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Beginner’s Luck: The Most Embarrassing Thing About Triathlon (And How to Overcome It)

"Around the time that I developed a small smidgen of mental confidence about the whole first triathlon thing, I learned of the appropriate racing 'outfit.'"

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Editors’ note: Meredith Atwood will now be sharing her “Beginner’s Luck” column every week on Triathlete.com. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @Triathletemag and with Meredith at @Swimbikemom.

I decided to become a triathlete in 2010 without a single stitch of swim, bike or run prowess. No big deal, I thought, I can learn this stuff, right? Of course, I underestimated the crazy that I was getting myself into, but I was determined to learn how to swim more than 25 meters without dying, do a single spin class without needing a tailbone replacement and run for more than eight minutes without bruising the bottoms of my feet. I had a long way to go in order to throw those things into a race, but I was determined. I survived the low-speed tipovers on my bike at red lights; I learned that using the biggest gear on my bike to climb a giant hill was a bad idea. I learned slowly how to breathe out of both armpits when swimming (okay, so maybe you don’t breathe out of your pits, but it sorta appears that way). I only slapped myself in the forehead while putting on my swim cap one or two times per week, and fell whilst running every fourth or fifth run. I was headed straight for the pros. Of course, I wasn’t, but Hot dog, I was ready to race!

Around the time that I developed a small smidgen of mental confidence about the whole first triathlon thing, I learned of the appropriate racing “outfit,” the triathlon racing kit. Also known as tiny, stretchy fabric that you swim, bike AND run—the same outfit you wear for all three. What?

And I almost quit the sport entirely altogether.

Now, some background on me. I am no stranger to unflattering stretchy fabrics. I experienced the same dread in 1994 when I was presented with my first Olympic-style weightlifting competition outfit. At the time, people did not believe in covering legs and thought a deep squat was a perfect canvas for a swimsuit-style bottom. (I died.) I was fourteen years old, presented with a bathing suit and essentially told, “Go grunt and lift heavy things, and don’t worry about what you look like or how that unflattering weightlifting belt squishes your middle section.” (I died.)

So upon learning of the stretchy fabric demon had reappeared to meet me again, decades later, I thought, “Oh come ON!” After all, I was now a thirty-something mom of two kids, substantially overweight and seriously out of shape. I just prayed that the stretchy suits covered my thighs. (Thankfully, it did.)

Still, I was horror-stricken. How in the world was I going to do this?

Then I came something across something from the book Slow Fat Triathlete that went something like this: Never worry about what you look like when you are doing a triathlon. Essentially, if we care about what we look like during the race (or training) we allow negative thoughts in our heads right from the outset! We are focusing on what our body looks like instead of the amazing things the body can do.

From a secondary point, we all look ridiculous when we are soggy-wet coming out of the water and heading out on the bike, no matter what we are wearing or what size we are.

Finally, a sense of humor is paramount to this sport. If you can’t laugh at all the ridiculous ways we get across a finish line, then triathlon is going to be a tough road to follow—no matter what we stretchy things we are wearing.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta and blogs at SwimBikeMom.com. Find “Beginner’s Luck” every Monday on Triathlete.com.