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Beginner’s Luck: Let’s Talk About Fear

A thing that is terrifying now, need not be terrifying forever.

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Overcoming the fear that comes with triathlon is a powerful tool.

I struggle with fear and I am also a worrywart. Worry is rooted in fear. We worry because we are afraid. Afraid of making the wrong choices. Afraid of the other shoe, doing all of its characteristic dropping. Afraid of the unknown.

Fear doesn’t mean I am lazy. Fear means that I am human. By nature, I am not comfortable with pushing beyond these outlined, in-my-mind acceptable limits. When the limits are pushed, my internal alarms go off, and I think, “I quit.”

“How do I know if this is the right decision?” I say to myself, “Retreat! Retreat! Abort! Abort!”

Fear of the unknown has always a part of my tapestry—until I found triathlon—which is strange to say, I suppose, because triathlon can be super scary. Let me explain.

Triathlon provided this amazing way to push outside the limits, to dream outside of what was standard and possible for me. It also felt very “low risk”—after all, I wasn’t gambling our family’s money, my kids’ future or other big life decisions that had “real” consequences. Perspective told me that triathlon was not life—it was a way to make life better, to make me better. (Of course, triathlon is a sport and safety is a concern. I don’t mean to say it’s “no risk”—but you understand what I mean. In the grand scheme of life, it usually is low risk.)

Triathlon allowed me to go blindly into the unknown (race day), scary workouts (training) and hope for the best–packaged in a little neat box with no guarantees. Triathlon required that I confront fear in the face, and come out on the other side alive, with a medal, and a banana.

For example, triathlon has taught me to overcome the fear of:

  • Freezing cold water in a wetsuit. I started with a serious open water swim panic in 2011 with my first lake swim. I kept going, I showed up over and over again. And I finished Ironman Coeur d’Alene’s 2.4 mile swim in freezing water in 2013. Go here to read more on open water tips and tricks.
  • Riding a monstrous half-mile climb near my house—over 20 times in a row for repeats. When in 2012, I couldn’t get up it one single time, or ride without falling over when I started out.
  • Running in public in tight clothing where people can see me. Over dozens and dozens of triathlons later, I don’t care about the jiggle-wiggles and tight clothing—the “fear” of being seen is non-existent.

A thing that is terrifying now, need not be terrifying forever.

In fact, it need not be terrifying in three months, six months or a year. But what I know to be true is this: If we don’t show up, if we allow ourselves to make fear a real voice in our heads—we will never reach our potential. We will never overcome and succeed.

When I went out for my first open-water swim and panicked, I got back on the horse the next weekend, and raced my first Olympic distance race a few weeks later.

When I fell on my bike (the hundreds of times I have), I threw temper tantrums and declared I was quitting—but my actions said, “I am not giving up. I am afraid, but I am getting through this,” because I got back on the bike—over and over again, until I was doing Ironman races.

Fear is natural. Fear is real. But fear is also something that we can (and must) overcome—but we can’t do it if we never show up, push through and look those fears in the eyes. Don’t tell yourself you can’t. Don’t let others “support” you with words of “encouragement” to quit. Hold your line, face your fears, and be the badass you are.

P.S. You got this. Keep showing up.

More “Beginner’s Luck”

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