What Is Transition in Triathlon? Everything You Need To Know!

The idea of combining three sports into one can make triathlon a confusing sport to get involved in. Perhaps the most confusing is how you change from one sport to the next – after all, going cycling, running or swimming is fairly simple. The confusion comes at the juncture of the sports. That is known as the transition.

So, what is the transition in triathlon? The triathlon transition is the space in between sports and is both a period of time and a place. The transition area is where the athlete equipment is held for the duration of your race. A triathlete uses it four times; once before the race, to put all of their kits in and lay it out ready for the first transition. Secondly during the first transition, between swimming and cycling; again on the second transition between cycling and running, and finally after the race, to pick your things back up. It is usually demarcated by fencing.

However, it is also a time/duration. The transition between sports is timed, just as the legs are. Proportionally, the time spent transitioning is small. That means being good at transitions isn’t enough to win you a triathlon, as the time spent inside the area isn’t enough of the race to overcome poor performance in other areas. However, an athlete can certainly lose a triathlon through a poor transition.

Many triathletes don’t bother researching or practicing how to transition before their first race. This is a mistake – to fail to plan is to plan to fail, after all. Before your race, make sure to spend plenty of time researching the transition. There will be specific rules about how to rack your bike, and perhaps some about how your kit is laid out. Try and plan these elements as far ahead as possible. On the day, you should be focused on the race, not on administration!

Also, check out our post on: Do You Change Clothes During a Triathlon? Your Options of What To Wear!

What Is a Good Triathlon Time for A Beginner?

A good time for an Ironman would be somewhere between 12-13 hours. For Olympic distances, a sub-three-hour competition is a good start. For sprint triathlons, anything under 90 minutes would be a huge result for your first time.

For more on this check out our post: Triathlon Distances & Average Timings Analysis (Infographic); Pick Your Right Fight !

When they get involved, most people want to set a good time – but it can be hard to judge just what that means. In fact, it can be difficult to find information on what a good triathlon time actually is. That’s because there are so many factors that could affect your speed and time. (Source)

Things like your age, weight, gender, previous fitness history, equipment, wind speed, temperature, the average gradient, road surfaces, and water temperature and current make it difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all-time guide for triathlons.

The guide above is a useful benchmark, but it would be best to look at your training times before your first triathlon and add them together to allow you to set a rough goal.

Make sure to allow some time for the fact that you are combining the three sports at once – possibly for the first time – and environmental factors.

Open water swimming, for instance, is significantly slower than swimming in a pool and it can be difficult to replicate that in training.

Do Transition Times Count in A Triathlon?

Yes, transition times do count in triathlons, but the importance of transition times reduces as the distance of the race increases.

Triathlons aren’t just a measure of your endurance, strength, or speed. They are also a measure of your technical ability – your swimming, cycling, and running techniques are the major techniques, but the sport also requires specialist skills too.

What Is a Good Transition Time in Triathlon?

A competitive transition time would be under three minutes. That’s about two minutes for the more difficult first transition involving your wetsuit and another minute for the easier second transition between cycling and running.

For more on this check out our post What Is a Good Triathlon Transition Time? Factors, Tips, And The Do’s & Dont’s!

For triathletes, it is often worth practicing your transition. The best – and most convenient – time to do this is during a brick workout, as you should be trying to simulate race conditions as closely as possible anyway.

Even for experienced triathletes, a small time spent practicing the transitions can pay dividends because of most triathletes’ tendency to ignore it. (Source)

If you’re looking for marginal gains, they could be found here!

How Many Transitions Are There in A Triathlon?

There are two transitions in a triathlon – one between each leg of the competition. That means one between swimming and cycling, and another between cycling and running.

Of the two, usually the second is the easier – and faster – transition.

That’s because, in many triathlons, you are forced to swim in a wetsuit – particularly in the north, where open water conditions are colder. In the first transition, therefore, you have to take off your wetsuit which – if it fits right – is very tight and can be difficult to remove. However, most wetsuits have a convenient and accessible zipper down the back to make sure that getting out of the suit is as fast as it can be.

The second transition, by comparison, is much easier. At its most basic it involves changing your shoes from cycling shoes to running trainers, taking off your helmet, and making sure your bike is racked correctly. Of course, there are few triathletes who just do that – there are many who also put on running caps as well for example, or take the opportunity to refuel.

How Do You Transition in A Sprint Triathlon?

The transition in a sprint triathlon is theoretically the same as any other distance of triathlon. However, you do have more flexibility. How you chose to transition is up to your race strategy.

Here is a step by step transition guide,

A sprint triathlon is much shorter than other triathlons, and therefore much faster. The time spent in transition thus takes up a much larger proportion of your race. The shorter distances also mean that the benefits you get from sport-specific clothing – especially cycling cleats – are reduced.

That means you could, if you wanted to, choose to do the cycling leg in your trainers, saving precious seconds in the second transition. However, whilst it takes more time to put on a pair of clipless pedals, wearing them enables you to put significantly more power down through the pedals (and therefore go much faster).

How Do You Transition in Ironman?

In Ironman competitions, you transition exactly the same as you would during a standard distance triathlon. However, you may want to take advantage of the break to refuel or reapply things like suncream.

However, Ironman competitions do have one notable difference. You will be allowed to take two special needs bags, one for cycling and one for running. These can be picked up midway through your ride and run and can include anything you think you’ll need during that portion of the race. (Source)

Having a bag like this makes Ironman transitions a lot easier.

For example, because each leg is so long, otherwise you would have had to think about dressing in a long-sleeved top for the run, in case you were caught out by the temperature after the sunsets.  It also means you don’t have to take all of your fuel for the next leg with you from the transition area, which will make you significantly faster and more comfortable.


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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