Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Beginner’s Luck: Triathlon as Preparation for Life’s Uncertainty

Meredith Atwood shares a personal story about how swim, bike, and run have helped her to learn to embrace the unknowns of life.

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

Our family made a huge decision to move out of Georgia just a few short months ago. We ventured to the Midwest and decided to put down some roots in Overland Park, Kansas—which at the time of the move, I would have called a suburb of Kansas City (but then I learned from the locals—don’t call Overland Park a suburb of KC. Okay, got it.)

Within a few short weeks of arriving in Kansas, we faced a tremendously difficult decision.

We knew we had to leave again.

My husband took off for Massachusetts for a new position—within three weeks of us arriving in Kansas. On Feb. 2, I woke up as a single-ish mom, in a new state, with a total of four rent and mortgage payments to make (don’t ask) and I thought: ‘There’s no place like home… where is home?’

On Feb. 6—a mere four days after he drove to Massachusetts—my husband totaled his car in a snowstorm (through no fault of his own). He ended up being thrown into a FedEx truck on the highway—and he was lucky to be alive. We can leave it at that.

I’ll be honest. On Feb. 7—as I sat in Kansas in our own snow storm—and I couldn’t get to my husband in the ER in Worchester, Mass. because of his snow storm—I have never felt more helpless. Moving over Christmas was hard. Taking the risk to move (again) felt stupid.

We had literally no certainty.

But as I sit (now) in a house full of boxes prepared to move across the country for the second time in six months, with a moving company failing to give us an actual move date out of here, with even more uncertainty and drama in other areas than I thought possible… I have been able to distill this experience down to one of the futile fight for certainty.

We think we have certainty when things are calm; when we are in control.

We think we are in control of things: our household, kids, family, job and task list.

We believe we are in control of our fitness, our bodies—and then we step off a curb in an awkward way, and break an ankle.

The truth of the matter: there is no such thing as certainty. Not in life, not in triathlon.

I learned this over the last almost-decade in swim, bike, and run.

I started this sport because I thought certainty was what I craved. But honestly, at the time I began to tri—I was living my life as a deadbeat pillar of certainty. I was drinking myself stupid. I was eating myself into multiple food comas each week. I was replaying the same story about my job, my marriage, and my self-worth.

That was certainty. I was living each day with the same terrible outcome, hoping that I would get more certainty. But with my bad habits, bad attitude, and propensity for self-destruction, I was creating certainty. I was certain that I would never change, never improve, and never find happiness. I was creating certainty for myself—through destruction.

What I eventually learned is that growth happens in those moments (hours and years) of uncertainty. When we don’t know the next move. When we have no idea how the race will go because we are injured or under-trained. When we wake up early and feel terrible: How will I ever get this workout done? Uncertainty.

Those days when the rain is pouring—literally and figuratively—and we think, ‘I can’t do triathlon. I can’t train. I can’t even get out of bed. What will happen if I fail? What will happen if I can’t finish this workout?’

Those moments of complete uncertainty in the outcome? Those are the days we grow. Those are the days when the swim pulls out the pain, and the turning of the legs on the bike heals us and gives us newfound strength. Those are the days when the endless miles of blacktop pavement for our run brings clarity; when pushing harder in the weight room proves our power. When the weather for the race looks dismal—and yet, this is our day—this is what we trained for.

In Kansas, I found a new path to change and to healing some of the biggest wounds of my past. I could not have expected a place to give me such wonderful renewal, purpose, and strength. But in this great “mistake” of our year, I found myself humbled, schooled, and pushed to a next level—by necessity. Grow or die, right?

My challenge for you, as we begin the move across the country again this coming week, is to embrace the glorious uncertainty of your life. Open your eyes to the possibilities and the pain. Lean into it, ask yourself: What am I meant to learn here? How am I meant to grow? How can this change me for the better?

In asking those small questions, sometimes the most beautiful possibilities of the uncertainty are revealed.


Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the new best-seller, Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.” She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith is currently en route to Massachusetts with her husband and two tweens and writes about all things at Her next book, “The Year of No Nonsense,” is available December 2019.