3S’s for Smooth Transitions - #2 System

Updated: Jun 7

This is article #2 in a series of 3, looking at improving your transitions for better race times and a more enjoyable race experience. The goal is to minimise the time you take in transition but without compromising your ability to perform on the next leg of the race. The 3S's can help you achieve this - thinking about the Stuff you need, your System for managing it and practicing your Skills at changing from swim to bike to run.

In article #1 we looked at considerations for your kit list of Stuff for your race. In this article we will look organising and managing all your Stuff to help you with fast and calm transitions.

Set up your System

Firstly, read the race instructions and make sure you understand the how, where and when of transitions for your particular race. Here are some common variations:

  • Shorter races typically involve laying out all of your kit out underneath where your bike is racked, usually just before your race begins. There may be limits about how much space you can take up – bags and boxes may be allowed or you may be required to leave only your race items and store any additional stuff away from transition in a shared area (in which case, I highly advise tying a bright colour ribbon to your standard issue black rucksack….). There is generally no changing area and nudity is a rule infringement, so you need to take this into account if you are planning to change clothing.

  • Longer races may have more complex arrangements such as racking your bike the day before or requiring you to split and store your kit in separate bags for each transition. They sometimes have a changing area, so you may have more options to change outfits between disciplines e.g. to put on proper cycle shorts. They may also have Special Needs bags which are packed ahead and sent out onto the course to hold at feed stations, for athletes who need specific food or medicine.

  • Individual races may have specific requirements or quirks according to their route such as split transitions (so the bike starts and finishes in two separate places) or requiring footwear to be stored ready for the swim exit if there is rough ground underfoot on the way to T1.

Once you know what sort of transition to prepare for, you need to get out your list of “Stuff” and think about how you are going to organise it. You need a clear plan for everything you marked as Core and then make decisions about the Optional and Contingency items. As you go through, you will be building a checklist for your packing and preparation on race day.

A good place to start is to make some decisions about Wearables and Portables:

  • The things you travel to the race in don’t need to be packed. For me this my tri suit and bra as a minimum. And if I’ve already collected it, my timing chip - I loop this and my watch round the strap of my bra so I can’t forget to put them on first thing. Stick on any wristbands, tattoos etc the night before and apply a first layer of suncream when I get up. I prefer to pack my trainers and travel in flip flops, so that I can organise all my running kit together when I pack.

  • Make a decision about Bike Shoes – will you start with them attached to the bike (in which case don’t forget elastic bands) or will you put them on in transition and then run to the mount line? If you haven’t practiced and perfected the former, race day probably isn’t the time to learn.

  • How will you carry your nutrition and repair kit on the bike? If you are using bike bags, bottles or storage systems, you can load these up in advance so they are ready as you take your bike out in T1. Also consider if you can preload any Core clothing items with nutrition or accessories e.g. the pocket of a gilet or the pouch on your race belt to save time in transition.

  • Think about your Optional items like rain jackets, arm warmers or sunscreen. Decide if any now need to be Core items or if they can be discarded. Think about when in the race will you likely need them and how will you store or carry them if/when they are not needed.

  • Think through any other prep you can do ahead of time e.g. ensuring helmet strap is undone and boas are set to the right setting, trainer laces or shoe straps undone, talc in socks, zippers undone etc

Working through these decisions will help you work out what needs to be packed, how to pack and what needs to be organised when you arrive at the race. The next step is then to decide how to organise your kit in transition. I’ve listed some of the key things I do and have split this into “Standard” and “Bagged” transitions – i.e. kit on the floor by your bike VS kit stored in separate bags, as the approach is slightly different.

Standard Transitions

  • When I pack my kit bag, I use a dry bag to keep all my swim gear together so that it can be lifted out and put to one side while I organise my Bike and Run stuff. Everything else goes in my bag though I use smaller compartments or bags inside to separate out small items that get lost easily.

  • Anything that still needs to go onto the bike or be packed into pockets gets done first.

  • I lay a towel on the floor under my bike – useful for foot wiping and ensuring that everything stays clean (race organisers always seem to mow the lawn the day before meaning cut grass is everywhere). I lay out my Core bike and run items, with bike stuff closest to me and run stuff behind it.

  • I layer up my bike kit so that it’s easy to access in the order I want to put it on, I like to work from the bottom up. Shoes, talc’d socks and race belt with number (ready clipped, just step in and pull it up, top layer if I am using one, glasses. If it isn’t windy, my bike helmet goes on top of my bike so I can’t lift my bike without first putting it on, otherwise I sit it on the very top of my bike kit. Some people leave their glasses in their helmet to put on when they are on the bike.

  • Same process for my run kit though this tends to be simpler – usually just trainers and a visor (a race belt can be worn in the bike then swung to the front for the run)

  • Down the side I add any extras I am likely to want to use in either T1 or T2 – gels, water, suncream. At the back, I leave any Optional or Contingency items I think I may still need but I try to lay them out so they are easy to grab and go if needed.

  • I sometimes keep a bin liner handy to cover items up in case of rain but do make sure it can’t blow away

  • Lastly I repack any items that I am not going to keep in transition e.g. hole punch, track pump, clothes for after, emergency items etc and remove them to the Storage area.

Bagged Transition

For a Bagged race, the process is similar but as things have to be packed in advance and you won’t have the advantage of laying things out, it’s worth thinking about.

  • Collect your bags as soon as possible and ensure you are clear about when they must be handed in and how and when you will have access to your kit. If you are nervous about them breaking, turn the bag inside out and place a layer of duct tape around the seams before right-siding them again.

  • Double check when you will have access to your bike so you can load up nutrition, bottles, repair kit, shoes and check tyres etc prior to starting. I tend to leave my repair kit loaded when I rack but add my bottles and fill my bento in the morning.

  • I use a dry bag or similar to keep all my swim stuff together ready for the start so I can easily lift it out to one side. It may be worth putting a drybag into your T1 bag also, its not essential but for a couple of seconds extra you can dump your wet gear back into it without anything else that’s left in your T1 bag becoming a soggy mess to manage later.

  • In your T1 bag, you will need to add all your bike kit that is not already on the bike which may include including your helmet. In your T2 bag you will need all your run kit. It may be worth buying duplicate items of things you may want at any stage e.g. glide, gels so that you can have everything you want in one bag for each change. Any items you can “prepack” e.g. nutrition into pockets should be done in advance.

  • In each bag, you may find it helpful to use a series of smaller bags to separate Optional and Contingency items out from your Core. You don’t want to be trying to sift and sort in the middle of a race. Rolling or folding clothes might seem like an extravagance but it can make it easier to pull them out of the bag and get them on.

For a bagged race, on race day you generally only take in the things you will be keeping in the transition area. Any unused Optional or Contingency items will probably be left in a third bag in a storage area or in your car.

Once you have thought about your System for packing and preparing your Transitions, go back through your list of Stuff – as a priority, have you covered off all the Core items? Secondly, have you made a decision or do you have a plan for all your Optional and Contingency items? You can use the System to make a checklist for your packing and things to do in advance of the race to set up your Stuff for your transitions. If you are quite experienced, you may be happy to just do this in your head but otherwise you may find it helpful to practice this and physically write a to-do list for yourself, helping reduce any nerves or last minute panics on race day.

With a well considered plan of what Stuff you need and a good System to organise it, the final step for smooth transitions is to build your Skills in executing them. In the next and final article of this series, we will look at developing your transition Skills. This is not just about the physical aspects of moving from Swim to Bike to Run but practicing the sequence of tasks and testing your layout in order to be calm, swift and effective in T1 and T2.

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