunity to pass your competitors.  Check out below for the keys to a good transition.

Practice.  You practice every leg of your race over and over again, but how often are you practicing the transition at race speed and mentality?  Many never do.  But, next time you think about blowing it off, think about this.  If you were to run a great run leg and average a 10 second drop on each mile, you would save 35 seconds.  In order to get that 10 second per mile drop, you likely had to train your legs off and put in some serious time.  If you were to practice your transitions only a couple times a week for only a couple minutes each time, you could likely cut a good 10-20 seconds of each transition and end up with the same overall drop.  What this means is that there is a lot of room to quicken the transition.  It takes less work and less time than any other part of the race and can give equally big results. 

Next time you finish a race, take a look at the transition splits and look at the gap between the elite athletes at the top your splits.  Then take the difference (on both transitions) and subtract that from your overall time and see where you would rank.  If you haven't been working on your transitions you will move up significantly.  And, unlike the swimming, running or cycling legs, the transitions take far less work and skill to master.  All athletes should be able to split their transitions close to those of the elite, because all it takes is practice and organization.

A couple times a week at race speed and mentality should equate to seconds (maybe minutes) saved.

Pre-Race Planning.  Planning for killer transitions starts well before the race.  Do the 'Santa' and make a list and then check it twice to see if you can consolidate your list.  If you have a separate running jersey and a biking singlet, maybe you should get a combo singlet.  If you have a number belt and are using shorts to carry energy packets, maybe you can get something for both.  Less stuff = faster transitions. 

Make sure you have have everything ready for race day before the morning of the race.  If you wait until then, your cloudy-early-morning brain is sure to forget something.  Some things that might be on your list include: a helmet, glasses, cycling shoes, running shoes, a singlet, shorts, fluids, power foods, your number, a hat, etc.

Race Day Planning.  The key to a good transition takes place in the prep work done before you ever get in the transition area.  There is no right or wrong way, just a slow and a faster way.  Each athlete needs to practice his or her own techniques for what works best for them.  Here's what you should be considering:

How are you going to position your bike?  Front wheel or rear wheel on the rack.  Most like to have the rear wheel on the rack with the bike backed into the spot.  This keeps you from having to turn the bike around to get it rolling forward.  But, if it is too difficult to get it off the rack that way then do it your way.

Where are the entrances and exits, and where is my stuff in relation to them?  Take a quick walk around the transition area before the race and acquaint yourself with the transition area.  You want to be able to beeline to your area as soon as you enter the transition and not spend 5 minutes trying to find your stuff.  So plan your routes.  Remember, there might be several entry and exit points.  Also, check out the terrain for any hazards or dicey areas that you will want to avoid--e.g. potholes, dips, puddles, big-ass curbs, etc.

How should I lay out my area?  Whichever way worked best for you in practice is best, but here is an example of one way to lay things out.  It is known as the tri stack method.

  • Stack1: cycling shoes with straps open for easy entry and with socks on top of them.
  • Stack 2: helmet with straps open and glasses inside the helmet, open and ready to go.
  • Stack 3: Running shoes on top of hat and waist pack

Start Early.  Start peeling off the top half of your wetsuit, take off your cap, and take off your goggles while running from the water to the transition area.  If you can walk and chew gum at the same time you can handle this, and it will save you precious time.  When finishing up the bike (last quarter mile or so), get your feet out of your cycling shoes while leaving the shoes attached to the pedals.  Pedal with your feet on top of your shoes.  Unbuckle your helmet while running your bike in to the transition (you are not permitted to do it while on the bike).  Get your running shoes on first, then put everything else on as you run out of the transition.  Make sure you get your number on before getting out of the transition as you might be penalized for exiting the area without it showing.

Keep Moving.  While performing your flawless transition, your goal should be to keep moving.  Don't worry about rest, because while you are getting ready, you primary muscles are resting.  Plus, winners don't take rests.  Good transitions involve standing still only to take off the bottom half of the wetsuit and to put on running shoes.  All other time is spent taking off and putting on stuff while moving towards the finish line.

That's it.  Work on these and watch yourself move up that list with minimal effort.  Ignore it, and watch yourself get passed in the least athletic part of the race.