Beginner’s Luck: The Power of Our Tribe

"Anyone who has completed a race knows that the community is so much stronger than any one of us individually."

One of the most powerful tricks of the beginner triathlete trade is this: find an accountability partner or group, and cling to them with all of your might—until they scream “Uncle” if need be. Which is weird, right? Because triathlon is a “solo” sport.

The “problem” is that triathlon is a community and like Fight Club, once you’re in… well, you’re in it. Might as well embrace the family. If you don’t have friends in this community, it’s totally your own fault—for real. You can always find a supportive triathlete. (You can also find not so nice ones too—on Twitter, usually.) Support is everywhere—we just have to open our eyes and hearts to it.

Triathletes are typically made to encourage and support each other—as well as twist arms and push FOMO (fear of missing out) to the outer limits when it comes to race registration time. Even if you are completely new, seemingly out-of-shape, and without a single athletic bone in your body? Yes, especially if you are one in this group.

Is it hard to ask for “help”? Sure, sometimes it is. But I have found that regret and fear of not pushing forward with hopes and dreams are way worse. Truly—not to sound trite at all. The regret of not showing up to life? That’s brutal.

But, yes, I get it. I have been there. I have been scared of things that really won’t harm me—the things people think of me, me looking silly or stupid, Spandex (in general), and goggles. All of these things can be scary, especially diving into a sport where you may (or may not) be super skillful from a starting point.

Finding a point of accountability makes it all so much better. Aside from the obvious groups like a triathlon club, swim masters group, or coach, I have found awesome encouragement on the interwebs and social media, online forums and Facebook groups. Accountability can range from strong (a coach) to someone to meet at the pool—to make sure you show up.

One of the most recurring questions from beginners is whether to hire a coach or not. Many times we think, “I am so new and ‘so terrible’ at this, how could I hire a coach?” As I wrote before, that answer really boils down to your personality type. A coach isn’t magic; a coach is someone who helps bring out your magic. There is no magic bullet of accountability, but rather the gift of finding what works best for you is the key. Coach or no coach, I implore you to plug into a tribe—whether in real life (tri club, masters swimming group, gym classes) or online (Facebook groups, training groups).

At a minimum, see if you can find a triathlon buddy (e.g., open your eyes at the gym, or local races) to help you along the way, hold you accountable, and answer the questions you feel you can’t ask in public (you can ask, by the way—there are no stupid questions!). Finding a triathlon friend who has “been there” helps you in many ways. You will have a voice of reason you can trust when you feel crazy or have questions about simple things. People in this community, for the most part, are very nice and willing to help a newbie.

Triathlon is a solo sport, it’s true. But anyone who has completed a race knows that the community is so much stronger than any one of us individually. It’s in the togetherness that we individually shine.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker, coach, 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 17, 2019.