21 March 2017

The fine art of triathlon transition

September 25, 2009

Transition – the progression from one discipline to the next – is popularly described as triathlon’s fourth discipline. Read on for Sam Murphy’s guide to a successful transition.

It may not require physical fitness, but with the clock still ticking as you get out of the water and onto your bike, and off your bike and into the run – speed, skill and know-how are essential.

Think of all the hard work it takes to knock 30 seconds off your 10km run time.

Well, simply sharpening up your transition could save you that with no training at all, and earn you a faster finish time.

This guide is taken from Sam Murphy’s excellent ‘Triathlon’ book.


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T1 – Swim to bike

The transition from swim to bike is called T1, and it starts at the point at which you reach dry land.  As soon as you’ve found your feet, put your goggles up on your head and locate the zip cord of your wetsuit so you can start unzipping it as you jog or walk back to the transition area. Don’t take your goggles off because you’ll make it very difficult to get your wetsuit over your hands with a pair of goggles in them.

Keep moving as you remove first one arm and then the other from the wetsuit and then push it down firmly to hip level. Leave it in this position until you reach your bike. Then lose your swim cap and goggles, and pull the wetsuit down in one fell swoop to well below your knees.

Stand on it with one foot as you lift the other leg up high so you can use your hands to pull the fabric over your ankle. Then stand on the free leg of the wetsuit to help get the other one off. If you’re wearing trainers for the bike ride, put them on now. Don’t bother donning socks, which just eats into your transition time.

The advantage of wearing trainers is that once you’ve put them on in T1, you don’t need to waste any more time on footwear in T2. The disadvantage though, is that the flexible sole doesn’t maximise your transfer of power to the pedals, and can make your feet sore. That’s where bike shoes and clipless pedals come in come in.

The ideal is to have your bike shoes attached to the pedals (it saves time as well as meaning you don’t have to walk/run in them) sliding your feet into them whilst pedalling, but this takes practice.

Whatever footwear and method of mounting your bike you intend to use, make sure you’ve practised it in training enough times to feel comfortable doing it on race day.

Once you’re appropriately clothed, grab your bike helmet, put it on and fasten it before you even touch your bike. Moving your bike without a secured helmet will incur a time penalty, or worse, disqualification.

Mounting your bike

Once you are ready to leave your transition area and head for the bike exit, push your bike with one hand firmly on the saddle, not by holding the handlebars. This gives you much more control, and stops you banging your legs into the pedals. Look in the direction you want the bike to go to help yourself steer.

Once you have passed the race ‘mount line’ you are allowed to get on your bike and T1 is over. If you now need to get your feet into your shoes, don’t attempt to get them on until you reach flat ground, or better still, a slight downhill, so you don’t lose too much speed as you freewheel.

Try to keep looking ahead as you get hold of the back of the shoe and lift your foot off and inside in one smooth movement.

Then you should be on your way!


As soon as you are in a good rhythm of cycling, take a drink. You’ll need to rehydrate after the swim.

T2 – bike to run

The transition from cycling to running begins at the ‘dismount’ line – the line beyond which you must be off your bike to avoid incurring penalty points.

The simplest option is to simply stop the bike before the dismount line and get off. You can do this whether you are wearing trainers or bike shoes. It’s straightforward and foolproof (as long as you remember to unclip!) but it isn’t the fastest way.

A better option is to use a ‘cyclocross style’ dismount. To do this, you bring your right leg over the saddle and thread it between the left leg and the bike frame so that the right foot hits the ground first. This enables you to dismount without stopping, and break immediately into a run, saving time.

If you are wearing bike shoes, you need to unstrap them and get your feet out well before the dismount line, cycling with your feet on top of your shoes. This is especially important if the final few metres are uphill, where you won’t be able to freewheel to undo your shoes.

When you’re off your bike, take hold of the top of the saddle again, to push it back to your transition area. Once there, hang your bike on the bike rack using the brake hoods (to save turning it around) in the designated spot. Only when your hands are off the bike are you allowed to remove your helmet.

Changing shoes

If you cycled in trainers, you’re good to go – taking any drink, hat or sunglasses that you might want with you.

If you wore bike shoes, you now need to get your trainers on as quickly as possible. To do this, put one hand on the tongue of the shoe and one on the heel tab and with the shoe as open as possible, slide your foot in. Some triathletes smear a little Vaseline at the back of the shoe to ease the foot in.

It’s best to get your shoes on standing up rather than sitting down on the ground, as standing up quickly after exertion can make you feel dizzy. Again, you’ll save time if you can forgo socks, but remember to pre-roll them if you’re determined to wear them. Now you need to make your way to the ‘run exit’ area. You’re on the home stretch!

Sam Murphy, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Picture credit: Whole Picture Productions

This feature is taken from the book ‘Triathlon’ by Sam Murphy is published by Kyle Cathie, priced £14.99. Readers can buy the book at the special price of £12.99 inc free p&p (UK mainland only). To order your copy, ring: 01903 828503, quoting ref. KC TRI/SS or email: mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk.

For more info on the author please visit www.sam-murphy.co.uk

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  1. Pingback: Triathlon: Bella Bayliss dominates in Ironman Lanzarote 2009 - Sportsister - The Women's Sports Magazine | Sportsister

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