Beginner’s Luck: The Fear of The Unknown

Part of starting the sport of triathlon is being afraid—and pushing right through it.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

I frequently hear beginners say, “I am scared that _____.”

Fill in the blank with any range of things—from “I will fall on my bike,” or “I will be last on the run,” or “Someone will laugh at me.” When it comes to the off-season, I frequently hear, “I won’t be able to cut it in that gym,” or “Someone will think I am ridiculous,” or “I will do something dumb with the weights.”

I am here to normalize the fear of the things that we are “afraid of.”

At this point in time, we have real reasons to fear real things—I am here to say that the fears associated with our athletic feats should be quieted. I am here to say that not only should we push ourselves out of the comfort zone when it comes to working out, training, and racing—but we must.

Living life in the comfort zone has been a way of life for most adult-onset athletes—someone who hasn’t really found a sport until later in life. Here’s how it goes. Something comes along in life—often it’s the career, marriage, or parenting challenges—that allows us to question our current situation. Am I doing enough for myself? Am I up for the challenge that life is presenting me in these areas? And if not, maybe I should try something new. 

We declare that we will try something new—and then we begin the fear dialogue.

“I am scared that…”

You have nothing to be scared of. Truly. Of course, there are real dangers associated with swimming, cycling, and running. But ironically, often those are not the fears that are holding us back. We are afraid of what other people will think of us. We are afraid that we might not be good enough. We are afraid that someone will think we look weird. We are afraid that we won’t finish.

When asked what is really scary about a new sport—these are the things I see and hear. The real dangers are often normalized, and the fake dangers—like looking silly or being at the back of the pack—are dangers to us in different ways. Perhaps we have a past that isn’t exactly fond of being made to look dumb or silly. Perhaps we can’t stand the idea of finishing last again, and now as an adult.

You will finish your first triathlon. You will finish your first 5k. You will succeed in finishing whatever you set out to do—if you set aside the fears that are preventing you from moving forward.

Simply overcome the fear of forward motion. Embrace it, and ask yourself—what will happen if I do this thing? Instead of “What will happen if I fail?” ask “What other doors will this open?” and “What other big feats can I accomplish?”

These are the growth plates that must connect, must be overcome and challenged for opportunities to excel as adults in the world. The time to grow—not only in sport—but also in our lives is now. Now is the time to live.

These moments of rising above being embarrassed or caring what others think about us when we are running outside are huge moments that must be overcome. These are the fears that must be quieted because at the end of the day—they truly are holding us back.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, and writes at Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is available December 2019.  

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.