Mastering the Triathlon T1: Part 1 - Water to Land

The two transition phases, T1 and T2, have been called the “fourth and fifth legs” of triathlon.

Hardly considered or appreciated by most spectators – and even a few competitors – they’re crucial to the flow and success of a race. In fact, they can make the difference between being merely a participant and a serious contender for a podium spot.         

The first transition between swimming and cycling, T1, is the most dynamic and drastic of the two transitions. To the amateur, it’s a way of merely getting from A to B. To the skilled triathlete, it’s a way to shave off valuable seconds, build confidence and momentum, and mentally focus for the rest of the race.

T1 requires an approach which stresses three primary areas:

1. Preparation

Effectively executing T1 on race day requires adequate preparation of days and even weeks.

Packing the right gear, mapping out your system and practicing T1 regularly will give you an ease of feeling and facility of execution which will significantly reduce the confusion and chaos that occurs at race time – when things never go as expected.

During competition, preparation for T1 begins at the tail end of your swim. Dirk Bockel, in his article, “Triathlon Training Basics,” explains, “Preparing for the T1 begins a few strokes before you finish the swim leg. Is the right or the left side the more direct route to the transition area? Always stroke as far as you can, then decide whether you should dolphin dive through the water or run the last bit to shore.”

2. Exit and adapt

Once out of the water, the change in terrain and orientation may well have you not as much asking, “What’s next?” but “Where am I, and why can’t I walk straight?”

As the horizontal to vertical gravity transition may make you feel a little unsteady, remember that even experienced pros have troubles with the effects of having most of your blood flow from your arms and shoulders and then suddenly stream down your lower body.

During this time, it’s wiser to move slowly and surely out of the water, getting your mind and feet under you, than to make a mad-dash for the transition area. In his book, “Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week” Eric Harr advises, “It’s better to stand up slowly, walk for 10 to 15 seconds and then begin jogging to your spot. That will allow your body to more efficiently transition from a horizontal position to a vertical position, making the rest of your race more comfortable.”

3. Shed the old, prepare for the new

The final stage in the water-to-land phase is to strip off your swim gear, and locate your bike in the transition area. That’s easier said than done, as you’ll encounter a host of other water-soaked competitors. Most competitors start peeling their wetsuit off from the back once they hit land, shedding their cap and goggles as they enter the transition area. Determine what strategy works best for you and practice it.

Most importantly, you have to multi-task – adapt to the gravitational water-to-land differences and shed your swim gear while locating your bike.

Master these three areas and you’ll effectively manage T1 on race day, giving you a “leg up” on a “PB” thanks to the “fourth leg.”

In Part 2, we’ll look at mastering the transition area of T1.


“Triathlon Training Basics” by Dirk Bockel


“Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week” by Eric Harr


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