Beginner’s Luck: The Secret Sauce for Triathlon Improvement

What’s a slow, back-of-the-pack, seriously time-constricted, triathlete to do in order to improve? What is the "Secret Sauce?"

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What’s a slow, back-of-the-pack, seriously time-constricted, triathlete to do in order to improve? What is the “Secret Sauce?”

Speaking of secret sauce, a long time ago when I used to eat McDonald’s like it was my job, I pulled up to the drive-thru about one minute before it was closing.

I ordered a Big Mac, and the lady on the other side of the intercom said, “We are closed.”

I was mad. I was fat mad, which is the worst kind of mad. Fat mad is when you need food—but in a manic way, like feeding a food addiction or binge. Not just hungry or hangry, but addiction-type need and want for food. I wanted a Big Mac, so Fat Mad.

I lost my temper about not getting my Big Mac into the intercom, and the lady was like, “Okay, fine. Drive around.”

So I get home with my bag of Big Mac and I open up the wrapper (I think this was before McDonald’s started using the boxes), and I took a giant Fat Mad bite of the sandwich. Something wasn’t right. I opened it up, and there was nothing on the sandwich but lettuce—and a ton of their “special sauce.” There was bread, lettuce and giant globs of Special Sauce.

Basically, there I was–Meredith Fat Mad on the receiving end of a special sauce sandwich. And one that I very much deserved. So, that was the closest I have ever been to finding that Secret Sauce. I was ashamed of my behavior and knew that I deserved that Special Sauce Sandwich.

But what I realized is that I had a lot of passion. I seriously wanted a Big Mac, and I was apparently willing to get mad and fight about that. While it was totally a wrongly-directed passion, it was passion, nonetheless. And it was inside of me.

Apparently, Fat Mad was the kind of “fire” I learned to channel when I started triathlon.

When I didn’t get my FOOD? Mad! Work harder to get said food!

When someone would tell me I had enough to drink? Mad! Drink more, I’ll show them.

Clearly, I had plenty of energy. I just wasn’t putting that energy into the right person (me), place (gym) or things (swim bike and run).

Putting Fat Mad (or whatever you’d like to call it) energy to work for good not “evil” really is the secret sauce to getting better in triathlon. Instead of harnessing the self-hate or sabotage via fast food addiction or booze, the same determination that we can used to unravel ourselves can quite easily be used to build ourselves.

When I started training for triathlon, I used some of my older, more destructive habits to try and bend myself in the right direction. I was a beer drinking champion—maybe I could be good at swimming if I worked as hard as I did at drinking beer? Maybe.

No matter what talent (or lack thereof) we have when we start triathlon, there is a little bit of Secret Special Sauce in all of us. We just have to learn to harness that sauce, change a few ingredients, and then go about spreading it in the right direction.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the new iTunes podcast, “The Same 24 Hours,” a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at

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