The Timely Transition

If you have attended more than one race, I am sure that you have noticed that the youth having varying transition times.  One question that I hear a lot is: “Does my child’s transition time count?”.  YES!  The timer runs from the moment your child steps forward to jump (feet first!) into the pool until they cross the finish line.  Transitions are key to success in triathlons, and youth transitions are a sped-up version of adult tri transitions.  When we first started, we had a lot of excess “stuff” in transition.  It’s best to trim the fat!  What do they HAVE to have?  For us, a good transition includes:

  1. A small mat or towel, not encroaching on other’s space and located on the RIGHT of the bike as you are looking at it.  My kids just received the T-mat Pro as birthday gifts and they provide for a BRIGHTLY colored space, of appropriate size, for transition.  The T-mat doesn’t provide any more efficiency, for us it was more about concise packing while traveling and a standard color for them to look for.  tmat
  2. The bike–best for us has been with the front wheel and handlebar pointing in the direction of travel, so that they do not have to maneuver the bike much to get it on track, GRAB AND GO!  Some races are particular about which way your bike faces (Nationals, in particular), but most will let you rack them in any direction you choose.
  3. Shoes, prepped and ready for their feet to slide in.  Any straps or ties undone.  The fastest way to manage shoes at young ages are the elastic slider laces, slip on shoes with no laces or closures or using a pair with a top Velcro closure strap.  Some use baby powder inside shoes to help them slide on and others rub some body glide on the participants feet.  The shoes can be a challenge, especially for young racers.  You may also choose to include a dry hand towel or a “shammy” towel in case the feet must be dried off before entering the shoes.
  4. Helmet, top side down and easy to pick up and place on the head (practice the helmet clasp, can they get it off and on themselves?).  Please remember what a good helmet fit should look like for the safety of your child while racing, the chin strap should not hang, the forehead should be protected by the helmet (protect that frontal lobe of the brain!).
  5. Race belt.  This is a must have item for us.  Sure, they could have the race number pinned to a t-shirt, but the race belt is a quicker way to get in and out of transition and comes at a $10 or less price tag.  Make sure they can work the clasp, or better yet, go for the T1 Pro, which offers a magnet closure.  They just bring the two ends near each other and the magnets meet.  USAT rules require that the men/boys race with their torsos covered (t-shirt or trisuit).  That being said, we have only been to a few races where that rule has been enforced.  You will see a lot of shirtless boys out on most courses.
  6. Water–some parents place water at transition.  We do not unless it is REALLY hot outside.  There is usually an aid station where water could be sipped on the go if need be, we just find that the less stuff in transition the better.  If the child is properly hydrated before the race, they should be able to complete a standard distance youth race without it.
  7. Respect.  Respect the other bikes and equipment as you would your own.  Teach them to take care not to knock bikes down and to return their bikes to the rack.  Dumping equipment in transition is never acceptable and will get you a penalty at competitive triathlons.  Respect everyone’s space but only taking up a small area, to the right side of your bike.  Keep your transition mess contained and don’t encroach on anyone else’s space.  My daughter entered T2 this weekend to find a girl perched on her mat, blocking her bike stand!

T1 (or the first transition) generally takes a bit more time, but under a minute is still attainable.  T2 is quicker, just a drop of the bike and helmet (at young ages), older children may need to put on running shoes if they are wearing cycling shoes.

I have seen several methods of practicing transition.  The simplest way is to set it up anywhere, as you would for a race, and have your child come into transition as if they were coming out of the swim (with the appropriate apparel on–swimsuit/trisuit, goggles, and swim cap–if they need practice with wet feet (and they DO!), wet their feet and legs with the hose or in the bathtub), do the transition, exit out and do a short bike distance, come back in and practice the second transition.  If you know that your child’s bike will have to be “racked” on a race-provided rack, this skill of transition doesn’t always come easily.  I’m not advocating you go out and purchase one of these, but a similar style can be easily and cheaply made for practice.  This is the “My Tri Rack”.  There may be volunteers ready to assist in getting bikes off the racks, but you can never bank on that.


The best bet, if they are little or if they have a bike that is far from light, is to rack the bike on the ground, if the race allows.  We carry floor racks with us for that purpose.  They can be purchased for a fair price from, we have this one as it allows us to store 5 bikes in the garage at home and each piece then comes apart to make it’s own floor stand that we can carry with us to transition.  It is not the best-built model out there.


Here is a picture from this weekend’s transition set up, using the T-mat Pro transition mat (these were birthday gifts and they have lessened the amount of beach towels we have to haul!):


And my youngest daughter’s set-up with a towel (she just received her T-mat too, so hers will look different next year!):



A few pictures from past transitions, we have learned along the way but are happy to share what we have learned over the years!  Let your child set up their transition with little guidance, they will be the ones doing the transitioning!  Also, the more competitive the triathlon, the more likely your child will be the ONLY ONE allowed in transition at any time (set up, take down, etc).  This is a USAT rule that is sometimes utilized that decreases the chances of your child’s bike being stolen.  We actually like it when the parents are not allowed into transition because it provides more ownership of the child’s performance.  They can do it themselves, practice beforehand!



Nationals, no help at all in transition, limited area to view transition, bikes MUST go on the rack, pretty much completely on their own:



My last word about transitions: Make certain that your child can find their transition spot.  At the race, have them practice running in from the “swim in” side which will simulate T1.  Can they find their bike easily?  “Ok, my bike is on the second rack in about halfway down.” Some of these transition areas can be massive, help them come up with a way to find their spot.  They also need to know where their spot is relative to the “bike in” for T2.  Have them come in that way, too.  Sometimes my kids practice run that with their bikes in hand.

That’s it on transitions, the 4th discipline in multi-sport!


2 thoughts on “The Timely Transition

  1. Awesome advise! My son will be racing his first tri at the north Texas kids triathlon in two weeks. Do you know if they enforce the “no shirtless” rule? He had planned on going shirtless and using the belt and has been practicing that all summer. I’m glad I read your post, so we can make sure we’re doing it right!


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