Transition Karma

author : alicefoeller
comments : 9

How (& Why) to be Considerate in the Transition Area

Triathlon is one of the few sports in which someone attempting their first triathlon is sharing a staging area with professional athletes. To be clear, usually the pros get their own special bike rack area, but the larger point is that you don't know how serious the person next to you is about their race.

You might be excited at the idea of finishing the race at all, and happily tying eye-catching balloons onto your handlebars, while the person assigned the spot two inches away from yours is anxiously visualizing their race as they shoot for first in their age group, or a personal best.

If you are participating in your first triathlon, the most important thing is to do the required training. But a close second in importance is doing your homework, reading the Athlete's Guide or course maps, and not making a hazard of yourself. That includes in the transition area, which is where we will focus here.

The transition area is usually a single location, but in a point-to-point race you will have two transition areas. This area is fenced off, and only registered participants in the race are allowed inside.

But just because you are allowed to be inside the fence doesn't mean you can hang out anywhere and do anything you want! You can be injured or injure someone else if you aren't paying attention and get in the way of an athlete flying through transition. Triathletes begin their race at different times in most competitions, so just because you have long since finished your sprint, that doesn't mean an Olympic or Half-Iron competitor might not come barreling through at top speed as you are lazily packing up your duffel bag.

With gear, it's important to be considerate of your transition neighbors. We are all in tight quarters, and it's easy to knock someone's sunglasses out of their helmet. The person who finds them and puts them back as best they can, or even waits around to apologize and make sure everything is OK, has a better race than the person who ticks off their neighbor. It only takes a little frustration and resentment for someone to be just careless enough to mess up your stuff, knock over your water, etc.

Here are 10 Tips for Good Transition Karma:

  1. If possible, attend a triathlon before your first race and watch others. Most sprint and Olympic races don't have a private place for you to change clothes. Watch how others get out of their wetsuits and handle adding or removing layers or socks and shoes quickly and in a small space.

  2. Use as little space as possible. You don't have the time or room to spread out, wash your feet before the bike, lay out all of your clothes or keep all of your emergency items in your transition spot. Be like a little kid and pretend there is lava everywhere except the 1 foot by 2 foot space right next to your bike.

  3. Make it easy to find your bike without being obnoxious to others. You don't need Mylar balloons or signs. An uncommonly ugly towel folded on the ground will be just as easy to spot. If you are worried, practice jogging into the transition area from the water and running directly to your gear. If it proves difficult, do it five more times.

  4. Put your extra gear off to the side. Every list of triathlon must-haves includes things you aren't go to wear and you aren't going to take on the course with you. Put these in a duffel bag or transition bag and set it at the edge or corner of transition, out of the way. If you have a bulky wetsuit, hang it on the transition fencing after you remove it, rather than using up precious ground space.

  5. Read the signs and the pre-race materials. There are usually guidelines for which direction to place your bike in transition. Often bikes are to be hung facing alternate directions on the rack to create fewer traffic jams. If you aren't sure, ask anyone (literally anyone inside the transition area) and they will be happy to explain everything.

  6. Use your bike as a organizing rack instead of bringing extra "furniture." You don't need a bucket or tote in transition when you have your bike! Place your helmet in the aerobars and your shades inside your helmet. Have your bike shoes already clipped into the pedals (if you have that style of shoes and have practiced mounting and dismounting while leaving your shoes clipped in). Hang the shirt or jersey you will wear on the bike over the frame. This strategy will leave your small rectangle of towel completely free for your running shoes, socks and hat.

  7. Stack items in the order in which you will grab them to put them on. You can't put your shirt on after you put your helmet on, so make sure you rehearse the order of your actions and lay out your gear in order, with the first item on top.

  8. Practice your transition ahead of time. Yes, your neighbors will think you are a lunatic. Do it anyway. Lay out all of your gear and run across your front lawn, barefoot, to your transition area. Now you'll notice you have grass all over your feet, just like in a real race. Put on your cycling gear in order, quickly but methodically. Ride around the block. Practice dismounting at a specific place without falling off your bike. Remove your helmet, make any other gear or clothing changes required, and run around the block. Note if your socks are scrunched up because your feet were wet, and figure out how to prevent that. If you're worried about reapplying sunscreen, practice that, too. Then keep practicing until it feels smooth and habitual (or your neighbors call the police).

  9. Small bikes can be extra tough. Bike racks in transition vary in design, but little bikes (like my 47cm Felt) can be tricky. On the racks that consist of a long bar where you hang the bike by the seat, small bikes sometimes don't touch the ground, which makes them very unstable and prone to swinging around and running into other people's gear. The ground-based racks that hold the wheel can also be a problem because the derailleur is closer to the tire and may need to be squished to fit the tire into the rack. Check this out ahead of time. Switch rack positions if necessary to find a stable position.

  10. Say hello to your neighbors. Be friendly. Establish that you are trying your best to share space. A little goodwill goes a long way. If you are kind and friendly, you'll have a much better outcome when you accidentally knock your neighbors expensive (and perilously balanced) sunglasses on the ground.

Triathletes are almost always friendly and generous. But they are also frequently nervous and preoccupied right before the race. Everyone will appreciate you, and you'll feel more prepared and confident, if you implement the suggestions above.


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date: June 28, 2019


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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