Triathlon for the Every Woman

You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.


By Meredith Atwood

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You Are a Badass for aspiring triathletes: a practical and inspiring guide to getting off the couch and on the trail to race your first — or 50th — triathlon

When Meredith Atwood first shared her journey from tired, overworked wife and mom to successful triathlete, her story resonated with women everywhere, online at her SwimBikeMom blog and in the first edition of Triathlon for the Every Woman. Now with her own IRONMAN finishes, experience, and triathlon coaching expertise, Meredith is back with even more wisdom. In this fully revised edition, Atwood not only shares how she went from the couch to an IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon in just over a year, but also shares the latest expertise from coaches, nutritionists, and athletes on each component of the triathlon: swimming, biking, and running. With compact training plans, the most current nutrition advice, updated resources, and the latest information on long-distance racing, this new edition has all you need to make your triathlon goals a reality.



EVERYTHING STARTS WITH A DECISION; PAGE 1 OF THIS BOOK IS no different—it’s precisely where we join Meredith Atwood: with her Decision to become a triathlete. As Meredith shares her own real and heartfelt journey, going from the couch (and long hours at her law firm and new-momhood!) to triathlete, it’s clear that her motive for sharing her story is to convince you that you can do it, too! This book is like talking to a friend who wants to share this really cool thing with you… and she isn’t going to take no for an answer!

Nothing is sugar coated: the journey will be hard. There will be days when the self-doubt creeps in. There will be days when you can’t do everything in your life—and half of it not even well—but you’re reassured of two things: you can do hard stuff and it will be worth it. Gently your mind-set shifts from “I can’t” to “I can and I will.”

For the newbie triathlete, this book is a must-read! Triathlon for the Every Woman condenses what usually amounts to years of trial and error and hundreds of conversations with friends, acquaintances, coaches, and experts into one book. When I read it, I, too, was reminded of so many “aha!” moments I have had in the sport. (If only I read the chapter about protecting the Queen in year one of my triathlon-ing, I could have saved myself a lot of discomfort!)

Meredith has rallied her years of experience in the sport, as both a beginner, an athlete, and a coach, and along with friends and experts, shares this knowledge in manageable, relatable, and simple ways. The book is full of answers to the questions you don’t want to ask—and addresses the things you haven’t even thought about. Even seasoned triathletes will take something away from the training advice: who doesn’t need a nudge to take recovery seriously or be reminded of the importance of cleaning your bike!

The real magic of Triathlon for the Every Woman is how Meredith’s experiences resonate with “the every” woman’s experiences and struggles—both in life and in triathlon. You will chuckle companionably with her and at other times cry, “YES!”

Whoever you are and wherever you are in your triathlon journey, there is so much you can take from this book. Her message is simple: just keep moving forward. I believe in that wholeheartedly, too.

Rachel Joyce

Professional triathlete,

IRONMAN champion, Mom

RACHEL JOYCE is a mom and an attorney turned professional triathlete. She is a five-time IRONMAN champion and two-time 70.3 champion and has finished runner-up twice at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 2017, Rachel returned to racing, having taken 2016 off to have her son, and went on to win two IRONMAN races less than a year after giving birth and in doing so qualified for the IRONMAN World Championships for the eighth time. Outside of training and racing, Rachel is a passionate advocate for equality and increasing participation in sport by women, as well as a coach.


IN THE HAZY MORNING OF AUGUST 2010, I WOKE UP AND DECIDED that I would become a triathlete.

My Decision was not particularly interesting, aside from the fact that I was superfat. And slow. And tired. And angry.

And of the three of the sports that make up triathlon (swimming, biking, and running), I had never done any real swimming, biking, or running. Well, I would sometimes run to Dairy Queen for a fantastically large treat with ice cream and M&Ms and… never mind. Okay, I would “run” to Dairy Queen. Pffft.

To add insult to injury, I was busy. Really busy. A mom of two kids under two years of age. Married. I worked full-time as a lawyer. I commuted twelve hours a week. But I was most busy being tired, fat, isolated, and angry.

In light of the stuff I had going on in my life, my Decision to become a triathlete felt insane. Where would I actually find the time? Even worse, the Decision was riddled with all sorts of odds against me, self-doubt, and sizing concerns. For years, I sat and wreaked havoc on myself by eating crap and drinking more crap. But with my Decision, I decided that I would not continue to destroy myself.

Did I have all the answers once I made my Decision? Not even close. But it was the beginning of a miraculous journey.

