September 19 2018
Each run is another small step in the journey to our greatest self.
When I started in the sport of triathlon, I had no idea what an “Ironman” actually was. I really hadn’t though much about a marathon either. After all, I had never run farther than to a Dairy Queen.
Needless to say, after eight years in the sport and four of those mystical races later, I realized there was something to those big goals, those huge events—the marathon, the half marathon, the Ironman, the long-swim events, the century bike events, the ultramarathon.
I wrote a blog post several eons ago titled, “Why Everyone Should Do an Ironman.” I laughed so hard after I posted it, because it proved my theory that people will read the title of a post and then start to comment before they ever bother reading the actual article.
The point of my writing was not that everyone should actually do the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run race—which is what an “Ironman” is.
Instead, everyone should pick an incredibly scary goal—arguably their own personal, proverbial “Ironman” or ultramarathon—and put it on their list of something to accomplish.
At some point, they should go after this big, scary and crazy goal. For some, this may be a 5K or a one-and-done sprint triathlon. For others, it may literally be an Ironman or the Boston Marathon—arguably the top race in the running world. The gamut is wide and large. The choice is also wildly personal and intense.
At the end of the day, we do these events—running or triathlon or adventure racing—for a reason. There is something deep in ourselves, in our soul, that is calling us to step out of our comfort zones and reach: reach further and deeper than we really believe is possible, and go for the impossible. Many times we can look around us and begin to compare ourselves to others. (That will mess with your head, by the way, if you haven’t figured that out already.) Asking ourselves the “why” behind our own personal racing and goals is a major part of the journey.
The reason I run or tri now is shockingly different from the reasons I started moving my body.
When I began, I was a new-ish mom with a job and lots of responsibilities, and I needed desperately to carve out a tiny sliver of the world that belonged to me. A small place that wasn’t covered in baby slobber or hidden somewhere in a brown redwell legal folder, amidst the 0.2 billable hour. I just needed some peace and quiet; some sweat and tears that weren’t from postpartum depression or credit card debt used to fund the nanny that we couldn’t afford so I could continue to do the legal job I loathed. I’ll say it—I just needed something, and part of that something was getting away from reality.
I found triathlon and it was “my Ironman”—long before I even knew what the long-distance race even was. The dream of doing a 400-meter swim, a 10-mile bike and a 5K might as well have been the bright shining beacon of Ali’i Drive in Kona, Hawaii at the World Championships—it was my Kona.
Doing something for me, via the sport of triathlon, was a radical act at the time—it was my Ironman World Championship.
Taking the time to swim, bike and run with a full-time job and two children under the age of two was apparently really shocking to some people. But in reality, we do not, at any time, need to explain to anyone our personal reasons for why we tri. Our lives are our own, and we can do what we want, choose what we do and live with our choices.
Still, whenever I do a speaking engagement, or someone asks me to write an article, inevitably there is a question, at every event or about every article: “As a mom, wife and employee, how do you balance it all?” My answer is usually the same, and it’s quite simple: You can’t balance it all. There is no such thing as balance in life, and there is no such thing as “having it all.” Life is a series of choices and decisions, and at any given time you have to decide what is important—sometimes it’s an hour-by-hour decision—and you go with that. You list your priorities and then you move them constantly, like a game of Jenga, just trying to keep everything from crumbling. Sometimes, the crumble happens. Then you get out your little cardboard box and stacker, and you begin to pick up the pieces. You’ll never get everything right at any given time. You’ll never be one thousand-percent happy. You’ll never make everyone happy.
But in the midst of all those things, I say this: Everyone should do their “Ironman.” Everyone should do their “marathon.”
We should indeed pick a scary goal, find out what we are made of and work towards it—whatever goal that turns out to be. Life is a beating if we don’t find a space for ourselves—something that means more than just living.
Taking stock of my own strengths, weaknesses, bravery, blessings, faults and life is one thing that I have never regretted doing through the racing journey.
Over the years, I have repeatedly found my own personal marathons not from racing actual events—but sometimes these goals are met from the boredom, the day-to-day repetition: by showing up for the small, simple workouts after a night of no sleep with sick kids and a looming work deadline; getting on treadmill when I have a pounding headache and laundry that should have been done a week ago; and showing the kids what it means to be healthy and to make my own health a priority. To know that I should never be forced to apologize for that.
In the end, I have found my strengths and my power in doing the little things that seem impossible, and then stacking those “little impossibles” together to make bigger goals and my finish lines possible.
Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a weekly contributor to Women’s Running. She is a four-time IRONMAN triathlete, recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is also the host of the hit podcast The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Read more at SwimBikeMom.com.