Never done a tri before? Nervous as all get up that you’ll stumble into the transition area and lose valuable seconds if not minutes trying to get socks on wet feet or getting your bike helmet on without tripping over your bike? Well have we got a treat for you! Here’s a quick, no bull how to on how to set up your transition area so that you can move from swim to bike to run like a pro.
The most important thing you can do when setting up your transition area is to simply think through how the race will move. Generally, tris are set up as swim, bike, run. There are variations on this, especially in smaller, shorter tris, but usually, you want to be prepared to finish a swim, have your bike gear ready, and then to hop off your bike and throw your running shoes on.
A great way to think about these transitions is like a layered cake. Put what you’ll need first on top and then move your way down.
Step 1: Swim to Bike
This is probably the transition that gives the most people anxiety. You wear a lot of gear when you ride a bike. How do you set it up so things are easy?
Make sure before the race starts that your bike is in a gear that let’s you start out without tons of effort but still gets you going and out of the gate with a solid push. No granny gears and no chain busting gears, just something solid that you can put some weight into, really start to move and get into your pedaling groove.
First things first, have your towel ready for a quick wipe off. It will help you get socks on quicker (if you wear them) and you’ll slip a little less when you sit your butt down on your bike saddle.
Second, if you need to wear socks (I know some that do and some that don’t) have them rolled and placed on top of each shoe so that you can easily push your foot into the tip of the sock and then roll them onto your feet. It’s an easy way to get socks on otherwise wet feet.
Third, have your helmet laid out with the opening facing you. Place your sunglasses (again, if you wear them) in the cavity of the helmet so that after you towel off, you can slide the glasses on, place your helmet on your head, and hop on your bike
Next, if you have clip in pedals, and your shoes are easily tightened with one hand, you might want to consider clipping them into your pedals so they are ready to go. With your socks on, you can slide into your shoes and tighten them as you are mounting your bike. This may take some practice, but it’s a quick way to shave a few seconds.
Another great way to save time is to have any type of gels or energy chews out and ready to be consumed as soon as you hop on the bike. A lot of people like to lick the energy chews and stick them on the top tube of their bike so they are already out of the package and ready to be chewed on. Not a bad idea as long as your bike is clean. For gels, a lot of triathletes will stick between bike cables simply scotch tape them to the top bar –just as long as they are easy to grab and get in your mouth. Because you are sitting down and able to chew and swallow little more easily than you could on the run, the bike section of a tri is the ideal place to refuel. Of course, the longer the tri, the more you’ll have to refuel, but if it’s a shorter distance course, you can easily top off your tanks on the bike and make it through the run without feeling spent.
Step 2: Bike to Run
A smooth transition from bike to run is all about taking your time to focus on what equipment needs to come off before you can slide your shoes on and head out for your last leg.
First things first, you can start to unclip your helmet as you near the transition area. Most races require you to walk your bike into the transition –steer your bike with one hand and use the other to unclip the helmet and even slide your glasses off (I usually slide off my glasses and hold them in my mouth for safe keeping. That way they are ready to be put on again if I want them for the run).
Once you’ve set down your bike out of the way (carefully!) and your helmet is off, you can focus on sliding your feet out of your shoes. Remember to go slowly and be intentional with your movements. By forcing yourself to focus on the task of unfastening your shoes you’ll actually realize that you’re going much faster than if you were trying too hard to throw off your shoes and move to the next task.
Now, with your cycling shoes off, you can focus on sliding your feet into your running shoes. There are a lot of options for running shoes out there. Most have a traditional lace up design. But there are also some tri specific shoes that allow you to slide into the shoe like you would a pair of slippers. These shoes tend to be more of a race shoe and are a bit lighter as well. If you don’t want to fork over the cash for a new pair of race shoes, a great option is to add some sort of speed lace system (I like these) to your trusty existing shoes. These usually retail for around $10.00 and allow you to ditch your traditional laces for an elastic lacing system that will give you the same ease of entry as the tri shoes.
And that’s it! Once those shoes are on, all you have between you and certain victory is a little jaunt with a few of your newest, closest, friends. Enjoy it, denizens, it’s going to be a great day.