Little by little, I started moving forward. I walked. I ran. I cycled. I cried. I wore a bathing suit (horror upon all holy horrors!). I set goals. I chiseled away at workouts. I did some small races. I met people who believed in me. I met people who did not believe in me. But I started believing in myself, and I kept going.

And one year later, after kicking my own butt, I crossed the finish line at a half Ironman triathlon. IRONMAN 70.3 Miami was a race made up of 1.2 miles of swimming, followed by 56 miles of cycling, and topped off with a half marathon run of 13.1 miles. A total of 70.3 miles by water, two wheels, and foot. The race took me over seven hours to complete. I crossed the finish line wearing a size 10 running shoe and an XXL triathlon suit. I was probably the biggest girl within a 10-mile radius that day, but I was also huge in heart.

Since my Decision, I have finished dozens and dozens of triathlons and running races. The biggest crazy feat, however, came two years after IRONMAN 70.3 Miami, when I finished my first full IRONMAN in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho—a race consisting of 140.6 miles of insanity: 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling, topped off with a full marathon of 26.2 miles. I have since completed three more of these crazy races in Lake Placid, Louisville, and Wilmington, and a stand-alone marathon at Marine Corps Marathon as a wheelchair pusher with the Kyle Pease Foundation. Even stranger is that I keep racing and trying new aspects of swim, bike, and run—and beyond.

So. How in the world does someone like me go from a serious couch dweller to a bona fide triathlete—while juggling a life, a job, and a family?

This book is about showing you exactly how to do it. I will give you all the tools you need (and more than you may want!) to get to the finish line of your first (or perhaps, next) triathlon. I will share tons of information about swimming, biking, running, nutrition, mental strength, gear, and race day preparation. Not only that, but I’ve included some tips and humor about how to balance it all (life, kids, relationships) while keeping yourself happy and sane. If you are teetering on the triathlon edge—not knowing whether you really want to even give tri a try—I swear, this book will push you right on over!

This book is for the “Every Woman,” which, yes, I realize is totally bad grammatically.

However, that’s what makes the title funny—because who is anyone to define what “every” woman needs? We are all different, with different needs, bodies, and goals.

So, who is the Every Woman?

Well. She is me. She is you. She is young, middle-aged, old, tall, short, curvy, thin, average, single, married, partnered, divorced, widowed, with or without kids, with or without job, with or without animals, with or without money, with or without sanity.

I am the Every Woman who is overworked, overtired, and potentially underappreciated at any given moment. I am (still) chunky, covered in stretch marks, and hoarding a closet full of fancy jeans that I can’t pull up past my thighs. I am the Every Woman who happens to also have a spouse, kids, bills, and laundry coming out of her ears. I am the Every Woman trying to be everything to everyone all the freaking time. I am trying to keep all the plates spinning without losing my ever-loving mind.

And really, I am pretty sure I have just described most every woman I know. Well, I’m sure some readers aren’t chunky or don’t have stretch marks. (You dirty wenches.)

With so much going on, how in the heck does triathlon fit into your life? It does. I promise. I have experienced triathlon as a tired Every Woman, not as a superfit, well-rested, hottie mom. Not only that, but triathlon has made me unbelievably peaceful, happy, and (semi)sane. I have not stopped life or taken time off from working or hustling or the daily grind to make triathlon part of my reality. I also did not take time off to write this book. I just squeezed it in with the rest of the chaos. (I’m sure you’ll find thousands of typos, but I was probably helping with homework at some point and forgot where I was.)

I wrote this book for two reasons.

First, no matter who you are or where you are in life, I believe you can experience the joy of becoming a triathlete. However, it’s tough to know where to start. When I jumped into triathlon, I quickly realized that not a single resource available spoke to someone like me (the soon-to-be-locked-up-in-the-loony-bin Every Woman). No book or magazine could be purchased that told a real story of an Every Woman’s journey from a stressed Mommy Dearest to a grounded Zen-master triathlete. (Unfortunately, I am not a grounded Zen-master, so we are still looking for that book). But I have lived the Every Woman experience of debt, struggles (and continuing struggles) with food and weight, addiction, stress, marriage, kids, terrible bosses, and an unfulfilling career—which I combined with a less-than-graceful swan dive into triathlon. So, I wrote the book I wish I had found years ago.

