When I did my first triathlon in 2004, I had NO idea what I was in for. I hadn’t trained and was relying on the facts that I kinda knew how to swim, was a bike commuter, and knew that I could always walk the 5k. I didn’t have any idea about pesky things like brick training, clipless pedals, or transitions. That first race I did, my T1 was close to 7:30! I cleaned and dried my feet, put on socks, gloves, my running shoes, and ate a sandwich. Yep, you read that right. I ate a sandwich in T1

Needless to say, I have learned a great deal since then and have come up with a pretty simple and streamlined transition that has helped me to take minutes off my time with almost no effort.

Transition is triathlon’s fourth discipline and I have watched people lose their rightful spot on the podium because of time wasting there. A little planning, streamlining, and practice can go a long way into making significant time savings.

Longer distances may require different equipment than a sprint or Olympic; I’m going to focus on short course racing for this article.

1. KNOW WHAT YOU NEED: First thing, let’s discuss what you REALLY need for a triathlon. I’ve seen everything: buckets, pans of water, people putting on camelbaks and gloves and socks, you name it. All of these things are time wasters.

Here’s what you actually need: goggles, cap, towel/mat, cycling shoes, sunglasses, helmet, running shoes, running socks (optional), race belt with bib and nutrition (if needed), visor/hat. That’s it.

You will notice that I failed to mention cycling socks. That’s because your feet are going to be wet even if you TRY to dry them. Your tri kit is going to drip drip drip down your legs while you ride and your feet are going to be soggy. Period. So first thing to ditch is the idea that you need to dry off your feet and put on socks before throwing on your cycling shoes. Nope. Don’t waste the time.

2. SET UP IN ORDER OF EVENTS: That means that your cycling gear should be closest to you as you face the rack.

Layer your cycling gear from the ground up in this order:

1. shoes (unvelcroed and open), 2. helmet (open sky up, unclasped with straps hanging to the outside).

Behind your cycling gear (towards the rack), set up your running gear. Layer from the ground up:

1. race belt

2. running shoes. Stick  your visor/hat between shoes to keep it from blowing away.


Depending on how tight you need your running shoes, either leave them tied or get a pair of quick-lock laces so that you don’t have to tie them. Tying your shoes is a waste of time. (Do you see a pattern here?) If you choose to use running socks, have your socks folded halfway inside out and resting on top of shoes with the opening facing you.

Side note: I do not use running socks for anything shorter than a 70.3, because I don’t want to waste the time putting those suckers on. Instead, I use a little blister-free powder (I use 2 Toms Blister Shield) to prevent chafing and blisters.

If you’re going to race without socks, you MUST train without socks. It does ultimately save you precious seconds, but don’t do anything on race day that you haven’t done in training!!

3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Before you leave transition, ensure you know EXACTLY where your bike is in relation to the swim in, bike out and in, and run out. You will be tired, you might be disoriented, you might be confused. Mitigate time lost by taking the opportunity before the race to orient yourself with your surroundings. Getting turned around will KILL your time. When you leave transition, remember to grab your swim cap and goggles, and wetsuit if needed.


4. MULTI-TASK:  When you come out of the water, strip off your goggles and cap (and wetsuit) as you run into T1. Head directly for your bike and chuck your swim gear under the rack, out of the way of your gear and all bike tires.

Step onto your mat or towel and bend down and put on your sunglasses. Grab your helmet, and start putting it on as you stand up (yes, this happens concurrently). As you clasp your helmet under your chin, swipe your feet and slide them into your already-open shoes. This is all happening at the same time. See why I say you gotta practice?

It’s easy to lose your balance, so you have to be PRESENT while you are going through this acrobatics. I usually slap the Velcro shut before unracking my bike, because my shoes are too loose to run in if they aren’t closed. If you can run without taking the time to shut them, DO IT! You can close the Velcro once you are on your bike. Now RIDE YOUR HEART OUT!

Come back from your EPIC ride and head directly back to your spot.

(Side note: some people will pull their feet out of their shoes during the last few meters of their ride, leaving the shoes attached to the pedals, and run into transition barefoot. I have had problems with my shoes dragging and popping off the pedals. For me personally, it doesn’t work. If it works for you, GREAT!)

5. MULTI-TASK AGAIN: Rack your bike and only then take off your helmet. Put the helmet on the ground and open your shoes. Step out of your right cycling shoe and directly into your running shoe (or put on your sock.) Do the same on the left. Grab your race belt and visor/hat, and GO! You can put on your visor and race belt as you run out of transition, so there is no need to stand at your bike and waste time doing that before taking off. Run your heart out, and come across the finish line knowing that you are a badass and that you saved as much time as you possibly could in your transition.

As you can see, there are a million places in transition to make small, incremental changes that will add up to making real and significant gains. Wait until after the race to enjoy that sandwich!