Triathlon transition: 10 common mistakes and how to put them right

Transition is often termed the fourth discipline of triathlon and is where a race can be lost. We asked Russ Hall, former club coach for the BRAT club in Birmingham, to run us through the top 10 mistakes made in transition


It’s often termed the fourth discipline of triathlon, and while transitions comprise just a fraction of the overall finish time, they can also make and break a race. Even at elite level athletes make mistakes, with penalties handed out for strewn wetsuits and misjudged dismounts. So, when you turn to age-group racing and the inclusion of hundreds more bikes and swathes of extra kit, the potential for hiccups multiplies.


1: Taking too much kit into transition

While you want to be prepared, bringing three pairs of bike shoes and the kitchen sink into transition is going to put you in a muddle. Often there is limited space between racked bicycles, so plan ahead, look at the weather forecast, study the course and only take as much as you need into transition.

2: Not knowing the layout of transition  

Picture the scene. You’ve had a great swim, your wetsuit slips off smoothly, there’s minimal fumbling with your helmet strap and you grab your bike from the racking – then realise you’ve no idea where you’re heading. Cue one flustered athlete with spiked heart-rate. It’s an all-too-common scenario in races that could be solved by a few minutes of simple preparation before the start. Take time to walk the T1 route from ‘swim in’ to your bike and on to ‘bike out.’ Then for T2, it’s ‘bike in’ to your racking spot and ‘run out’ and if you’re still not sure, go through it again. Make a note of any one-way systems in place to stop triathletes running headlong into one another.

3: Not practising transition before the race

It might not boost the endorphins like swimming, biking or running, but transition practice should not be neglected – and you can even do it in front of the television. Practice taking your helmet and wetsuit on and off and adjusting elastic laces so run shoes slip on easily. When you do venture outside, spend time running through T1 and T2. If you’re struggling for motivation, ask some tri buddies to join you and make it into a fun race. It all helps the real thing run smoothly.

4: Laying kit out in the wrong order

This is a cardinal sin of both beginners and veteran triathletes. Lay your kit out in the order that you are going to use it. If it’s all on the floor, that means helmet on top of race belt, on top of bike shoes (if not already on the pedals) for T1, with your run shoes set neatly to one side ready for T2. Always have the helmet placed to go on first. That way you can’t break the rules (your helmet must be clipped before you take your bike).

5: Dropping wetsuit carelessly  

While you might not receive a time penalty as they do in ITU racing, not stashing your wetsuit neatly causes a myriad of problems. Firstly, it messes up your T2 when you return to rack your bike and slip on your run shoes. Secondly, it can make a mess of transition for the racer next to you, and thirdly, it can lead to an irate race referee moving your kit.

6: Not being able to find your bike  

We addressed transition layout in No 2, but this specific point deserves some special attention. When you exit the water, it’s not unusual to feel a little discombobulated after the exertions of the swim and blood rush of standing upright. As such, T1 can look unfamiliar territory and if you cannot immediately spot your bike, panic can set in. Walking transition before the start should solve this and while you are not officially allowed to mark your racking spot (eg. with a helium balloon), it’s worth taking note of a fixed landmark or reminding yourself of your most striking piece of kit to help.

7: Unnecessary penalties

While most of us will be racing for fun, it’s important to abide by the rules as they are in place not simply to satisfy over-officious marshals, but to keep you safe. Always wearing your securely-fastened bike helmet whenever you are in contact with your bike is the golden one to observe. That means clipping up before you remove your bike in T1, and not unclipping before it is safely stowed in T2. Take note of the mount and dismount lines too. You won’t save any time by jumping on too early or stopping too late, and you’ll run the risk of a needless penalty. 

8: Attempting a flying mount when you haven’t practised it

You’ll see plenty of triathletes start the bike ride with their shoes already on the pedals and effortlessly hop aboard. There’s one reason for this: practice.

Done correctly, it’s the most efficient way of starting triathlon’s second leg, but it should be second-nature before trying it in a race – otherwise you run the risk of losing a lot of time or even worse… injury.

9: Not clearing transition boxes or bags away

This is a basic housekeeping point. When setting up before the race, it’s often a good idea to bring kit in a plastic box or bag. But once decanted, rather than leave the empty vessel cluttering up transition, it should be removed. If you don’t, you might find an official stepping in to move it once the race has started.

10: Leaving it too late

Finally, don’t leave everything until the last minute. If you come from a single sport background, you can be surprised by the logistical demands of triathlon. Rushing to make the start not only raises the chances of making a mistake or forgetting something, it also raises your stress levels before the start. Err on the side of caution. It’s better to be waiting around before the race than rushing because transition is being closed.


More transition advice