Second, so many people in my life have given me hope and inspiration while standing behind me, foot up my rear end, screaming, “Yes you can!” as loud and as long as I could tolerate. I owe these individuals so much. I owe them a thank-you, yes. But I owe them the duty of paying it forward, of sharing their life-changing core messages in the context of how they changed me. I have received e-mails and notes from the past few years, stating this book has been the jumping-off point for so many baby triathletes.

In summary, no matter how tired, chubby, lazy, or indifferent you may be right in this moment, today is a new day, full of new opportunities. Things can be better for you. And I think the sport of triathlon is one path to better.

Your road to becoming a triathlete starts out with a basic Decision.

It’s simple. You just decide to become a triathlete. Sounds stupid? Sounds embarrassing? Sounds impossible? Perfect. You are right where you need to be. But it truly is simple:

You can float/doggie paddle/swim.

You can ride a tricycle/bicycle/tandem/hand-cycle.

You can walk/jog/run/wheel.

You can do all three back-to-back in a little race called a triathlon.

Even if you can’t do any of it right now.

Even if you have disabilities and hurdles and major obstacles to overcome.

You can do this.

You will do this.

And that’s all you need to decide. Make the Decision that you will.

You will move forward.

You will create your goals, and you will achieve.

Slowly but surely, you will do it.

Trust the process. Create your goals. Believe. And you will. Now, let’s get started.


MAKING A DECISION TO CHANGE IS ALWAYS THE FIRST STEP TO actually changing. As such, the first step in my long list of brilliant advice about becoming a triathlete is to:

Decide to Become a Triathlete.

(No matter how you look on the outside.

No matter how badly you hurt on the inside.)

First, you might want to know more about triathlon in order to make an informed decision about whether you want to join the sporty cult of spandex-covered weirdos. You might have a few questions before you put on a hideous wetsuit and jump into a cold lake on a Sunday morning with a bunch of neoprene-clad freakazoids. You might want to know exactly how difficult those early-morning wake-up calls actually are—especially on days that feel more suitable for brunch than bloody foot blisters.

Alas, I am telling you too much already! I should not scare you away at this early juncture!

So, I am asking that you trust me. Trust me and believe that triathlon is something you need in your life, much like a washing machine. However, triathlon is also something that you want in your life. Like a partner who actually knows how to use the washing machine.


I was tired of life as it was. I was tired of me. I also considered a certain someone’s comments about my ability to do a triathlon. This person looked me dead in the eyes and nonchalantly said:

“You could do a triathlon right now, if you really wanted to.”

So, in August 2010, I made a simple, one-sentence Decision: I have decided to become a triathlete.

Notice that I did not say: I have decided to do a triathlon. Deciding to become a triathlete is different than completing a triathlon.

Deciding to do a triathlon is making a goal to complete a single event, to succeed in a solitary moment. You cross the finish line and you are done, and you can head for the Waffle House to celebrate.

Deciding to become a triathlete is a new game entirely. My Decision to become a triathlete indicated several things:

1. I intended to do more than just one triathlon.

2. I would identify myself with a group of people who were serious athletes.

3. I would learn about triathlon, including rules and safety, and the proper way to compete in a race.

4. I would become someone very strange to the outside, nontriathlon “real” world.

5. I would become someone NEW. I would change.

So, I decided exactly this. Then, I wrote it on the very first post of a blog: I have decided to become a triathlete. Then, I held my breath. And I felt a little sick at first. But interestingly, once I made that incredibly crazy, yet simple Decision—things began to change.

The Fat Stranger

During this time of my life, each day was freaking Groundhog Day: wake up, get ready for work, tend to two babies, and talk to (or argue with) the spouse. Each day, I would walk to the bathroom and look in the mirror. And every single day, there she was.

The Fat Stranger.

Who was this woman staring back at me? I had kinda gotten to know the Fat Stranger over the recent years. I would sometimes look in the mirror and ask the Fat Stranger questions like How did this happen to you? Sometimes, I would ask, How did you let yourself get like this? The Fat Stranger would just stare back, blankly, with absolutely no answers. She was a snobby bitch, that Fat Stranger.

I did not like her.

I did not appreciate the Fat Stranger’s post-baby boobs or the jiggly butt that looked like it had been hit with Ping-Pong balls. I could find no beauty in the bags under the bloodshot green eyes. I saw no love in the flappy, bat-winged arms. I especially did not like the Fat Stranger’s droopy belly. That belly, a saggy-skin house that had cultivated two babies, fourteen months apart. Didn’t matter that she had actually grown people inside of her… I did not like any part of her.

The Fat Stranger was not a bad person. She was just someone I did not want to know (or see).

