Category Archives: Fitness

Operation swim-confidence week 1

I ended the last blog with the question of whether or not to continue with swimming, specifically open water and triathlon. As much as I would like to walk away, I just can’t quit. I know if I quit now I will regret it and, if truth be told, I have dreams of going further. So with that in mind the next few blogs will be about the tears, triumphs and tantrums that come with facing my swimming fears.

Tuesday nights are TriBB’s swim session, an hour of attempting to transform my “swimming” into something that resembles front crawl. I’m in lane one, it’s relatively safe, the wall is right there and there is no crazy long sets. We work on technique, well we’re supposed to, I work on trying to relax with occasional snippets of technique. It’s tough, the sessions break down aspects of breathing, kicking and arm stroke whilst building our fitness and speed. I’m often at the front, though I prefer not to be, for this makes me panic more and more, I try and relax, I remind myself of the coaching point – Popeye breathing, turning your head just enough to breathe keeping one eye in the water – I try it, 20% air, 80% water, not enough air, I’m panicking! 3 strike breathing is quickly failing as anxiety levels rise, I need more air and resort to 2 stroke breathing, this achieves nothing, I’m shaking my head trying to refocus only to forget to breathe. I’m 34, how do I forget to breathe? Then the wall of safety appears, I grasp it quickly, stand on the steps, “1 minute until you go again”….I smile trying to fake enjoyment, trying to trick my head into relaxing, trying to believe I’ll get it right next time: 3,2,1 go… the cycle restarts.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone at TriBB is ace, supporting each other’s journeys whether it be to your first sprint or to an Ironman. It’s good to see other people on that journey working hard to make progress, pushing each other along.

The weekend brings the dreaded open water session. The lake (Blue Lagoon, Darlington) is lovely but that doesn’t stop the nerves from kicking in as soon as I’ve left the house. They build as the drive progresses, why am I doing this? We arrive get our safety red wrist band, get changed into our neoprene coffins and slowly wade into the water. The water seeps into the wetsuit, I wait for my body to warm the water between suit and skin, I tell myself to work on my breathing, 1 small lap focusing on relaxed breathing! I set off the first marker never gets closer, in my head I’m panicking, arguing with myself to relax. At the first buoy I take a moment to talk to myself, set a new target and then get moving. Breathing every 2 is my go-to strategy but makes swimming straight tough. Second buoy down I wait for a large pack to pass, then set off, 1 lap is only 200m but might as well be 200 miles, I’m knackered as I reach the final buoy, breathing is all over the place and I feel sick. It takes all my resolve to set off for lap 2, I try and focus on 3 stroke breathing, it’s tough, a head battle but it’s almost working, occasionally I realise I’m actually swimming, not relaxed but swimming. Second lap done and I’m out of there! First week of operation swim confidence done, water is definitely winning but I’m still in the battle.

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Leeds Triathlon – yes I’m still scared of water.

Last week I raced, well participated, in the AJ Bell Leeds Triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon consisting of a 1500m swim, 36km bike and 10km run. Having completed the Rutland half marathon and Rat Race Dirty Weekend recently I knew that physically I can push myself over the bike and run legs. However what hadn’t been tested so far was my ability, or lack of, to remain relaxed and swim, specifically swim in open water. I knew this would be a stumbling block of epic proportions and yet it still took me by surprise and having survived it I’m now considering whether triathlons and open water swimming is something I want to continue.

Swimming has never made sense to me, as humans we have lungs and limbs, not gills and fins, we have invented boats to safely travel on/through water and yet a proportion of our population still think it’s appropriate to flap around in a semi-coordinated fashion called “swimming”. I avoided this activity until my mid twenties when love and romance took over; Yes I fancied a swimming teacher! For the most part I can swim in a pool relatively comfortably(ish), occasionally though a completely irrational fear of the water takes over as my brain tries to convince my body it can’t swim and can’t breath, I’m in desperate need of air as I panic and lose all sense of calm and technique. I’m drowning, not literally but drowning in a wave of self doubt and negativity.

Can I swim? Yes. Do wetsuits aid buoyancy? Yes. And yet before we had even arrived at Roundhay the fear was eating away at me like some kind of parasite (probably one picked up swimming in lakes!). As we set up in transition the organisers announced that for safety reasons the swim had been shortened, relieve flooded through my veins temporarily relieving me of the fear. However in a cruel twist of fate the mist lifted as we entered the swim start area and the announcers announced excitedly that it was now “safe” to swim the full distance. Psychologically this really threw me and I never really recovered my senses.

