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Coaches Blog

Transition: The In-Between Challenges

Triathlon transitions are sometimes called the fourth discipline of triathlon. Every new triathlete will find themselves in a transition situation that is unplanned, unexpected, and unwanted. Perhaps they forgot something or aren't sure how to organize their gear. 

Whatever the situation, it all leads to the same result: higher anxiety and more problems on race day. To mitigate this, I've addressed some common triathlon transition situations below and provided solutions.

Transition Spot Disorganization

Sometimes, a triathlete doesn't spend much time thinking about their transition strategy until just before a race. When it's time to set up their transition area, they don't have a plan, leading to disorganization and feelings of chaos. A helmet may end up with a towel covering it. A left shoe may not be by the right shoe.

All these little things can add additional minutes during the transition. Whether you lead the pack or are trying to finish by the cutoff time, a delay can be catastrophic. Luckily, there's an easy solution - prepare beforehand and arrive early enough to set up.

Take your time to make sure everything is compact but easily seen and quickly retrieved. Practice each transition before race day so you know exactly how you want your gear laid out. 

Missing and Forgotten Items

It's many triathlete's worst fear - driving up to check in on race day only to find out their helmet is missing! Being unprepared can be devastating, but the good news is it can be easily mitigated by practice and setting up a mock transition ahead of time.

Set up a tightly compact "transition" space in the living room or garage. Bring EVERYTHING needed for race day - including little things like socks, nutrition, a second filled water bottle, goggles, and yes…a helmet - and lay it out, making sure it will fit in a small area. This way, they are confident they remember everything, and they don't take the risk of not being able to compete.

Some triathletes even take photos or make diagrams of their ideal transition set-up, so they know exactly what to do on race morning. (A picture also helps you double-check to ensure you remembered all your gear.)

Lost in Transition

Imagine an athlete getting out of the swim, completely waterlogged, running and unzipping their wetsuit- and WAIT! Their transition spot isn't where they remembered it! Where is it?!

A triathlete can lose valuable minutes trying to find their transition spot. There are a couple of techniques that are acceptable for handling this. The first is counting how many racks are before the needed spot. For example, a triathlete may note that they are located in the third from the farthest rack when coming from the swim.

Another thing that can be done is to take a bright and uniquely colored beach towel, fold it into quarters, and place it under your gear as a transition mat. Take note: you are not allowed to mark a path to a spot or tie balloons to it - if race officials notice this, they'll take it down/remove it.

Take note of these three transition issues and how to solve them - what transition issues have you found yourself in during a triathlon?


Coach Becky Piper is a USAT Certified LII Paratriathlon and Triathlon Coach living in Michigan with her husband Sam and her dog named Moose. She is a paratriathlete, and paracyclist, and has plans to try her hand at para- dog sled racing. Her true passion is coaching athletes to reach their best selves - both in endurance sports and beyond! Coach Becky can be reached at



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