A fast transition out of the water saves time, costs next-to-nothing, and makes you look like a total badass

By Anton Macasieb

Technique while in transition is often an afterthought in the minds of most new triathletes. You either quickly learn your lesson to respect T1 after a harrowing experience coming out of the swim or keep on racing without giving it much thought. The truth is, cutting time in transition is one of the easiest things you can do to save entire minutes and make your PR. After all, time at T1 is probably better spent on the bike. Here are a few things to consider:

Know the Terrain

The shoreline can vary considerably based on a few factors (general terrain, race set-up, tide, and path of entry), and the last thing you would want on race day is a surprise waiting for you at the exit. Remember that in the water, you want to stay in an optimal freestyle position for as long as possible. As the water gets shallow, you might choose to start running or dolphin diving, which can be far more efficient for waist- or knee-deep water.

In some races, the terrain out of the water can matter as well. The ground can be quite rocky and the bike area quite far, making the way to T1 a little hell for the unprepared. Some races will allow you to leave shoes close to the shore to help you run faster and save you from the trouble of running on painful ground.

Get Used to the Change of Pace

For long courses, your heart rate will likely peak as you exit the water, just as you pick up the pace to start a run to your bike and begin to recruit your leg muscles. You might even feel lightheaded or dizzy as your body changes its orientation.

Given the chance to do an open-water swim, simulate this event by practicing the swim exit. As you exit the water, transition into a run for a short distance before entering the water again. Repeat three to five times to get used to the sensation and allow yourself to run out of the water instead of walking and catching your breath.

Think about What You’ll Bring into the Water

What you’ll have with you in the water can affect your transition setup. Athletes will usually take their watch and gels with them in the water, especially if they have pockets on their kit that make it friendly for the swim.

A special note for wetsuits: In colder races, a wetsuit has the benefit of allowing you to swim with your bib on or compression sleeves you might have underneath (including your watch and timer chip, which can snag). You can save a considerable amount of time by rolling down the top of your wetsuit as soon as you leave the water (as it gets tougher to take them off the drier they get), and applying Vaseline over your legs.

Don’t Look at the Watch

An incredible amount of race photos taken at the swim exit are of athletes looking at their watch. I’m telling you: It’s okay. Let the data be a little inaccurate and switch your timer a little down the road. Instead, give the camera a big smile.