As the hooter sounded I stayed back avoiding the rough and tumble of a triathlon start. All this succeeded in was putting me further behind than I already would have been. Each and every time I lifted my head the sea of pink swim caps moved farther away, until they were replaced by the blue caps of the wave behind. So there I was flapping about in a state of fear and disappointment as people 10 years my senior made it look easy. The physical energy it takes to panic and argue with yourself to keep going for 45 minutes took a lot out of me and as I left the water, announcing to everyone that I would “never do that again” I was feeling less than fresh.

The bike leg was all about staying with Beck, which also meant a not-so-quick tyre change thanks to the obligatory puncture. The bike leg was over far too quickly for my liking and we were off running up the hill out of Roundhay before settling into a steady downhill to the City Centre. Leeds has some nice uphill sections that tested energy supplies and leg strength. Whoever decided the split for Olympic Distance for the final 2.5km should be 100m from the finish line is one evil soul, it took so much not to just ignore the man with the foam finger and run straight through the finish area, our time would come. The final 2.5km was the longest 2.5km ever, as Beck was really pushing herself further than I’ve ever seen her do before, I noticed Barburritos was closed (my motivation for finishing was a burrito bowl – thankfully it opened a short time later) and the road just continued. As we rounded the finishing straight we knew we’d both had tough times but we had kept going, we ran along the blue carpet and over the finish line together. We had done it, we had completed our first Olympic Distance Triathlon.

So where to no? With no more challenges booked in I need to get looking. Firstly though I need to decide where I stand with swimming. Two years of open water and I still break out in hot sweats just thinking about it. Part of me wants to walk away and never place another foot inside the neoprene coffin that is a wetsuit, the other part doesn’t want to give in. Who knows where this journey will take me.

Event 1 done – Rutland half marathon

It’s a week since the Rutland Spring half marathon, the aches have gone and it’s time to reflect.

Completing my first half marathon is something I’m pretty proud of. It was a physical challenge with a very real possibility of failure. I knew other things in my life had taken priority in terms of time (namely the final stages of initial teacher training) making training more haphazard than I would like. Despite the lack of an actual plan I had built the distance up steadily and hoped will-power/stubbornness was enough to see me over the final mile or so. That and the knowledge we had raised around £400 for a great cause.

This was the first Rutland Spring Half Marathon and as such I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Registration was pretty straight forward, we joked with the volunteers about this being a birthday present and got ready to pin our numbers on and Velcro the timing chip to our ankle. As the run began there was a lovely couple of downhills to get us going (the fact downhill at the start means uphill at the finish did not escape me!). The course was undulating with some particularly cheeky hills at around mile 4. The run around the peninsular was long and winding with cute lambs and lake views to keep us company. The road back to the finish was tough mentally as the views vanished and were replaced with constant road. Turning back onto the trail was a godsend and with it the mile markers let me know I was entering I chartered territory. The final stages involved a water point, looking up seeing a hill, swearing at myself, putting one foot in front of the other, seeing another hill, a little more swearing, seeing the ever supportive Becky, trying not to swear at her “encouragement”, before the final push to the finish line. As I crossed the line I stopped my watch and that was it, my first half marathon done! Or was it? Having uploaded my run onto Strava (if it’s not on Strava has it actually happened?) I look at the distance and there it is, 120m short – Gutted! Having looked at other people’s data from the same event they’ve all registered above 13.1 miles. So do I count it as a successful half marathon or was it short?

Prior to this experience I always looked at people that ran “longer” distances (I.e. anything farther than 5-10km) as a bit odd. I mean have you seen those guys smiling away as they run for a few hours making it look easy. Having ran 13(ish) miles I think I may be one of those odd people. I enjoyed it, kind of anyway. Ok I didn’t exactly smile my way through it, or make it look easy, but I can see the attraction to running for an extended period. I finished within my target time yet with a nagging feeling I could go faster and a want, almost a need, to do another half marathon (at least).

