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Your Guide to a Transition Walk-through

By Ken Johnson | May 09, 2017, 12:21 p.m. (ET)


Are you a triathlete training hard to take a few minutes off your swim or run time, or maybe five to 10 minutes off your bike time? If so, make sure that you’re not overlooking a place where you often can save a good bit of time with just a little effort. That’s in the “fourth discipline” of triathlon: the transition.

One transition timesaver is a transition walk-through before heading to the starting line. The purpose of the walk-through is to learn how to quickly navigate through transition in both T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run). Knowing exactly where, and how to go, saves time and anxiety during the race.


The first step in the walk-through is to learn the layout of the transition area. This may be posted on the race’s website, on display at picket pick-up or you may find out when racking your bike on race morning. Regardless, you need to find four entry/exit points:

1. The Swim In – where you enter transition after the swim
2. The Bike Out – where you exit transition to start the bike course
3. The Bike In – where you enter transition at the end of the bike course
4. The Run Out – where you exit transition for the start of the run

These do not necessarily have to be four separate locations. They can be combined; for example,
Swim In and Run Out at one end of transition, and Bike Out and Bike In at the other. For smaller races, Swim In and Bike In might be combined, with the thought that everyone will be out of the water before the first cyclist comes back. Then Bike Out and Run Out may be together, so everyone is flowing out of transition at the same place.

Those are just of couple of the possible configurations; I’ve done races where there was just one entry/exit in transition, and races where there were four. The key thing is to know where those four places will be: Swim In, Bike Out, Bike In and Run Out. Some races may have signs for each of these four, but don’t depend on it. Make sure you know from the race information.

On race morning, after racking your bike and setting up your transition area, you are ready for your walk-through.

Step 1: Go to the Swim In. Then find the shortest, safest way back to your bike. How will you remember that route when you come out of the water? You might be able to count the bike racks to your transition area. Also look for permanent fixtures and landmarks to guide you — port-a-potties, fence posts, trees, light poles and so on. Remember the directions, like “turn right going into transition, take the aisle down to the second light pole, and my bike is the second bike rack on the left after that pole.”

It is common for athletes to create their own markers to find their bike. The two markers that are the most helpful to me are a brightly colored bandana and multi-colored towel. First, I tie the brightly colored bandana to the bike rack between my handlebars — where it’s unlikely to be pulled off by someone else’s bike. Second, I have a seriously gaudy, multi-colored towel that I lay out my gear. It’s so ugly I can spot it looking down the right rack. But I don’t rely only on these (what if someone kicks my ugly towel up under the rack?); I still learn my landmarks.

Step 2: Now make your way from your transition area to the Bike Out. Remember that you’ll be doing this with your bike at your side. Look for a short route with landmarks, yes, but also look for wider aisles between the bike racks. A lot of other triathletes will be getting out of their wetsuits and getting their bike gear on, so narrow aisles can be very crowded aisles, making it harder to maneuver yourself and your bike. I’ve seen triathletes and their bikes come to a dead stop because one person was sitting in the middle of the aisle trying to get out of their wetsuit.

Once at the Bike Out, find the mount and dismount line(s). Remember you cannot get on your bike until you pass the mount line, and it may not be immediately at the Bike Out. In fact it probably won’t be, since that would create a bottleneck. The dismount line, which is often the same as the mount like, is where you have to be off your bike before going through the Bike In. The race may have volunteers there indicating these lines, but it is your responsibility to know where to mount and dismount.

Step 3: Now, go from the Bike In back to your transition area. The same caveats apply here as in Step 2. You’ll be running with your bike, so want a short route back that won’t get too crowded. You’ll want to note permanent landmarks again. Also, remember that transition may look very much different coming back in than when you went out. It can seem empty if a lot of the bikes are still out on the bike course. But you remember your landmarks, so no problem!

Step 4: The next-to-last step is determining how to get out of transition and onto the run course as fast as possible after re-racking your bike, dropping your bike gear and getting your run gear on. So walk from your spot to the Run Out, again noting the permanent landmarks. You may also want to have an “alternate route” past the port-a-potties just in case.

Step 5: Do Steps 1-4 all over again. Make sure you remember all your routes and landmarks. Maybe do this at a jog as part of your pre-race warm up. Remember: Swim In è Your Transition Area è Bike Out è Bike In è Your Transition Area è Run out.

A little planning and a pre-race walk-through can definitely save you time in transition, and it’s much easier than those swim, bike and run intervals and speed work!

Ken Johnson is a corporate health coach and was triathlon coach at the largest municipal fitness facility in the U.S. for over 10 years. A USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach since 2003, he can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.