Transitions can make or break your experience on race day; forgotten gear, insufficient scoping out of the transition area, or getting lost in the hectic, heart-pumpingness of race day can all spell disaster for an event that you’ve trained long and hard. Luckily, with equal parts planning and practice, you can breeze through your transitions with little to no anxiety come race day.

Heather Haviland and JP McCarthy have each been racing triathlons since the 1990s and have their fair share of wisdom to impart to both newbie and seasoned triathletes. Break down your transition prep into two categories: Logistical and Physical. For logistics, minimalism is key. Get rid of unnecessary items and do not keep your backpack at the rack.

“Often times, with the excitement and elevated HR, athletes have a hard time finding their bikes or re-racking their bikes—it can cause confusion, you don’t want extra stuff in the way” says Haviland, former USAT Amateur Triathlete of the Year and professional long course circuit racer.

Once you’ve gotten your gear sorted, walk the transition area, count spots and rows, and make note of landmarks. McCarthy, SRAM Product Manager and 18-year tri-veteran, even recommends returning to do a double check right before transition closes.

“Walk entry and exit routes again—things look different when the racks are filled.”

He also advises to wear the same eyewear that you plan on racing in. “I wear prescription lenses and I once chose not to wear contacts for a sprint race, leaving my prescription sunglasses in my helmet. I had walked transition with glasses on, and when I got out of the water with no glasses, transition looked completely different.”

Once your pre-race logistical preparations are checked off your list, it’s time to focus back on those physical efforts that got you there in the first place. You wouldn’t enter a triathlon without training for the swim or the bike or the run, and transitions are no different.

As Haviland points out, “transitions are another discipline in the sport … and can make or cost you the win.”

In order to make this fourth discipline as strong as the others, Haviland is emphatic about practicing outside of race settings. Habits as simple as always keeping your shoes on your tri-bike during training force you to get on and off your bike ‘transition style’. “It offers a lot of practice with very little effort,” she adds.

Race simulation practice is integral too. She recommends going to a safe, controlled environment, like a county park on off hours. “After a good warm up on the bike and run, setup your transition area as you would have it in the race. Note where your mount and dismounts are and practice these as well.”

All of these preparatory have big payoffs on race day. It’s important to keep a level head, focus on your efforts, and feel comfortable relying on the systems that you’ve put in place to ensure your transitions don’t trip you up. As you approach T1, swim all the way to the shore. Haviland’s rule is stop only once your hand hits the bottom and you have bent your elbow as much as you can.

Once you’re on land, willingly accept help from people in the transition area. McCarthy also suggests baby oil inside and outside the cuffs, as it will aid in removal. Finally, keep in mind your goal for the event. If it’s a podium spot, then glide through those transitions as quickly and smoothly as possible. If it’s simply to finish? Transitions offer an opportunity to get some rest. Take a few breaths, maintain hydration, and focus on making your next segment as strong as possible.

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