Beginner’s Luck: Tell Fear to Take a Hike

Being a beginner triathlete requires the strength to overcome the fear that comes with so many aspects of the sport.

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Being a beginner triathlete requires the strength to overcome the fear that comes with so many aspects of the sport. 

One of the biggest things that can hold us back from starting triathlon is pure and simple fear. Fear of the open water. Fear of the wetsuit. Fear of the bike, the climbs, the down hills, the transitions, the Spandex. Oh my!

Of course, there are many potential things to fear about the big, scary triathlon dragon! But it’s important to remember that fear is a dirty, rotten liar—and we must learn to overcome it in order to move forward with our dreams.

Over the course of my life I have had many terrifying experiences, but I swear to you that all of those combined paled in comparison to my first open-water swim in April of 2011.  (Okay, don’t quit reading now—there is hope. I won’t just deliver scary news and run away.)

Suffice it to say—that after my first time at the lake, I finally understood why drowning people take down others in the process of drowning. When I was in that 60-degree water for the first time, feeling like I was being suffocated by my own wetsuit, I thought I would take down my coach and my husband to get out of the water.

Each time I would begin to swim, I would start off okay, but then five strokes later, I would sit up, sputtering and gasping and melting down from the fear. I was wheezing profusely. Face back in the water, swim a few strokes, feel like I was being buried alive, then pop up again, panic and cry.

Eventually, we all made it back to the shore. Once I had my feet back on the sand, I was dizzy. I was deflated. I was scared. But I was mostly sad.

But two weeks later, I finished my first Olympic-distance race. And with an ocean swim to boot! So what changed? How did I go from a complete panic attack in the water that day to finishing an Oly distance race and alive?

Well, it was all about my mindset. I told fear to take a hike. I recovered from that disastrous swim and I tried again. I went back to the lake the next weekend. I looked the monster in the face and I won. I used my positive energy and thoughts to control my fear.

Was it easy? No, but it was all about the words I told myself, the positive vibes and house I made for myself. I told myself over and over again that next week: I am a strong, confident swimmer. I am going to swim well and comfortably. I am capable and strong.

And truly, I repeated those words all week long. I am a strong, confident swimmer. I am going to swim well and comfortably. I am capable and strong.

The next weekend at the lake went much, much differently. I realized that I could swim and I would be okay. The more I believed it, the more I proved it and I was off to the races.

As a beginner triathlete or someone who is interested in tri-ing, sometimes the biggest FEAR is just starting. First, you often don’t know how or where to start. You don’t know what to do for workouts, where to go, who to call. It’s an exercise in complete flailing usually—and believe me, I know all about flailing. So to overcome the FEAR of starting out on your triathlon journey for the first time OR for training for that first big race, you must remember FOUR important rules:

1. Believe wholeheartedly in yourself
2. Cling to those people who believe in you (ignore those who don’t!)
3. Recognize when you should stop
4. Know when you should keep going

In my first open-water swim scenario, I believed in myself. Believing in myself was what got me into the water in the first place. Well, believed in myself until I started freaking out. But then I had my coach and my husband to help me. This is where community, friends, tri friends, and coaches are really important. We need those people in our lives to say “you can do it” and make us re-believe.

Next, I could have stopped that day, but I didn’t. I did not let the fear win. I did not let fear defeat me—I knew when to keep going.

Now, I’m not telling you about my first swim to scare you. Rather, I want to give you hope that no matter how dark or scary a place you might find yourself—you can rise up, and you can keep going. And you should keep going.

That is the precisely the key to facing fears in triathlon: knowing when to keep going.

Don’t give up just because the training is difficult. Don’t let fear win just because you find yourself uncomfortable. Dig down deep inside and find your dragon-slayer—and kill that fear dragon. And you’ll find yourself at the finish line before you know it.

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 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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