by Ryan Borger: USAT Certified Coach
Things to do prior to entering the transition area on race morning:
- Inflate your bike tires. You'll want approximately 115-120 PSI of pressure in your tires (slightly more if you have tubular (sew-up) tires glued on race wheels, and slightly less if you have cheaper tires than cannot handle that much pressure, or if the bike course if extremely bumpy and you want a smoother ride). Do this the morning of the race as air pressure often leaks overnight. *Your tire should say the max PSI recommended on the sidewall. Check first before inflating.
- Tape gels to your bike top tube (or put inside Bento Box/storage compartment on bike top tube if you have one, or in tri top pockets)
- Fill water bottles with electrolyte drink and/or water
- Tape/ stick your bike race number on the bike frame & helmet sticker on your helmet
- Check that you have you timing chip, swim cap, race number for bike (if it’s not already on your bike), run race number, & race belt (or race run top with race number pinned to it)
- Go through your bike gears to ensure smooth shifting & that your bike is working and shifting perfectly
- Turn on/reset your bike computer/GPS if you use one on your bike, so you'll be able to track accurate distance on the course
- Tri suit or tri top + tri shorts (you’ll want to be wearing this already)
- Wetsuit (if wearing one)
- Cap (supplied by the race)
- Timing chip band for ankle (supplied by the race)
- TriSlide/Body Glide/SportShield stick/etc. for greasing your body under wetsuit (optional) *Tip: you can also grease the outside of your wetsuit around the ankle areas. This will help keep the suit from getting hung up on your feet/heels when pulling it off
- Small towel (optional – to lay your run shoes/race belt, etc. on)
- Cycling shoes
- Sunglasses (optional)
- Rubber bands (optional – if you want to start with your bike shoes clipped in pedals)
- Running shoes
- Race belt with race number attached/pinned on it or running shirt with race number pinned on
- Hat or visor
- sunglasses (optional & if not already worn on bike)
- gels (optional)
You’ll most likely be assigned a number or spot to rack your bike at most races. Other races give you the choice to select any open spot in the transition area. If the latter is the case, choose a spot close to the very end of the rack, and close to the BIKE OUT transition exit. It will be easier to find your bike if it's at the end of the rack, and if it's racked near the BKE OUT, you'll have to run less distance through transition with your bike. I like to rack the bike by hanging the nose of the seat over the bike rack rail (if the ground and/or rack is sloped so that the bike isn’t very stable, or if you have a very large frame like I do and it’s too tall to hang by the seat, you can often mount the bike by the handlebars on the rack rail. Check with race director prior to confirm that’s ok to do, as some races have strict rules on setup.
When you set up your bike in transition on the rack, on the ground lay out your bike helmet, sunglasses (optional), bike shoes (unless starting with shoes clipped in pedals), run shoes, race belt with run bib number clipped on it (or run top with race number pinned on it), and energy gels (optional - for longer races). You shouldn’t need anything else. I don’t recommend racing in socks, unless it’s a half iron distance or full iron distance race, then I would recommend socks. Putting on socks = slower transition times, and it’s all about speed, right? If not, then socks are certainly up to you as they may be more comfortable and prevent blisters.
Another option for placing your bike helmet is to leave it resting on the bike's handlebars instead of on the ground next to your bike. This one is up to you. At my races, if my bike isn't very stable due to the rack setup, I often leave my helmet on the ground right next to the bike, since there is the chance that another athlete could (unintentionally, of course...) bump or shake the rack while grabbing their own bike, thus knocking your helmet off your handlebars. If the rack is stable and can''t shake much, usually you'll be fine to leave your helmet hanging from or resting on your handlebars. I have been in a few races where I've gotten to my bike after the swim, and I'm unable to find my helmet right away. It's not where I'd left it. In most cases, I've found it somewhere on the ground nearby, as someone has bumped the bike or shook the rack while focusing on grabbing their own bike, and my helmet got knocked off the handlebars and rolled a few feet away. Now, if you really want to avoid this from ever happening, just swim faster than everyone and make sure you’re first to the bike racks - right !! Remember, USAT rules say that you must have your helmet strap unclipped when you grab your helmet after the swim. You then put it on and clip the helmet strap prior to leaving the transition area with your bike. You’re not allowed to have the helmet strap clipped when the helmet is sitting in transition.
What else should I think about before the race?
Familiarize yourself with the course maps found online or at the race expo/check-in area. You will check in and get your race packet either the day before or right before the race. Check race website for all details on that as each race is different. You will need your ID to pick up your race packet, and USAT membership card if you have one. If you don’t, you’ll have to pay a $12 one day USAT fee.
