Don’t roll up at 5:45 for a 6:00 race if you can help it. Rushing to unload your car and get all your gear to the transition area puts unnecessary stress on you, increases the chances you’ll forget something, causes you to burn unnecessary energy and may even increase your risk of injury! (I’ve seen people rushing who trip over sprinkler heads or parking blocks in the dark)
Also at most races unless you’re one of the elite athletes the transition areas are first-come/first-served which means that the people who get there first get the first choice of transition area. Don’t underestimate how important that can be to your race!
I like to be close to the exit gate so when I pull my bike I have only a short trot (most races don’t allow riding within the transition area, for safety reasons) to the exit gate before I can hope on my bike and go. That means I have a longer run from the water, but I’m more comfortable running barefoot thru the transition area than I am wearing my bike shoes. Other people prefer to be closer to the water so they can get to their transition area as quickly as possible. Either way you want to try and pick a spot that’s going to be easy to find. Last thing you need is to get out of the water, amid all of that chaos and adrennaline and be running up and down the rows trying desperately to find your bike.
On that note, let me now mention the second part of this tip…after you set up your transition area, walk down to where the exit from the water is, and then jog slowly, trot or walk back to your transition area taking note of any landmarks along the way. Signs, trees, trashcans, anything that might help you find it. Do that twice. Don’t be content to just look from your bike to the water exit and think you’ve got it figured out. You may be surprised at how much different that transition area looks when you’re coming the other way.
You’ve practiced every other element of your race; now take 5 minutes to practice the course between the water and your bike. You’ll be glad you did.
Get there early, pick a good transition area, be relaxed setting it up, cover the ground between there and the water a couple of times, double-check your goggles, drink some water, stretch, warm up, laugh with your friends. You’ll have a better time in every sense of the phrase.