Chrissie W on how to tackle transitions

Let a four-time Ironman champ talk you through the 'fourth discipline'


Transitions are one of the most common causes of confusion for new triathletes, so if you have entered your first sprint tri this season then read on and let four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington talk you through it…


Although transitions may initially seem like confusing and crazy places, they really needn’t be a cause for anxiety. To me, transitions (the area, as well as the process) include pre-swim, swim/bike (T1) and bike/run (T2). They are part of the race and should therefore form part of your preparation.

Start off by writing an equipment list for both T1 and T2, keeping it simple and focusing only on what you need. Then develop a (written) action plan of the ordered sequence of tasks. After that it’s all about visualising and practising – in your driveway, car parks, back garden – and before long it will become second nature, which is especially important in the manic heat of battle.

As a first-timer you don’t necessarily need to be fast, just calm, so apply a ‘more haste, less speed’ mindset. Being composed and methodical helps you a) keep a level heart rate, b) avoid making mistakes, and c) go much faster. I’d also get hands-on help from someone with more tri experience to show you the ropes and give you a visual demonstration of the skills needed.

1. Have all your kit in a bag and arrive early enough to set up properly.

2. There are usually specific entrances and exits for each discipline, with all athletes moving in the same direction in the same space. Spend time finding out where the swim exit, bike exit/entrance (plus the mount and dismount lines) and run exit are. Physically (and mentally) walk them if you can, making sure you take the shortest route possible.

3. Make sure your bike is in an easy gear and rack it, preferably hanging by the seat; some races pre-assign a specific location to each athlete, but if allowed, choose a spot at the end of a rack. Make sure you memorise the location, using landmarks if necessary.

4. Place a towel next to your bike. If wearing bike shoes, loosen the straps and place on towel (some athletes have their shoes attached to the pedals, but I wouldn’t recommend this to a first timer). Then put your run shoes behind them (closer to the rack), ensuring the tongue and laces are open. If you’re wearing socks for the bike or run lay them out. I sprinkle talc inside my socks and bike and run shoes for comfort. Put any nutrition (gels/bars) on the towel.

5. Put your (unbuckled) helmet upside down on your handlebars. Make sure the lenses of your sunglasses are clean and place them inside with the arms open. Put your number belt (if you’re wearing one) upside down on top with the clasp open. Note that different races have different race number rules. Some stipulate that it must be worn during the bike, with the number on your back, and for the run, number facing forward. For others it’s only required on the run.  Find out in advance what the rules are. You can use a number belt with the number attached, or you can pin it to your race jersey (front and back if necessary).

6. Leave time to get into your wetsuit. Liberally apply non-oil based lubricant to areas prone to chaffing and on your ankles to make wetsuit removal easier. If you’re not using a spray-based product, use a rubber glove to apply lube if you’re not using a spray-based product. Now just head to the swim start with your cap and goggles.

7. Focus on yourself and don’t watch what others are doing. Close your eyes, relax, breathe and accept that a few nerves are normal!

From pre-swim through to the end of the second transition it’s key to have a visualised ‘mental map’ and then practise a routine that works best for you. Everyone feels nervous, but with good preparation you’ll soon be flying through transitions and being the one that’s advising others of the best strategy for success.


For lots of advice on transitions, open-water swimming and all the others things new triathletes may struggle with, head to our Beginners section