Originally published at: https://www.endurancelab.fit/the-fourth-sport/
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!