The Fourth Sport


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It is very common for people to say that something should be considered the “Fourth Sport” in triathlon.  A strong mental game, knowing how to work the wind, and travel skills have all been referred to as the fourth sport.  Most experienced triathletes will tell you, though, that transition is the true fourth sport.  Heck, you have to do it in the race….twice!  So, let’s break it down.

Transitions in triathlons can mean the difference between winning and losing.  They can also mean nothing at all.  Your transition time can have a psychological impact on you or your opponents, or it can translate into a time gain or loss.  Some people argue that transitions are less important the longer the race distance.  I would say that those people have lost sight of the big picture.

Both transitions in a tri, T1 and T2, serve important functions.  Sure, you need to change gear.  That’s obvious.  More importantly, you need to transition your body from performing one activity to another, and that’s not as easy as it sounds.  The key is to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.  When in doubt, efficiency should trump speed.  I follow the philosophy that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.  Make your actions deliberate, and you are less likely to fumble through your tasks.Get to the bike!

Get to the bike! In my opinion, T1 is physically the more difficult of the two.  After exiting the swim, your legs may decide that they don’t really want to work.  You’ll be tempted to make the movement from the water to your bike a death trudge.  Fight that.  As soon as you stand up, start moving quickly out of the water.  Take your goggles and swim cap off.  You won’t need them again today.  If wearing a wetsuit or swim skin, start working the zipper.  The goal is to get the wetsuit off of your shoulders and arms before exiting the water.  If there are wetsuit strippers, you want your wetsuit down to your hips before you get to them.  Once you reach them, flop on your back, lift your legs up, and shift the weight off of your hips to your back.  If there are no strippers, start jogging to your transition area.  Pull your wetsuit down to your feet and work it off of your legs.  Once it is off, toss it and your goggles/swim cap into your transition bag if the race makes you use one or to the back of your transition area.  Put your sunglasses and helmet on first, then put any nutrition in your pockets.  Lastly, put on your shoes if you don’t plan to do it while riding and head quickly, but safely to the exit to the bike course.  Your bike should be racked nose out, so you don’t have to worry about rolling it backwards and dropping a chain.  If you are wearing your bike shoes, do not run.  Walk fast.  If you have your shoes on the bike, move quickly (jog or run) to the mount line.  At the line, get on your bike and clear the area.  If your shoes were already in the pedals, don’t put your feet into them immediately.  Wait for a couple of minutes to be out of the traffic pattern.  Attempting to put your feet into your shoes while surrounded by a bunch of other people doing the same is a recipe for disaster.  Plus, it’s actually easier to do once you have some momentum.

Keep the body primed. As you arrive in T2, get ready to run immediately.  Dismount your bike and take it to your rack position.  Rack the bike nose first if you can.  It’s easier, and you won’t be pulling it out again.  Take off your helmet and toss it on the swim gear pile at the back of your transition area.  Put on your shoes and grab your hat, glasses (if different from the bike), race belt and any bottles or nutrition you plan on carrying.  Then, start heading to the run exit.  Put your hat, glasses, and race belt on while moving.  You don’t have to be running at this point, but you need to move deliberately.  The most important part is not stopping.  Don’t sit to put on your shoes, and don’t take any more time than is necessary in transition.  Once you stop, even if for only a couple of minutes, your body begins to enter cool-down mode.  It can be hard to get it back into race mode once it has transitioned, so I recommend not risking it.

There are a couple of things to understand about transitions.  Efficient speed is key among them.  While you should move quickly through T1 and T2, don’t go faster than you have practiced, or you will mess it up.  Forgetting important items in transition or faffing about with your gear is just as bad as striking up a conversation with your neighbor.  I would argue, it’s actually worse, as it adds unneeded stress to an already stressful situation.  So, just like with your other three events, you need to practice your transitions.  Do it multiple times in a session if you can.  Every time that you have a brick scheduled, make it an opportunity to practice your transition work.  Smooth and fast transitions may not win you the race, but they can certainly keep you from losing it.  Besides, we’re not out there to make friends in transition.  That’s what aid stations are for!


finishing the swim, kick harder - gets the blood into the legs and helps with the dizziness. agree 100% on getting wetsuit down asap… this allows a little bit of drying also.

think about each transition before you get there; focus and stay calm. fight the desire to panic. one thought at a time, one thing at a time. fast and efficient.

avoid second guessing in T1 and T2 THREE times like i do. I try too hard to not forget anything and it looses me time.

have bike in correct gear

if you get cold on the bike think about what you can actually put on… your body is ridiculously sticky and arms dont go into things… lessons learnt the hard way. a zipper mid sleeved top is the best. arm warmers stick to arms and wetsuits, sleeves stick to everything. if you might get cold later in the bike have arm warmers in the back pocket of the mid sleeved topw… some people ca tolerate the cold; i cannot. i get hypothermic and have DNFd… not a great way to rac

if you want to wear socks, when? i put socks on before the bike and so have happy feet bike and run (and T2 is faster). so i do invest time in drying my feet. others use no socks on bike and have to do same at T2… much of a much. but i am faster in T2 tan those putting socks on

as you near bike finish line and approach T2, run the t2 through your mind, so that it is like clockwork

pack spare contact lenses into both transitions if you wear them.

pack sun cream into both if you need it

have a tidy transition, only the absolute essentials but be prepared. e.g. weather in ireland can turn any moment

practice with elastic laces if you are going to wear them for ease … i hate them. but i will suck it up for an olympic and not a 70.3. i run better not distracted by the discomfort so the extra second lace tying it ok… unless as i have mentioned it is COLD ireland and the hands dont work and the feet are numb.

also be careful of your ankles as you start the run if the feet are numb… you dont need to slow down just pay attention and give them a good range of motion when running for the first km to get the blood moving.

@Coach_Ian we have to wear race belt from swim to finish so its on the entire time.

thats my 2 cents on what are already brilliant comprehensive tips.

oh and the most important… piss as much as you can before you start!! and drink water WITH salt to limit urination and optimise hydration. i cannot pee when i am moving so i will make sure i do right before the start… yes in my wetsuit. it saves needing a pee later in t1 or T2.

I always have a race check list… in my box of stuff for racing… it just means that i am organised with what gets packed. down to the black pen for marking things, and so on.

i mean last race i was at someone forgot a wetsuit… HOW???


Great additions, Andrea!