Transition should be considered the fourth sport in triathlon. Just like in swimming, cycling, and running, time and effort should be put into perfecting your transitions to minimize wasted time. You can save many minutes by being quick and efficient. Tricks and preparation to effectively transition - once learned - cost you nothing but a little practice and know how.
Here are my top ten tips for "Terrific Transitions" in no particular order. *Drum roll, please.*
1. Know Your Transition Area
Arrive early on race day to rack your bike. Walk the transition area (swim to bike, bike to run and run out) so you know exactly where your bike is located from each direction. It is too easy to waste time running up and down the racks looking for your bike once the race has started and your brain is in "race day fuzzy" mode. If possible find ways to identify the location of your bike, or count the racks or use other landmarks to help you recall the general location. Also remember that your transition area is set at the front of your bike beside your front wheel.
2. Minimize Your Needs
Transitions get easier the more races you do, as you gain experience you learn to minimize what you need. On race morning evaluate the weather and decide what you need. Pack away everything but the essentials into your bag to leave on the outskirts of the transition area. Try to get down to just a few things. The more you need/use in transition the more time you'll take. As you do more races you will begin to see what is truly necessary and what is just "clutter."
3. Socks or no socks?
Personally, I love socks and use them - always - but many are happily sock free. Competing sock free is a time saver, and if you practice this - and it works for you - you are one of the lucky ones. However, if you are a sock lover then roll down your socks before your race so that you can easily roll them up over your wet feet. Pulling socks over wet feet tend to get stuck and take time sorting out. You can also consider going sockless for the ride and then putting socks on for the run, when your feet may be a little more dry.
4. Drying Yourself
Avoid spending time drying yourself. Once you are on your bike and riding you'll dry quickly, especially if you are wearing the appropriate gear. Drying your feet before putting on your shoes is fine, though you can accomplish this by quickly slipping your feet across a towel before putting on your shoes or shoes and socks. Avoid the urge to sit and dry yourself as you would at home after a shower, don't waste time like that.
5. Get a Tri Suit
If you are planning on doing more than a one or two triathlons, dress for success; invest in a tri suit. Wearing a tri suit means you don't need to change in transition. You can add to it in cold weather (jacket over top), but you won't need to waste time pulling on jerseys or shorts before your bike and run. A tri suit dries fast, helps wick sweat away from your body, is comfortable to compete in all three sports in, has pockets for nutrition, and is a big step forward in improving your race day times. It's one suit for all things!
6. Fiddling With Gear
Putting on anything tight when you are wet is nearly impossible. Gloves, compression gear, arm warmers, and any other tight clothing items should be avoided if you really don't need to use them. If you feel they are essential, have a towel handy to dry your hands/arms/legs quickly before trying to put these items on, and roll them ahead of time to make putting them on easier if possible.
7. Weather Planning
Monitor the weather and pack accordingly. If you are not sure what you will need, it certainly is better to be prepared and pack something you may not need than be caught without something you do. Ideally you want only things you'll use in your tiny transition area but you can have extra things stored in a bag "if needed" on the sidelines. Make your final decisions before your swim. Remember you can't use what you don't have with you. Regretting that extra layer as you shiver along on a ride doesn't make for a fun race morning.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
You only get better when you practice. Transition is no exception. Practice often. Race days should not be when you practice transition but when you put all your practice to good use. This practicing includes your sport watch. Most of our fancy watches allow for the timing of transitions and the changing of events. Learn how your watch works and practice using it in a transition, when your heart is racing and your brain is not focussed on gingerly hitting small buttons. On your "rest" days do some transition practices at home; you'll never regret putting the time into saving valuable minutes on a race day. It literally could make the difference and help you get a podium spot, a race day PB or past a tight cut off time.
9. Being a Chatty Cathy in Transition
Talking to your fellow athletes or spectators not only is distracting but can slow you down. Race days are busy enough with plenty of things to focus on, last thing you need to do is forget your water (because chatting), trip over something (because chatting) or add on 2 minutes to your overall time (because chatting). Save the chit chat for after the event when you can bask in your glory!
10. It Isn't a Picnic
Transition is a perfect spot to cram in a gel as you load up for your next sport but don't turn it into a picnic. Much like being a Chatty Cathy lunching while in transition will cost you valuable time. Save your eating and drinking for while you are in motion. If you are not comfortable eating and drinking while on your bike, practice, practice, practice. Again, lost time in transition can make a huge difference to the outcome of your race day.
There are probably many tips for perfecting transitions. These are the ones that stand out in my mind, and they are the ones I repeat often to new athletes. I hope you find them helpful and will make an effort to practice the "fourth" discipline of the sport we all love so your race days are smooth sailing!