Training TipsIntermediateBeginnerTransition

Six tips for a smooth transition

by Will Murray

What is one of the most amazing transitions of all time?

When Clark Kent needed to transition from his role as ordinary citizen to Superman, he would duck into a phone booth and, in a twinkling, emerge with that snazzy kit and amazing powers.

Superman’s Phone Booth Pattern is a specific transition pattern that takes you from one stage to another, quickly and fully. It has two doors. You go in one and out the other, from the swim to the bike, or from the bike to the run. It’s roomier than a regular phone booth, so you can maneuver. And it has a powerful flow of gravity, so it actively sucks you through and pushes you out as you change states.

This pattern helps you fully and completely become a pure cyclist, and then a pure runner, as you work through your event. It allows you to fully focus on the current leg of the race, leaving the previous leg behind and the next leg in the future.

Purpose:  To improve transition speed and effectiveness.

1. Mentally set up your transition

 As you set up your transition area, in your mind construct Superman’s Phone Booth.  Place it where you will pass through it during T1 and T2.  Make it look any way you want—any nice, roomy size, any color or shape that is most useful to you.  Make sure the front and back doors are open and clear, to let you pass through quickly and easily.

2. Enter Superman’s Phone Booth and create mantras for T1

Picture yourself coming into T1. Feel yourself being pulled gently and swiftly into Superman’s Phone Booth.  In the phone booth, see and feel and hear yourself gracefully and positively accomplishing all the tasks from step #1.  Picture your transition in as much detail as possible, trying to find the most efficient sequence possible.  For example, you may visualize the row you need to go to in the transition area to find your bike and how you will find it.  You may see yourself stripping your suit, putting on your bike shoes, then your race belt, then sunglasses, and finally your helmet.  Then you are off for the mount line.  You throw one foot over the top tube, clip in, and you are off.

Once you make your movie, come up with a mantra for your transition in T1 while in the phone booth that will trigger your mind into the steps you need to take.  For example, you may come up with the mantra “Suit, Shoes, Belt, Glasses, Helmet, Go!” Once you have established your mantra, repeat it to yourself a few times to groove it into your thoughts.  Your mantra is what your mind will fall back on in the heat of a race.  It is a powerful anchor to elicit the right sequence of smooth, quick but unhurried movements.

3. Enter Superman’s Phone Booth and create mantras for T2

For T2, you may see yourself stopping in front of the line, clipping out, running to your rack, racking your bike, changing shoes, helmet off, grab your hat and you are on your way.   Make these visual rehearsals as perfect movies, with everything going as you wish. Once you make your movie, come up with a mantra for your transition in T2 while in the phone booth that will trigger your mind into the steps you need to take. 

4. Rehearse T1 to transition yourself mentally into a pure cyclist

Move through Superman’s Phone Booth, picturing yourself and feeling like a full, complete and 100 percent-focused cyclist.  You are a bike racer, pure and simple. This is the only thing you are today. There was no swim before and there will be no run after.  Step out of Superman’s Phone Booth, walk around the outside, and go back to the front of Superman’s Phone Booth.

5. Rehearse T2 to transition yourself mentally into a pure runner

For T2 picture and feel yourself as a full, complete and 100 percent-focused runner.  This is the start of a road race, and there was no swim or bike before now.   Head out, or rather be propelled, through the back door with the full knowledge that you are a real runner, and pass out of transition on to the run course.

6. Practice your transitions with your mantras

Set up a mock transition area somewhere and run through both transitions several times.  As you physically practice them, visualize the actual race surroundings and repeat your mantras to yourself as you go through each step.  Take as much time as you need here.  The first few times you practice each transition can be a slow walk through, then gradually build up your speed as each one becomes more and more ingrained in your mind.

One final thought on transitions: Have temporary amnesia about the previous leg of your race during transition.  Do not even look at your watch coming out of the water or off the bike.  Your job in transition is to get ready for the next leg of the race.  You will have plenty of time to go over your splits after the race is over. For now, you are doing only one thing: transitioning.  This way you aren’t preoccupied with something else to think about as you are trying to have a quick transition.

(Excerpted from Murray, W. and C. Howie. (2012). The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes.)

Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Certified Level I Coach with a specialty in mental skills, based in Boulder, CO. He is the mental skills coach for  and is co-author, with Craig Howie of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.

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