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Summer School: How To Transition In A Triathlon

Patti Daniels / VPR
Richmond triathlete Chris Cover teaches Vermont Edition how to approach the transitions between triathlon segments.

The idea of competing in a triathlon may be daunting when considering the miles of swimming, cycling and running that lie before the finish line. Beyond that, athletes must be prepared on race day to transition between all three events in the most efficient way possible.

Richmond triathlete Chris Cover taught Vermont Edition how to approach the transition zones during a triathlon. He's done everything from short sprint triathlons to the grueling Ironman, and he says every athlete takes an individual approach to race prep.

“There's so many pieces of gear to this sport that you literally have checklists,” says Cover.

Getting in the water

Swimming checklist:

  • Wetsuit
  • Swim cap
  • Ear plugs
  • Goggles

The wetsuit can "take a few minutes to get into," according to Cover.  He also puts on a swim cap and goggles, as well as ear plugs, before getting into the water.
Starts vary from race to race. “Some starts start on land and you run in,” says Cover. “In some starts you have to get in the water and go a certain distance to a start line, and tread water there with maybe 2,000 of your closest friends. For me, it's equally unnerving."

Credit Patti Daniels / VPR
Richmond triathlete Chris Cover's transition station is pictured. This is where he makes the switch before triathlon events.

T1: Swim to bike transition

Biking checklist:

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Bike shoes
  • Bike shorts & triathlon top

Once the swimming portion is completed, it’s time to start thinking about biking. There is a run from the water to the first transition station, or T1. “Sometimes it’s a quarter-mile. Sometimes its longer, sometimes it’s shorter," says Cover. "But once you start making your way toward your bike you want to start getting undressed.”
"Underneath my wetsuit I have my bike shorts, and then on top I have what they call a triathlon top, a kind of modified bike jersey," says Cover. He chooses to run and bike in this outfit. The last thing Cover does before putting on his bike shoes is take his wetsuit bottoms off.

"You're getting a little flustered, and adrenaline is pumping because you're seeing people leave and you want to be out of there as quickly as possible." - Chris Cover, Richmond triathlete

“You're getting a little flustered, and adrenaline is pumping because you're seeing people leave and you want to be out of there as quickly as possible,” says Cover.

Cover says the transition zone is "a pretty small space, and it can get pretty tight" because of all of the gear. Once he is prepared for the bike leg of the triathlon, Cover grabs his bike off of the rack and runs alongside it as quickly as possible to the mount line, where competitors can get on their bikes and start pedaling.

Credit Patti Daniels / VPR
Triathlete Chris Cover shows how to most efficiently transition between the biking and running portions of a triathlon.

T2: Bike to run transition

Running checklist:

  • Hat
  • Glasses
  • Socks
  • Running shoes

At the second and final transition triathletes put their bikes back on the rack and prepare to run. Helmets come off and running shoes come on. "I'm a sock guy when it comes to the run, so the socks go on, the shoes go on," says Cover.
Practice is essential to pinning down whatever technique you chose to use during the transitions, and there is certainly a learning curve. "Of course, we've practiced this hundreds of times, so we can do it really quickly," says Cover.

Three athletic endeavors linked by two chaotic transitions culminate in the crossing of the finish line. "When it's time to come to a finish line, I'm looking forward to stopping and eating some food," says Cover. "You're really just looking to get it over with."

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