Then, I hated that I hated her. I wanted to love the Fat Stranger. I wanted to find self-love and accept her. I wanted to say, It’s okay that you feel like a shell of the person and athlete that you once were. I wanted to hug her and say, You’ll be okay. Things will get better. But the truth was, I didn’t know whether that was true. I didn’t like who she had become—inside or out.

So, instead of figuring out how to love her, I just hated her.

At the time of my Decision, I knew absolutely nothing about triathlon. I had no idea about swimming and biking and running. I was pretty sure that triathlon meant doing all three of those things in a row, but I was not sure in which order or how far.

I was very tender to the fact that I was completely out of shape, teetering on depressed and repulsive in my own eyes. Even when I told my parents about the blog and my Decision, they gave me a three-seconds-too-long pause before saying, “That’s great, honey!” Their “that’s great” did not have enough oomph behind it, and the pause? Well, it hurt. I looked for negativity from every place. When you look for it, you find it—it’s everywhere. I was overly sensitive. I knew that. But I also hurt—everywhere. My insides (and my knees) literally hurt from so many different angles.

But I had decided.

Something had to change.

And for once, I was going to stand by my Decision.

The Decision: The Turning Point

If you are anything like I was a few year ago, then you feel stressed, exhausted, and may have your own Fat Stranger staring you in the face. Or maybe she’s a Sad Stranger. Or a Mad Mom. Doesn’t matter who. But you may be staring back at someone you just don’t like. I understand that.

When I started triathlon, I could border on saying I hated myself. That’s gotten better over the years, but I still want to share these sentiments. And while reading about someone not liking herself can be a drag, I want to share the lows. I want to share the crazy inside my head, because I know that I am not alone—and I want you to know that, too (not that I am not alone. That you are not alone). I think it’s important to speak the struggle, the self-loathing, the addictions and the issues that plague us… because so often that is very well our starting point. I thought I was alone; I was not. You might feel alone; you are not.

Adding another “thing” to your life may seem impossible. And piling on a preposterous statement like “I will become a triathlete” to the hectic mix may feel irresponsible and comical. (Lord knows, as women we cannot be irresponsible!)

Yes, the words are scary. The execution might be even scarier. But I am also convinced that those few words were the turning point of my life. Maybe I should repeat that. Those few words were the turning point of my life.

The. Turning. Point. Of. My. Life.

Becoming a triathlete required an epic shift in me, and the shift wasn’t easy. And only a few months into training, I realized that I wanted many more things—not just in triathlon—but also in my life.

Becoming a triathlete is an amazing way to change your life and find your power. The Every Woman triathlon transformation is about more than simply looking better. Triathlon has the capability to transform your entire life. From your relationships to your job and your dreams. Will you look better? Maybe. A friendly side effect of triathlon is perhaps a better-looking body. But we are not talking about “30 Days to a Rocking Bikini Body.”

Triathlon is not a gimmick that will take you to weight-loss nirvana. Triathlon is a bona fide sport. It’s taken me over seven years to beat the “triathlon training to look better” ideal out of my subconscious. I do not think there is anything wrong with wanting to look better. But to talk, er, think, trash about my body, when it can swim, bike, and run for miles and miles? That is not only unhealthy—it’s absurd.

Triathlon is a sport that works for working women with kids and significant others. It works for single women. It works for older women, smart women, funny women, silly women. It works for women. Triathlon works for women because there is so much spirit, love, and scheduling involved in swimming, biking, and running.

How? How will I find the time?

You will. And you will be surprised how triathlon becomes a part of your life. Just make your Decision to become a triathlete. The Decision does not have to be well informed. We women tend to make calculated, responsible, and well-informed decisions all the time. The Decision is not about making a well-thought-out-super-smart decision. Seriously. Just make a completely blind leap with me. Decide to become a triathlete. The rest will follow. One step at a time, you will find a way. Cross my little heart.


So, I made the Decision and I was instantly a triathlete! Ha. Okay. No. After making the Decision, I was a complete flounder, flopping all over the place, completely lost. I had made a bold statement, but I had no idea what to do next.

I ran a little. I flailed in the pool for a bit. I went to some indoor cycling classes. But after a few weeks, I was nowhere close to triathlon-ready. Really, I was just plain confused.

A Meredith History Lesson


I was born a healthy baby, tipping the scales at a nice 8 pounds. My mom popped me out 100 percent naturally and drug-free, acting like it was no big deal.


