Can We Talk About Transition Area Etiquette?

Turtle Crawl Triathlon

They call it the 4th leg of triathlon. I call it the race’s common room. As a shared space, the transition area is the one part of a triathlon where you need to get your stuff together, literally, not only so you can race more efficiently, but also out of respect for your fellow athletes. Yet, many triathletes (new and experienced), can really do better in the transition area department.

I’ve seen plenty treat the transition area as their own personal junk drawer, leaving bags and shoes and 42 extra water bottles there just in case. I’ve seen bikes racked in the wrong places, or in a position that takes up unnecessary space. I’ve tripped over buckets, stepped in used goo, ran smack into a spectator, asking, “who the hell are  you?!?” (okay, technically I haven’t exactly done this last thing but it rounded out the rhyme so well).

So, I’ve decided it’s time we had a little chat about how to be the most considerate triathlete you can in the transition area. Here goes:

Set out only what you need, move the rest to the side.

Neat transition areas are sexy!
Neat transition areas are sexy!

Here’s what should be in your transition spot: your bike, your helmet & sunglasses (on your handlebars), your bike shoes (socks optional), your running shoes, your race belt with number on it. That’s it. Extra gels can be placed in your shoes. This not only makes sure they’re out of the way, but also ensures that you won’t forget them. When you stick your foot in a bike shoe and there’s a squishy packet in there, you’ll know.

All the extra stuff you brought with you – bags, towel, jacket, extra bottles, buckets (more on buckets below) – needs to be moved out to the side. An acceptable spot is on the outer edges of the transition area, just inside or the plastic netting used as boundary fencing. Or better yet, give it all to your family…that’s what kids are for, right?

Pay attention to where your bike belongs.

Most races these days require your to rack your bike in a certain rack according to your bib number; some even give you a specific spot on a specific rack. These racks are labeled. It’s amazing how many misplaced bikes I see. Just read the labels, folks.

Placing your bike in the wrong rack is bad for you and for everyone else. First, you can be penalized for it. Second, you are taking up space on a rack that someone else needs. If you see a bike in the wrong rack, notify a USAT official (these are the people in USAT shirts snooping around looking for bar end plugs and such). Or better yet, if you see the participant with that bib number, let them know.

Rack your bike by the seat.

Unless the race specifies that you must rack it using the handlebars, or you’re really tall and your seat is higher than the rack itself. Two reasons why I think this is better: first, your bike is already facing forward, ready to roll out and avoiding that backing-up first thing. Second, racking by the seat gives other bikes more room to actually fit on the transition rack.

The bike to the far left is racked by the seat.
The bike to the far left is racked by the seat.

To rack using your seat, back your bike up to the transition rack, roll it under a bit, and hook your seat over the top. Yes, your back wheel will stick out the other side, but contrary to what you may be thinking, this isn’t taking up room from someone opposite you. It’s giving them a nice space to set their shoes and stuff.

No Buckets.

Why are buckets a “thing” in triathlon? There are many ways to carry your crap from the car to the transition area, like bags. Or your children. Seriously, why buckets? I hate buckets, and here’s why. Buckets are big. They not only take up space on the ground, but they are vertically obstructive. When your bucket is crammed between your bike and mine, I can’t get to my shoes. I am likely to inadvertently knock your bucket over when I unrack my bike, because the pedal will hit it.

Solution. Sit your ass on the ground to put your shoes on. Your butt is already covered in dirt, silt, algae, and if you’re swimming in north central NC, coal ash waste. How are a few grass clippings going to make it worse? If you prefer to use a bucket to carry your stuff over to transition, kindly move your bucket over to the edge of transition, by the plastic fencing and well out of the way of other people’s stuff.

An empty bike rack is NOT a wetsuit-hanging rack.

This actually happened to me at my last race. I got back into T2, after the bike portion, and go straight back to my bike’s spot. But instead of a nice, empty rail to hang my bike back on, there are two wetsuits, neatly arranged to dry on the rack. Dude! Seriously? The thing is folks, the bikes are coming back. Your wetsuit can spend a couple hours heaped up on the ground. It can handle it.

