The first transition zone is referred to as T1 and consists of a large area roped or cordoned off, with bike racks inside. These racks are generally metal poles about 10 feet long, laying horizontally three feet off the ground with stands at the end. Usually each pole will have a numbered sign at the end marking which athletes should place their bikes there, based on their race number. For example, if your race number is 395, you would look for the pole labeled 390-399. When you find that pole, you may hang your bike anywhere on that pole – the bikes don’t have to be in exact numerical order. To hang your bike, lift it up by the seat and hook the front of the seat up over the pole so that the back wheel is off the ground. It is customary to alternate bike sides to give each person more room and so that the handlebars of all those bikes close together do not collide. If there are already bikes on the pole, turn your bike so that your rear wheel is on the same side as the front wheel of the bike next to yours. Before racking your bike, make sure it’s in a low gear to make it easy to get started pedaling once you hop on.
If you are truly racing and concerned about seconds, you can choose a bike spot nearest to the aisle, but I usually choose a spot at the other end of the pole closest to the fence. I know I like to take my time in T1, and this way I will not have people brushing by me as I’m transitioning. Some competitors like to make their transition spot stand out visually with a bright towel or bandana tied to their bike’s handlebars. This makes the bike easy to spot as they run up to the T1 area out of the water – you would be surprised at how thick and slow your brain can feel when you are out of breath during the midst of a race.
After hanging your bike on the rack, you can lay out the rest of your gear on a small towel to the right side of your front wheel. The emphasis here is on small – there are lots of athletes in a small amount of space and you need to be considerate and take as little room as possible. I’ve seen a well-meaning but clueless athlete set up a folding lawn chair by his bike so that he would have somewhere to sit while putting on his bike shoes. I don’t need to tell you that he got many dirty looks that day.
Here’s how I lay out my T1 gear: I put the towel down, put my bike shoes on it (with socks tucked inside), and place my helmet on top of the shoes (upside down) with cycling gloves and sunglasses (arms open) tucked inside. Socks can be hard to get on over wet feet, so you can roll your socks down to the toes if you wish, that way you can simply stick your toes in and roll them up to easily get them on. You can also put baby powder in the socks to more easily get them onto wet feet.
If it is a cold day and I need a jacket, I will place it between my shoes and helmet. On the edge of the towel I have a small bottle of water for cleaning off my feet. Feet will get muddy and dirty when exiting the swim and running up to T1 barefoot, and I like to rinse them off before I put on my socks and shoes. I put my water and sports drink bottles into the cages on my bike, caps open, and place any gels or other food in my bike’s Bento box. If I am doing an Ironman or HIM distance, I may have a drinking bottle of water sitting at T1 which I can chug from and leave at the spot, conserving the water bottles on my bike for later. If it is raining or might rain on race morning, I will set up everything as above, but pick up the whole bundle and wrap it in a small trash bag. I’m sure my socks will be wet by the end of the day but there’s no sense in them starting out that way. If you have the propensity to gulp in air on your swim, having a supplement such as Gas-X handy at T1 can reduce discomfort and bloating during the rest of the race.
For most triathlons you will be given bags for T1 and T2; the first is intended to hold your goggles, swim cap, and wetsuit after you exit the water. You can then cinch the top and leave it at your T1 spot. You can either pick it up at T1 later, or sometimes the race will move the bags to the finish line for you.
Next: T2 (Bike to Run)