I was a semifat kid. But I was one of those husky, strong specimens. “Give the bat to Meredith; she’ll hit a home run,” my dad would tell the softball coach. I would put down my doughnut on the bench and proceed to bat.

“She’s strong!” everyone would say. But rarely did I hit the ball. However, I could punch the catcher in the face and then hit McDonald’s for a tasty Filet-O-Fish if the situation called for it.

The truth of the matter: I really was strong. I was big and strong and I hated it. I picked on other kids because I felt like crap about myself. I was miserable and that misery caused me to eat more. I was lonely, so I ate. Then, I was fat and miserable, so I was mean. Food was my friend, my enemy.


At age ten I started the Weight Watchers plan. Back in the late 1980s, no one knew that kids did not belong on a diet. My parents were faced with a portly kid, so they did the best they knew to do.

I entered the world of carrot sticks, cottage cheese, and water for lunch—also known as early-onset metabolic destruction. When I got home from school in the afternoon, I followed up lunch with secret handfuls of butter crackers. I stuffed those delicious round crackers in my cheeks so tight and so fast that my mouth would burst open and I would “poof” crumbs everywhere. I was just so hungry. My parents would go to sleep and I would creep to the kitchen for chips and cookies. My ten-year-old self would eat, eat, eat and then cry, cry, cry.


I lost 10 pounds. I entered middle school weighing 125 pounds.


By the time Aunt Flow arrived, I had shot up to 5 foot 7 and 155 pounds. Looking at pictures from that era, I was not obese. I played sports and was pretty healthy. But I believed I was fat, because I had always been fat. I was told I was fat. Fat was what I knew.


I was a healthy teenager. I had a teenager pot belly, but overall I was fit and I worked hard at my sport of the time, Olympic weightlifting—competing at national and international levels.

(“She’s strong!” Ugh.)

But no matter how hard I worked, like many a seventeen-year-old girl, I spent entirely too much energy and time bemoaning my body, when hindsight shows me that I was actually kind of cute. Wasted cuteness. Wasted years and years of absolutely perfectly good cuteness.

In my wasted cuteness, I was still strong. I could hoist 220 pounds over my head and squat 300 pounds for sets. But really, all I could think about was my pot belly.


I wore a pretty white dress to high school graduation. At the time, I thought I looked gross wearing it. Looking back, I was a babe.

New Year’s Eve 1998

I began dating the Expert. Our first date was at Denny’s—a 24-hour breakfast restaurant chain. A cup of coffee and romance at its finest.

Who is the Expert? That would be my husband, James. I lovingly refer to him as “the Expert” because simply put, the Expert knows everything, about everything. And if he doesn’t, he will pretend he does. He’s just a smarty-pants. He’s also a good friend and an exceptional father. We’ve been together half of my life—so, life without him would be weird and empty. To the kids, there is no smarter man in the universe, so all is as it should be.


I hung up the Olympic weightlifting belt and shoes.

Then, I started my second year of college in pursuit of the ever-useful English degree.

College was like college should be. I ate three pizzas a week, drank too much beer, and had more fun than you could shake a stick at. I also learned Latin, so I consider the college years a bloody smashing success.


I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a Top 25 university. Time to make millions!


  • "This is a terrific and informative book that will have me shouting 'You Are An IRONMAN' at you before you know it."
    Mike Reilly, The Voice of IRONMAN
  • "A comprehensive practical guide to get you from the couch to the finish line, no matter what your age, your background, or your ability. This book will help you change 'I can't' into 'I can' and give you the tools, advice, and inspiration for how to do it. With this book, you will realize that your life truly has NO LIMITS!"
    Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion, author of A Life Without Limits and To the Finish Line
  • "Meredith answers questions you're either too afraid to ask or didn't know you needed to ask. Her must-have manual will empower you to dream big, smash your training goals, and race to a new understanding of yourself. She's the girlfriend every woman needs -- #girlboss that will support you on your triathlon journey while making you belly laugh along the way."
    Julia Beeson Polloreno, former Editor-in-Chief of Triathlete magazine and Women For Tri founding board member

On Sale
Mar 12, 2019
Page Count
352 pages

Meredith Atwood

About the Author

Meredith Atwood is a recovering attorney, wife, mother of two, four-time IRONMAN triathlete who had never run a mile in her life until she tackled the sport of triathlon. In 2010 she started writing and created her Swim Bike Mom blog. Over 2.5 million words later, she has built a cult following of women (and men) who desired a change in their lives–but not at the expense of their health, family or sanity.

Learn more about this author