It turns out the spirit of endurance has very little to do with swim, bike, and run.

I spent the weekend in Boston, Massachusetts at the Race Mania Summit and Expo. This was my second year being a part of the event as a speaker, workshop leader, and spectator. What I underestimated going into the event was how much I would take out of it.

It’s no secret that I have been in a bit of a hole. It has been a purposeful hole—basically, I dug it myself, dove in it, wrote two books in a span of nine months, moved across the country with my family, and more. I agreed to speak and host clinics at Race Mania a long time ago and grossly underestimated how quickly time flies—and what that looks like when life doesn’t make things particularly easy. Regardless of the chaos that led up to the event (including a head cold of epic proportions), I was excited to debut my book, but also to hang out with some amazing endurance athletes, coaches, and experts.

The Saturday evening event kicked off at Normatec Headquarters with legendary cycling coach and author Hunter Allen and the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly. We recorded a podcast and enjoyed an evening of laughs benefiting the Ironman Foundation. For a moment, I had to blink. One of my friends texted me and she said it best: “When you ran your first 5K, did you even think you’d be riding in an Uber with Mike Reilly and recording it on Instagram?” (Uh, no way.)

The theme of the evening was “the spirit of endurance”—how this sport elicits such a powerful sense of community, empowerment, and positivity. It begged the question: What does the spirit of endurance really mean?

The next day was busy, but it was the point where I felt the wavelengths and humming of endurance and community. I was lucky to, along with Hunter Allen and Mike Reilly, officially debut the release of a new book at Race Mania. Klean Athlete hosted my book signing—they purchased 50  copies of my book and gave them away at their booth. For over two hours, I met new people, signed books, shook hands, and kissed babies. I heard stories and struggles. My heart grew and great throughout the day.

I admittedly walked into Race Mania somewhat worn and tired. I was somewhat beaten a little by the recent circumstances of life. But I walked away, a grueling but spectacular 10 hours later, completely full of gratitude, love, and joy from the gift of the people I had met (or re-met), long-time friends, and powerful mentors in the sport.

After the event, I was walking to the Uber with my Tri Club manager—when I heard a voice: “Meredith! Todd!”

From a half-block away, I saw Mike Reilly waving. As I snagged a last hug from Mike (and refrained from asking him to say “Meredith You are an Ironman” again for the 50th time—it’s just so fun!), I thought for a flash: How strange is life? Ten years ago, I was 250 pounds and couldn’t run for two minutes. I am now genuinely friends with this guy, Mike Reilly, who inspires hundreds of thousands of individuals to find their best selves, their big goals. I am able to stand and speak to hundreds of endurance athletes—sometimes not even a word about endurance—and have the privilege to continue to share my story about triathlon, about addiction, about more.

Life is beautiful and strange.

So when I think about the theme of the weekend: what is the spirit of endurance? Well, the spirit is not the speed, spandex, and competition that we are all part of. The spirit is not the gear and the events. It’s not the money spent, or the time ticking. It’s not the swim, bike, and run either.

The spirit of endurance is the personal, real, and tangible individual journey we all take. It’s the fact that we all—in the sport of triathlon—begin our journey in one place. We may swim, bike, and run to literally nowhere sometimes (back and forth in the pool, on a bike trainer, on a treadmill). But through this amazing sport, community, and energy we become greater, better, and stronger versions of ourselves. We change. We effectuate change. We allow ourselves to break limits and barriers, walls and records—and through it all, we come out the other side forever changed.  And by giving ourselves permission to change, we are able to pay it forward, deliver that energy and permission to our friends, families, and communities—creating a beautiful swim, bike, and run butterfly effect that pays dividends for years and years to come. That is the spirit of endurance.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the newly released, Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith lives in Overland Park, Kansas (for now!) with her husband and two children and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, will be released December 2019.