The thing that attracts me to these challenges is that in today’s society we focus so much on making things easier and quicker. Think about it, you can order a meal at the touch of a button, cycle to work with the aid of an electrical bike, and if you need to travel say 13.1 miles you drive. These challenges though bypass that, you enter the challenge and it is your physical time and effort that gets you to the finish line. It’s also amazing the variety of people you see running these events, tall/small, little/large, old/young. You see people running because they actually enjoy it, running for charity, and those who look like they’ve stumbled across the event and got dragged along with the fun. Yet everyone has an appreciation for each other’s effort and a shared goal to complete their aim.

This half marathon was just the start of our fundraising journey for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, we’ve got Rat Race Dirty Weekend in 4 weeks. Scotty’s is an amazing charity that supports children who have lost parents in the forces, aiming to put a smile on the children who form a group none of them wanted to enter. We chose this charity because my dad served 22 years, completing a number of active tours. Thankfully he always returned, a fact I am forever grateful for and one I will never take for granted. Others were less fortunate and this charity does a great job in ensuring those children are never forgotten.

If you would like to support our fundraising efforts please follow this link.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/peterandkarliwilkinson

One year on.

A year seems so long, yet when you look back it can feel like yesterday. This time last year I was laid in a hospital bed wondering what the immediate future held. I had read, and listened to, some crazy horror stories but also had a great support structure filling my head with positive thoughts. Tip number 1: this is a unique journey, knowledge may be power but don’t let other people’s experiences rule your thoughts.

The mental and emotional side of hysterectomy recovery should not be underestimated. This was what I wasn’t prepared for! I knew frustration at the physical side of recovery was inevitable but Becky and friends kept me and my expectation in check. The real mental and emotional challenges surprised me. Firstly the scar, I have a scar from my belly button to my pubic bone and I hate it! Having had some issues with a reaction to the stitches parts of the scar is quite thick. I am so conscious of the scar, and even though I tell myself that scars are souvenirs from eventful journeys and they show how strong you are, I keep it well hidden.

Then there was the baby issue. I have never wanted to carry a child, in fact pregnant women scare me and yet here was my brain, emotions and hormones going through some sort of grieving process at the thought of not being able to have children. It was a tough one to take, like a rugby tackle you don’t see coming and I wrestled with it for quite some time. It felt like everyone around me was giving birth or getting pregnant (to be fair a lot were) which would never have bothered me before and yet here I was almost wishing to be like them, or at least have the ability to be like them. Tip number 2: your body and mind are going through a huge trauma and recovery, let it! Don’t fight it, accept it as part of the process talk about it and recognise these feelings are normal and you will move on.

Physically this year has been beyond my expectations, I have achieved far more than I thought I would/could but most importantly have earned every one of those achievements. As I write this I have just come back from a 19km (11.8miles) run, my last run before my first ever half marathon. Even pre-alien running 19km was way outside of my capabilities. Talking to the medical professionals pre and post-op it was all quite negative, long distance running would be risky, heavy lifting was ruled out, no squatting or deadlifting, basically the message was to get used to mediocre training and gentle exercise. Tip number 3; you are the professional at knowing your body (even more so as you go through this process). This year has been about one step at a time sometimes forwards, often backwards and occasionally sideways. There have been so many tears and tantrums, times where I’ve thought those professionals were correct, sessions were things that were easy last week were suddenly impossible, sleepless pain fuelled nights and events that came slightly too early and catapulted recovery and rehab back in time. Then there is cycling, an activity that was on the ‘can do’ list, that should be straight forward yet it’s the one activity my lower abs reject every time. There’s not much I can do but be patient and accept that in the grand scheme of things it could be so much worse.

So there you have it, one year on, it’s all about the future. I know this journey is not over, I work everyday to keep my core strength high and prevent any weaknesses knowing that this lets me push my boundaries farther than I knew I could. I’m now in the final stages of Initial Teacher Training, I have 3 amazing challenges for Scotty’s Little Soldiers in the next 2 months and most importantly an incredibly strong relationship with my soulmate and some great friends. So here’s to life’s challenges, discovering how much you want something and how strong you really are!

Winter training phase 1

Another week down on my back to basics phase. The exercises are still pretty dull but the progressions are coming. I’m at a similar point to where mistakes and impatience slid into my training post-op. I know I can do more, push past it, muscle through but taking time now will payoff long-term, well hopefully! Keeping my ego in check in pilates classes or at the gym, keeping the tantrums and frustrations to a minimum is the challenge but the long-term goals are there. 


