In triathlon, we call the short processes of moving from one sport to the next transitions.
Veteran triathletes often use at least one less meaningful race early in the season to “bust the rust” off in execution of race pace and effort, and also to practice transitions. And, long-time athletes still make mistakes. We are trying to think on a glycogen starved brain. Maneuvering with cold hands. Crowd distraction. More focused on heavy breathing or a pounding heart.
Although the idea of transitions make sense when explained, they still cause new athletes a lot of anxiety leading up to race day.
What do I need? What if I forget something?
How will the area be set up? Where will I put my stuff?
When do I take my wetsuit off? Will I change clothes in between the swim and the bike?
And this list could go on and on. As a coach, I help new athletes by answering every question we can think of ahead of time. We practice together, and I make sure they have all of the gear. And whenever I am able, I attend their first race in order to give any hands-on guidance. But, the lack of control and fear of the unknown still remains.
Although triathlon transitions don’t cause me any personal anxiety any more, I can very vividly remember feeling sick to my stomach surrounding them before my first triathlon in 2008. And… in all honesty, I have likely got a little complacent, and would benefit from taking some time to work on them now—don’t check my recent times. 😉
Life is FULL of transitions. As I creep closer to what I hope is mid-life, I am acutely aware of how true this is. In my younger years I was pretty oblivious to how impactful transitions are to the human experience. I was pretty self unaware and emotionally immature. By the time I was 25 I had went through so many huge transitions: high school graduation to college graduation to getting my first jog to marrying Jamie to having Halle to buying a house to having Deaken to quitting my job to stay home with the kids to having Quinton.
Of course, the transitions don’t stop there. And I now know, and am thankful, that they never will.
I am currently preparing for the transition to empty nesting. In my experience, this one is a doozy. It is an exciting time to celebrate, and also a time of grieving. This phase has also presented an opportunity to reflect on my own life— truly looking at my relationships, geographical location, career choices, and hobbies to see how they fit in my new life without the structure of daily parenting and the busyness of kids’ activities, etc.
Like the three sports in triathlon, you don’t get to move from one part of life to the next without transitions. And even if you practice and prepare, there will be many moments where it will feel like foreign territory, and likely will get a little physically, mentally, or emotionally fumble-y.
Although I feel pretty confident on coaching triathlon transitions, I have far from perfected this in life. But, I think that simply recognizing and owning the challenges has been so personally life giving for me. And I have a few tips that you can apply (to both!).
Create Space for Reflection
How are you moving through your transitions? Are you distracted? Or oblivious to the physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and mental impact?
Prepare your body however you can. This is NOT the time to lose focus on you! When you anticipate a transition, consider how you can increase your self care to be able to practice presence. Create movement, sleep, nutrition, and hydration strategies to support stress. Identify relationships that feel supportive and life-giving and seek out time with those people. Think more about breathing. (I know this one often sounds silly, but you would be amazed at how often we hold our breath, or only take shallow breaths when we are under stress).
Don’t be afraid to walk yourself through transitions ahead of time in your own mind, even when they are full of uncharted territory. Do this with curiosity, rather than control. Use past experiences to anticipate how you might feel or react, and then create new thoughts, tools and mantras that may serve you better.
Consider the emotions you don’t like to feel–the ones you possibly do all you can to avoid. In triathlon transitions, it might be that you are uncomfortable with the fear of the unknown, or the idea of looking foolish. In the big picture, I will admit that I am very uneasy sitting in anger or sadness, two feelings that can easily be present in life transitions. Tools that I use to practice feeling (good and bad emotions!): journalling, media detoxing, counseling, checking in with my body often throughout the day, praying, laughing, crying, expressing and sharing how I truly feel with family and friends whom I trust.
Find a way to get rid of the “noise.” The most distracting thing to me in triathlon transitions is the crowd. I love people, and our team has the best fans. Their cheers continue to carry me through the long and hard times in races. But, during the focused time of making sure I take my wetsuit off before putting my bike shoes on, I need to be able to block out everything else around me. In life, we move through transitions with more presence when we stop allowing our culture, family, or friends to dictate our experience. Lean into self trust and awareness. Seeking out mentors and advice can be healthy, but please shy away from any one, or anything, telling you what you “should” do to be happy, content, etc.
Transitions are part of life. They are frequent and can be lengthy. Stop trying to execute them perfectly, and start living in the moment. Practice being grounded and present. You truly don’t want to “blink” and realize you missed many parts of your life. But, when this happens, extend grace to yourself. We are all only human.
*And if a fear of transitions is holding you back from triathlon—I know someone who can help. 😉