Don’t move other people’s stuff without their permission.

Yes, you’re going to run into that person who’s spread out their shoes, towel, bucket, and a picnic lunch all up in your bizness. But unless it’s truly a matter of “my crap won’t fit and I need to be at the start line in 30 seconds,” calm down, ask the offending racer to move their stuff over, and kindly explain to them why they need to reduce their footprint. Chances are they’re just new and overprepared.

In situations where there’s no option but to scooch someone’s stuff over, do it as little as possible and try to keep it in the order they set it out in.

Please don’t hang balloons or other non-bike items on the rack.

People do this to help them remember where their bike is in a sea of other bikes, and many transition tip guides recommend it. I don’t. To other participants, anything that’s attached to the bike rack that’s not a bike has the potential to get in the way. You may disagree, loving the giant mylar Bert & Ernie that’s conveniently right next to your bike, also helping you identify your spot, but I like to keep things minimal. Learn where your rack is by rehearsing your route from the swim-in and bike-in entries.

Keep the aisles clear during T1 & T2.

Yes, transitions can be frantic and you want in and out fast. But this doesn’t mean it’s okay to fling your stuff all over the place like the Swedish Chef. Guy who left his bucket rolling around in the aisle, which I swiftly kicked out of the way, I’m talking to you (it was a controlled kick, only meant to remove, not destroy). Calm down a little, and make sure your used wetsuit, goggles, helmet, etc. are in a semi-neat pile in your spot. This will also help ensure your stuff goes home with you after the race.

If you knock someone else’s bike down, pick it up and rack it in the right place.

It happens to all of us sooner or later. On a particularly crowded rack, or just because you’re a klutz, you’ll knock down a tricked out bike that costs more than your house. If this happens before the race, pick it up, do your best to find the bike’s owner, and let them know so they can run over the brakes and shifting, just in case. If it happens during the race, at least just pick it up and rack it back.

Do ask to borrow bike pumps & other reusable gear before the race.

So you forgot your pump and your tire has about 20 psi in it. No big deal – there are about 300 people in your immediate area who own bike pumps. Chances are one of them has one at the race. Triathletes are a friendly bunch, so don’t be shy. Even if we want to kick your ass on the race course, we want your ass to be out there to kick too 😉

If you forgot something huge, ask around. You never know.

Once I was volunteering at a race and had my bike with me. I heard the announcer say that a racer had forgotten his bike shoes. Even though I’m a chick, I have to wear men’s shoes because my feet are that big. So, I figured I’d see if I could help. Turns out, my shoes were about 1/2 size too small, but not too small for this fellow to use for his race. We even swapped out pedals so the cleats would work. He raced and had a great time. Another time, I got to a race sans helmet. I had a brief meltdown, then got smart and asked around. Eventually, I found someone with an extra helmet that fit. Race saved.

My point is, just because you forget your wheel, helmet, or shoes doesn’t mean your race is automatically over. Never give up – someone might save the day.

Be courteous when collecting your stuff.

Don’t go get your crap until the vast majority (I mean all but 2 or 3) of participants are finished with T2 and are out on the run. You may be Mr. Speedy Awesome Pants and finish the race before the last wave is out of the water, but everyone else deserves a clear transition area too.

Keep stink eyes to a minimum.

"Blue Steel" is okay...stink eyes are not.
“Blue Steel” is okay…stink eyes are not.

Yeah, we all have our game faces on. That’s okay. I’m not a barrel of laughs pre-race; that’s what headphones are for. It’s cool if you don’t feel like talking to anyone, but don’t give nasty stares or eye rolls or act otherwise assinine. It’s pointless. Be nice – the person you smile at may be at their first race and think “hey, these tri people are alright.”

If you’re guilty of any of the above, don’t be ashamed (unless you’re throwing your buckets in the aisles deliberately…then you should be so, so ashamed), just change. Try and do better. The cool thing about being a triathlete is there’s always another race to experiment with another strategy. And if you dig your bucket and refuse to let go, I still love ya. Just not your bucket 😉

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