Leave everything you don’t need (bag, sunscreen, towel, extra water, extra goggles, cell phone, keys…etc) in a small backpack or gear bag and find a spot below your bike rack for it. Some races make you check gear bags in a holding area, and races with 2 different transition areas (such as the Denver Triathlon, LA Triathlon, etc) have slightly different directions. However, most allow you to leave the bag next to your bike in the transition area.
BEFORE LEAVING TRANSITION TO GO TO THE SWIM START, DOUBLE CHECK WHERE YOU’VE RACKED YOUR BIKE!!! This is very important because it’s easy to come out of the water feeling slightly disoriented. You'll be tired, a bit turned around, and possibly a bit dizzy. You need to know where you bike is if you want a fast transition, and your bike rack spot will look different when you're approaching it coming from the swim exit. Some races have thousands of bikes, so familiarize yourself which rack your bike is at. Count the racks, look for landmarks in transition area close to your rack, or you can even drape a flashy colored shirt next to your bike so you can look for it. I used to drape a pair of hot pink Asics running shorts on the rack next to my bike, so I could easily spot my bike. Plus, I gained some popularity points since everyone thought I was going to sport the 1980s hot pink slit shorties on the run course - even though I never did...though I really should have. There's occasionally the folks who spend 10 minutes drawing artistic chalk art on the pavement in front of their spot. In my opinion, I think that's a bit obsessive, though if you really need to draw out a giant star...or picture of a rainbow or unicorn in chalk...I suppose you should do it if that's the only way you'll find your bike amongst the racks. Coming out of the swim, many bikes and racks look the same, so do what you need to do to know where your bike is.
Also, note where the SWIM IN, BIKE OUT, BIKE IN, and RUN OUT exits/entrances are to the transition area so you are familiar where you’ll be going throughout the race. Visualize each part of transition 1 and 2 in your mind.
Head down to the lake/ocean at least 15-25 minutes before your swim wave takeoff time is, depending on if you want to and are able to get in a short swim warmup. All you need is your wetsuit on, your cap, your goggles, and timing chip on your ankle. You can usually get in the water on the side of the start somewhere for a short swim warmup (though some larger races don’t allow swim warmups).
Swim: After the swim, you’ll run into transition and approach your bike/transition spot. You can start unzipping your wetsuit as you run into transition. Once at your bike, pull off your wetsuit, put on your bike shoes, helmet, and sunglasses (if needed). Once you clip your helmet, grab the bike and head to the BIKE OUT exit. You can't mount onto your bike until the MOUNT LINE, which should be clearly marked. Race volunteers are usually yelling at you where/when you can mount, so you won't miss it. After you cross the mount line, start riding fast! (For triathlons like the Denver Triathlon, since there are 2 separate transition areas, you'll need to stuff your wetsuit, cap, and goggles into your gear bag before grabbing your bike, since the race crew will transport your gear bag back to the finish for you and they require you to place all items in the bag after exiting the swim).
Bike: For an Olympic distance, I recommend taking 1-2 gels on the bike, one about 10 minutes into the bike, and the other about 25-30 minutes after that if you're someone who needs a few more calories. You should know from training what your body can handle and needs. You're not going to want you taking a gel right before the run if you know your stomach won’t handle it well on the run, so plan ahead and remember the timing of your nutrition. Usually from the high intensity on the bike, if most people give 20+ minutes of riding or so after taking a gel before the run, by the run it’s a bit more digested and they usually can't stomach it just fine. But, this is very individual and each athlete needs to learn what works for them.
Before coming into the BIKE IN entrance to transition, once again you’ll see a DISMOUNT bike line. You must unclip your shoes (for those using clip-ins) and dismount before that line. Once off the bike, run it into transition to your rack. Rack the bike, take off your helmet and bike shoes, put on your running shoes and race belt with number (unless you are in a race which requires you to ride the bike portion with the race belt too…most don’t as you will have a bike # sticker on the bike already). Run to the RUN OUT transition exit.
(Advanced riders can unstrap shoes prior to the dismount line and slip feet out, leaving the shoes clipped in the pedals the entire time. If you do this, you can ride a bit on top of your shoes, then dismount, then run barefoot into transition as your shoes will still be clipped into the pedals. However, this will only save you time if you've practiced this and can do it efficiently).
There are a lot of details to think about come race day, but if you plan things out beforehand, it can help ease your mind and enable you to enjoy the day and execute on the course.
USAT Certified Coach, Pro Triathlete