Beginner’s Luck: Triathlon Guilt

There's something scary about letting your identity get too wrapped up in the sport.

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There’s something scary about letting your identity get too wrapped up in the sport.

I ran into a friend of mine at the gym yesterday. He’s a seven- or eight-year in a row Ironman triathlete, and he’s officially “doing nothing” this year—“except maybe one 70.3,” he said.  Doing nothing? Except a 70.3? What language are we speaking here?

Guilt. Triathlon guilt, that’s what. The language of guilt that comes with dialing back the triathlon season is one I know all too well. Why do we believe that once we enter the sport of triathlon we sign a blood pact that we can never change? Furthermore, what is with this language of “not doing anything except a 70.3?”

When I started training for triathlon, I could not fathom the joy, glory, and fear that a 70.3 distance triathlon would take. I worked so hard for that first 70.3. I worked so hard for that first Ironman. Then I lost perspective on just how far and how hard all distances of triathlon can be. The longer distances we learn to race though, the more we totally lose perspective of how far triathlons are (even the shorts ones!) to travel by swim, wheels, and feet. This is hard stuff, people! I burned out after a stress fracture took me out during my peak fitness and training and motivation. I just fizzled and melted.

Turns out, I needed to fizzle. I was burned out without even recognizing it. I can see that now. Look, you can be a triathlete—you can take that on as a persona and do well. You can race season after season into old age. Although those individuals who make a lifelong sport of triathlon usually maintain excellent perspective, life, and training zen, and have a good support system. It’s important to remember that a “triathlete” is also a “person” who may also be a spouse, parent, daughter, son, sister, brother, friend, employee.

Let triathlon be a hat you wear—not the body that is under the hat.

Take it from an ex-weightlifter who went into barbell hiding for two decades, you can step away completely and decide to try again—at a later date. We put crazy pressure on ourselves to always be on our “A” game, to race “hard”, and to PR all the time. That leads to incredible disappointment, expectations, and overall sense of “failure.”  No one can be at top performance caliber all the time—even the pros have down seasons and periods where they recover, recuperate, and get their minds straight.

The truth of the matter is that we often don’t want to take breaks or step away for a season. Why? Well, we might be scared to lose the fitness we have worked so hard to build. We will miss our training buddies. And well, we just love to swim and bike and run. So get this—no one says you must step away from swim, bike, and run. But if you find that you are using really weird language, feeling the drain and the pressure of a stressed season and you just want to binge-watch Netflix—who says you can’t take a break from the self-imposed race season pressure? Go volunteer for a race, cheer your friends and enjoy training lightly for a season. Race a shorter distance, and race hard—be home before lunch and then take a nap.

Allow the triathlon guilt to wash away. You can always go back home at a later date. I’m banking on that one.

More “Beginner’s Luck”

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. 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. You can download a free triathlon race day checklist here. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at She has two books coming out in 2019.

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