Triathletes are intimately aware of the difficulties of making transitions from one sport to another. The transition from swim to bike, and from bike to run each requires a change of equipment and a new mode of engagement.
While the concept of transition seems unique to triathlons, those of us that have played multiple sports in multiple seasons, or participated in the sport of track and field know all about what transitions are like.
The reason I thought about the phenomenon of transition is the smell of the air on this November morning. For years of high school I played basketball and the season would start for me the day after cross country ended. Typically that would be some Saturday in late October or early November, depending on how far the season extended into state qualifying and such.
So there’s be a Sunday off from practice and racing, and Monday would be time to report for basketball practice. Most of the team would already have been in the gym for a week, sometimes two. There would be the normal pressure in competition for spots, and every new guy that showed up from football or basketball intensified the pressure.
Short, sharp stuff
But the real rude shock was the conversion from long distance running to the short sharp stuff in the gym. Every practice would end with sets of “killer drills” in which we’d run to the back and forth between the foul line, half court line, three quarters court line and full court line in under 30 seconds.
If you haven’t done that, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s hard. And my legs would have a very difficult time going from full-on cross country practice to full-on basketball practice.
As fit as I was for running, that did not translate completely to basketball, which consists of short, sharp bursts of speed and sideways shuffling to keep up on defense. So the transition from cross country to basketball was painful.
Not that I’d ignore ballistic sports completely all fall. I’d play football in the side yard with buddies, which was probably dumb for risk of a sprained ankle. But there were many Saturday afternoons where I’d get a second wind and play football with a friend whose dad served as quarterback while we took turns playing receiver. Think of the training effect after a morning of racing! Then it was followed by two hours of total sprint work.
Or maybe we’d play some hoops at a local court. But that’s still different than two hours of guided basketball practice inside a stuffy gym.
Come spring, the transition back to running would start all over again. Basketball typically ended sometime in late February for underclassmen. Then it would be time to turn out for track. We’d often be a bit burned out with hoops by late February. Even the coaches gave up running us in killer drills. I recall one JV game in which the opposing side, a speedy crew from East Aurora High School, had run up a score of 98 points against our 45. When the game was just about over, my cross country training was the only thing that kept me running after the rest of our squad had given up. One of the East players handed the ball to me after his easy layup, gave me a teasing grin and said, “Man, you’re the only one still runnin’!” I laughed and pretended to pass the ball to him.
The transition to track meant going from the cozy gym out into raw, cold temps that made running difficult at best. We’d do intervals around the school with coaches waiting for us on the salty macadam. The wind was always howling and our stocking caps never quite covered our ears. This would go on for the whole month of March.
But it was the first week that sucked the most. Going from short, sharp running to 600 and 800 meter intervals outdoors put a real hurt to the thighs especially. But we’d push ourselves relentlessly and race on indoor tracks that were typically not 200 meters.
This would go on for years on end, until my senior year in track when my coach kindly told me that I’d be seeing no real playing time in basketball. “You didn’t go to camp this past summer,” he warned me. “What did you think would happen?”
But in track and field I was a multi-sport athlete as well. During high school I’d high jump and triple jump, going six feet and 40 feet respectively, and always earning points for the squad. None of that made me a better distance runner, on which I should probably have been concentrating. But it made track more fun. Still it was interesting to transition from high jumping to running the two-mile, then triple-jumping and running the mile. One meet I went 5’10” in the high jump, broke 10:00 in the two-mile, triple-jumped 39’2″ and ran the mile in 4:38. Not a bad day for a joker like me. And I won all four events.
Even into college I still high jumped finally maxxing out at 6’1.5″. Then I knew it was all over for the jumping after freshman year. But sophomore year I combined all those years of running and jumping into the event of steeplechase, where quite often I’d leap past the end of the water pit and not get a foot wet. All that basketball agility came in handy when navigating in a group over barriers. I qualified for nationals three consecutive years in steeple, and won the conference championship two years as well. Steeplechase is all about the ability to make transitions between hurdling and running.
So the concept of transition isn’t all that foreign to this triathlete. Do what you can do, and deal with it. We face all kinds of transitions in all categories of life. You just try to keep moving through it all.