Turbo Your Transition

With some training, timing and a little thought, you can make the transition from bike to run without losing too many precious seconds


Posted: 23 November 2009

Getting through the second transition isn't just about changing your shoes. The bike ride often means a long time in an unnatural posture, putting you at risk of back pain as well as cramps in the shoulders, calves and thighs. Here's what you need to know about pacing, posture and avoiding 'jelly legs'.  

Stride with pride 

Researchers at the University of Colorado have found that hunching over a bike for a prolonged period alters the body's biomechanical reflexes. That's why even pro triathletes hobble when they first get off the bike, running with smaller, more frequent strides as their hips and knees struggle to adjust. 

You're going wrong when:

You run geisha-style, with exaggeratedly precise steps. Spend the last few minutes of the cycle riding with a high cadence on a lower gear to replicate the looser motions of the run. Once off the bike take a few seconds, even on race day, to really focus on the length of your strides. 

Bricking it

Practise, practise and practise again. That's the message from Sam Murphy, author of Triathlon: Start to Finish. "To establish the correct nerve-to-muscle pathways, you need to perform an action lots of times," says Murphy. "Because they practise, elite athletes can run a triathlon almost as fast as they would a straight running event." Do regular brick sessions by cycling at a high cadence for 15 minutes. Immediately shift into 10 minutes of fast-paced running, rest for five minutes and repeat three times. Aim to build to your race pace - the average speed you can maintain over the whole distance of the race.

You're going wrong when:

Your legs are so rubbery that you stop after a few steps. Work more brick sessions into your routine, even if you can't practise in race conditions. Former World Champion Tim Don recommends a dry tri, using the rowing machines, stationary bikes and treadmills at the gym. 

Arch de triumph 

Lay the groundwork for a smooth, painless run by positioning yourself properly on the bike. Keep your back arched - sitting straight-backed can be as harmful as letting your spine droop, since both these postures take some of the give out of your body's natural suspension system. This means real pain in the lower lumbar region, especially on bumpy trails and cross-country rides. 

You're going wrong when:

Riding over a bump causes your back to jar painfully. If you can't arch your spine because of injury, invest in a sprung saddle for extra suspension. 

Fuel through 

Keeping your energy levels topped up throughout the bike section is vital for a smooth run, but Murphy points out that this is as much a mental as a physical process. "Top up with fluids and food, and visualise yourself running with fast, light strides," she says. "Accept that you'll feel strange for the first couple of hundred metres and tell yourself that it will soon pass." 

You're going wrong when:

You bonk (run out of energy) on the run because you wait until you're desperate before taking on extra fuel. Make a race-day nutrition schedule and try to stick to it. 

Dismount like a pro 

The physical switch from bike to run requires real concentration. If you find the dismount tricky, invest in a pair of cleats. These small plastic clips attach your cycling shoes firmly to the pedals. When you're coming into the home stretch, reach down to unstrap your shoes. You can then cycle with your bare feet over the shoes, meaning you face far fewer psychological distractions as you come into transition two. 

You're going wrong when:

You get tangled up with your bike. This transition can be tricky, so practise by teaming up with a training partner and learning from each other's mistakes. Youtube also has some good examples of cycle dismounts if you need some visual how-to tips. 


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