Beginner’s Luck: The Secret of Doing a First Triathlon

A small shift in mindset is the key to success in your first triathlon!

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A small shift in mindset is the key to success in your first triathlon!

“Oh, I could never do a triathlon,” the mother of three said to me in the checkout line of the grocery store, eyeballing my race T-shirt with the swim, bike, and run stick-figures prancing across it.

Second to the disbelieving question pointed at me (“YOU did a triathlon?), the short phrase, “I could never do a triathlon” is the most common phrase to cross my 38-year-old ears.

I am a triathlete, sure. But I look like an chubby, average mom of two with a job and bills and stress. I am a size 10 on a good day, a size 12 on the average day, and a solid 14 during the holidays. There’s nothing overly athletic or capable or special about me, and I certainly don’t look like someone who is a triathlete. But I am like a frenzied duck on the surface of the water—what is underneath is not always easy to see, and is even easier to underestimate.

If your heart desires to do a triathlon, then yes you absolutely can. I am here backing that statement with the traditional, “If I can, anyone can” type of mentality. Not because it’s condescending or trite, but simply because it’s 100% true.

When I decided to tackle the sport of triathlon, I had two children under the age of two, worked full-time as an attorney, commuted 12 hours a week, and on and on. (Did I mention that I weighed about 250 pounds?) I also did not know how to swim or bike or run.

Little by little, I kept working and I did, in fact, become a bona fide triathlete. I did my first short distance (“sprint” triathlon with very little skill, even less speed, but a whole lot of heart. When I finished, I was exhilarated—there was nothing like it!

So I say—truly, if I can become a triathlete, so can you.

During this process of becoming a first-time triathlete, many have asked me: How do I get started? How do I get over the fear? What if I fall? What if I fail?

There is one secret becoming that “triathlete” version of yourself and owning it. The transition comes from changing the words you say out loud and the words you speak inside your head.

When you embark on this journey try this: instead of saying “I am going to do a triathlon” change your words to “I am going to become a triathlete.”

I made this small shift from the get-go in my journey and I believe it made a huge difference.

Instead of setting a goal to complete an event, I made the mental stride to change my persona—to become a triathlete—not just do a triathlon. To become like those athletes who trained often, made their health a priority, and set goals like maniacs. I wanted to be a part of that group of individuals—not just in comradery, but in soul and being—I wanted to change.

While being a triathlete is not my whole life, I will say that making that change of identity has led to many amazing things—like continuing to be a triathlete—even when I may not race much. I am a triathlete. I am an athlete. I will always be an athlete—and it all started because I believed.

If I can do it, so can you—just keep moving forward.

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

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