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Beginner’s Luck: Great Expectations

Sometimes having nothing to lose is when you have the most to gain, writes Meredith Atwood.

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Sometimes having nothing to lose is when you have the most to gain.

Biggie Smalls of illustrious rap fame was on to something when he said, “Mo Money Mo Problems.” Not that I know what that actually feels like, but I do sort of know what the triathlon equivalent is: “Mo Triathlon Mo Problems.”

Now, of course, I do not really believe that triathlon is the start of all problems. For me, triathlon was actually the great problem solver—a way for me to figure out how to manage my time, family and health while having some fun and competition along the way.

When you are a newbie, it’s hard to imagine that one could get “too much” triathlon. All things swimming, biking and running are shiny, new and fabulous. After a few seasons, though, or if you jump up to the long-course races, triathlon can take on a life of its own—hence, Mo Triathlon Mo Problems.

The year 2015 was my fifth year of being in the sport, and to celebrate, I decided to make it my first two-Ironman year. Taking on that challenge was all sorts of dramatic and nuts, but the stars had sort of aligned with family schedules, my training and my coach, so I decided to go for it.

The first on my list was Ironman Lake Placid in July. I headed into Placid rocking and ready to go. I had trained well, and I just knew I was going to have the best day ever—surely a personal best and a sub-14-hour Ironman finish (a fast time for me). I started the race convinced it was going to be “my day!” but I could not have been farther off the mark. I was kicked in the head during the swim several times. My bike leg was tough and slower than I had hoped. And by the time I made it to the run with raw feet and blisters, I knew I was in trouble. The bright beacon of my “well-deserved” PR had fizzled, and I knew all that remained was a long walk to a near-midnight finish. And I made it.

That “disappointing” day (and I put it in quotes, because I am never disappointed to finish a race) just fueled the fire in me. I wanted to really shine at my second big race of the year, Ironman Louisville in October. Seven weeks before Louisville, I had a bike crash that resulted in a torn hip labrum and a decision that, surely, I was out of the race. However, I started intensive physical therapy and I was able to rehab it to the point where I joyfully made the decision to show up and race. On the same day that I made the decision to throw my hat back into the ring for Louisville, I was T-boned in a car accident, leaving me with a suspected broken hand and who knew what else.

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At that point, I couldn’t really bike or run far or well. The hip wasn’t great, but it was functional for day-to-day activities. The hand, gratefully, turned out not to be broken, and the assorted injuries from the crash healed up fairly quickly. However, six weeks prior to Ironman Louisville, I missed every single key workout with the exception of one 11-mile run and one 100-mile ride. Ack.

I kept thinking, If I wasn’t so gung-ho about racing, this wouldn’t be a big deal—at all. But I still decided to race and do the best I could. I am not one to quit before I start, and the hotel was paid for and everything arranged. I showed up on race day with absolutely nothing to lose. I had no expectations of what I could do or what my time might be, or even if the hip would hold up. The entire race was one giant mystery. For the first time in a while, I felt grateful that I was able to simply show up and do my best.

During the 15 and a half hours I was out on the course, I was able to once again get back to my triathlon roots, the why behind the racing, the training. Throughout the day, I was reminded of the opportunity and blessings that come from showing up to a start line, from enduring the voices in my head, and racing with a happy and thankful heart.

My coach Brett had crashed on his bike the same day that I had my car accident, suffering from a shattered collarbone and elbow, so he couldn’t race Louisville. I raced in his honor, because he was so upset to miss the race. On the run course, one of my tri family friends, Andrea Peet, was out cheering racers from her position on her green trike—she was diagnosed with ALS last year before her first 70.3. My heart smiled when I saw her, and I was thankful. Race for Andrea. Race for Brett. Move forward, never give up. Be relentless.

Mo Triathlon Mo Problems? It doesn’t have to be that way. I think it happens to the best of us, at least once during our tri-ing adventures. We take ourselves too seriously. We get too wrapped up in winning and PR’s and power, that we forget why we love this sport in the first place. We lose perspective on why we race.

I had the best race of my life in Louisville—with no expectations, no hopes and no pressure. My finish time made me happy, but I was even more thrilled that I was in a state well enough to shower and go back out in real clothes to find pizza and beer post-race (instead of the medical tent!). I enjoyed (almost) every second of the day. I was thankful when I made it off of Highway 1694 unscathed. I was thankful to get off my bike after 112 miles. (So thankful that riding into T2, I shouted into the crowd: “Bike for sale! Who wants a pretty bike?”) I was thankful each time I saw Andrea. I was thankful when I saw my husband, teammates and friends cheering. I was full of happy that day, and it renewed not only my love for the sport, but also my spirit.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and blogs at SwimBikeMom.com.

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