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Triathlon Transitions: Lost in Transition

Lost In Transition

Put some thought into your transition
Lake Placid Transition Area

Ironman Lake Placid is one of my favorite transition areas.

The Problem

You just had an incredible swim.  In fact, it was your best swim time ever.  Your mind is full of congratulatory thoughts which explains the big grin on your face as you run into the transition area.  You turn off the main aisle into a rack of bikes only to discover that you turned down the wrong rack.  You look around and realize that you have no idea where your bike is!

Thankfully this scene is not too common, but it does happen.  It’s actually quite funny to watch, but it’s not funny if you are the athlete searching for your bike.

Here are five habits to learn and practice at every race so you don’t get lost in transition.

Mentally Prepare

As you get close to the end of the swim, take a few seconds to think about what you are going to do between swim exit and your bike. About 10 seconds is all it takes to visualize:

  1.  Getting out of the wetsuit.

  2.  Taking off the cap and goggles.

  3.  Running to your bike.

  4.  Putting on the helmet.

This simple trick will jolt your mind back to the big picture of the race and remind you of things you probably forgot while you were getting beat up in the swim.

The remaining four habits need to be practiced before the race begins.

Walking the Transition Area (TA)

Be sure to arrive at the race venue a bit early so you have time to

Bike In

Before the race, get to know the transition area from end to end.

wander around the transition area after you’ve racked your bike.  This practice will help you understand the challenges in the TA.  As you travel from one end to the other, be sure to note the following:

  1. All entrances and exits.

  2. The designed flow from swim to bike out and bike in to run out.

  3. The location of the bike mount line.

  4.  The number of aisles that span the length of the TA.

  5. Obstacles in the aisles.  For example, the Malibu Triathlon TA is in a parking lot and has a huge median or concrete curb in the middle.

  6. Bike mechanic location (if there is one).

  7. Posters, billboards, light poles, trees, or any other permanent structures.  This is how you will orient yourself and navigate through the sea of bikes and athletes when you’re in a hurry.

In the larger races, like the Chicago Triathlon, there will be several routes to get to your bike rack.  Pick a primary route and a secondary route just in case the primary route resembles traffic on an L.A. freeway.

While you’re walking around, visit with some of the other athletes.  It helps to calm the nerves and will help you get comfortable with the transition area.  You might make some new friends too.

Permanent Landmarks


Use permanent structures like a tree to identify your location in transition

Back at your bike rack, look for some permanent markers that indicate where you are located relative to the exits and entrances.  The best markers are light poles, trees, buildings, walls, fences, etc.  These things don’t move.  Trucks can and probably will move so don’t rely on using trucks or cars to locate the bike.

Counting Racks

The best way to locate a bike is the same way a computer locates a file on your hard drive: counting.  OK, so that analogy is weak, but counting racks is the method I use most often when a TA is organized in a rectangle: which most are.

Starting from the swim-in point, jog to your rack counting all racks that you pass.  Do the same thing from the bike-in point.   Keep those two numbers in your head and, if necessary, write them  on your arm with a permanent marker.

Balloons And Markers

Finally, you can put some kind of bling bling, get-your-attention marker on the end of your rack.  Some people use helium balloons.  Others use bright pieces of cloth tied to the rack.  You could even stretch a brightly colored swim cap on the end of the rack.

There is a downside to relying on these markers.  You may be overwhelmed by the number of balloons and things marking the bike racks if too many athletes do this.  All those markers may blend into one unsightly mess, especially if five other racks have the same colored piece of cloth hanging on the end.

If you need a big visual cue to locate your bike and the race allows it, be sure to get a helium filled mylar balloon in a shape that no one else would dare use: red hearts and yellow emojis are too common.

Put A Little Thought Into Your Transition

If speed is not your main concern, then be sure to soak up the atmosphere on the way to your bike.  You might see some interesting things like athletes struggling to put tight stretchy shirts on their wet bodies. Hint: it’s harder to do than you think.

But if you want to get in and out as fast as possible, prepare your entrance into and escape from TA with as much detail as you can.  If you use a combination of the practices mentioned here, you won’t lose time looking for your bike.

See you at the races.

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