With the chill in the air there’s no denying that summer is over. The daylight is getting shorter the high visibility tops are out and the open water swimming has come to an end. I never thought wading into a cold lake squeezed into a less than flattering wetsuit would be something I’d actually miss. There I was dodging other swimmers in a lane, staring at the black line going up and down, back and forth boredom building and I’m wishing I was in a lake. There will be many more sessions in the pool over winter. The plan is to build on my technique and endurance so that come next year the swim will be just a little more comfortable and I will be just further away from dying when I leave the water.


Cycling is still off the menu, and will be for another week or two minimum. The spin classes and Turbo are calling my name, I’m so tempted to answer the call. I’m pretty sure that when I reintroduce cycling this drive will shrink, after all who actually enjoys spending hours on a stationary bike or turbo. Isn’t it strange how you always want to do what you can’t. 


Time for the run talk. Running is going well, distances are on the up, times are coming down and most importantly I’m enjoying it. Running with a fibroid felt horrible, feeling it bounce around, the pressure on my bladder and bowel, the fatigue from the sleepless nights. I ran because I had too to keep some normality in my training, some control in my life. The feeling was so far from the enjoyment I feel now. Here’s hoping this enjoyment continues. Running will need to be a staple in my training with the challenges I’m setting for next year. 2018 is going to be a big year to make up for 2017!

The easiest exercises are often the hardest.

Sometimes the easiest exercises are the hardest to do. Roll the clocks back six months, rehab was the name of the game but in reality training for the triathlon was eating away at me. I knew where I needed to be to achieve the goal of finishing the tri and I was willing to do anything, anything that didn’t involve taking my time.


Back to today, well Saturday, sat in a spin class. It was all going so well until the warm up. The first track began and almost immediately so too did the pain. I tried battling through it but after twenty minutes I stopped. I tried everything I could but nothing was working, fed up and frustrated I sat back and plodded along keeping warm. I shouldn’t have been surprised cycling has caused discomfort for so long now. I know I should have taken the warnings and stopped cycling, to be fair my body told I’d started cycling too soon but that damn triathlon was there taunting me. Stepping back from cycling would have meant regressing the training and that was just too hard to get my head around.


So here I am paying the price of impatience. I’m going back to basics starting back at stage 1 of the process, I have a list of exercises and progressions, I’m doing these 2/3 times a day and judging them based on 1) being able to do them 2) keeping the core engaged 3) any discomfort. Only when I’m repeatedly happy on all 3 judgements am I moving. These exercises are the easiest exercises I know but they are the hardest to do both in terms of motivating myself to get them done but also doing them correctly.


Running and swimming are still a staple in my training causing no issues at all. I’m building both technique and fitness in these areas, building for the next set of challenges. Cycling though is missing from my training and will be for at least the next month. Already the turbo is calling my name, the urge to ride or go to spin is getting stronger making me feel like I’m falling behind for next year. I need to take these lessons and stay to the plan however much it tests my patience. 

Trying to find balance. 

At some point in the last couple of months I had the bright idea of booking onto a second triathlon just three weeks after the Aquathon and 2 weeks into my PGCE. 

This week hasn’t been great training wise. Starting my ITT has been a shock to the system. I’ve gone from training being the focal point of my week to having a To Do list the length of my arm. Combine that with my first ever couple of days in a mainstream nursery (shock to the system!!) Training has been a battle, intensity hit and miss and actually getting to the gym took a fair amount of will power. Triathlon specific training has been virtually non-existent, my focus has been just on getting moving. Sessions have included more weights and functional training and boy have I felt it.

I’m realising more and more that post-op my focus wasn’t on recovery but I getting fit for the triathlon. Yes they should go hand in hand but in reality my core work has suffered and I’m paying the price now. More and more I’m discovering things that I should be capable of doing but because I’ve skipped steps in recovery those things are still a challenge. The main areas that suffer are cycling and lifting. This is something I know I need to address after the tri.

One Tri-specific session I have managed this week is an open water swim. Yes the wetsuit still fits, yes the fear is there, and no im not feeling overly confident for the swim portion of next weekend. Queen mermaid assures me she wants to do it together, a big part of me really wants to complete it solo but in reality the fear is creating a wall I’m not sure I can climb. 

Great Scottish Aquathon.

Spoiler Alert:!!! We finished. 

The day started with the queen mermaid completing her 5km in 1:32hrs, around 20 minutes faster than anticipated. I was so proud of her, the 5km is swimmings equivalent of a half marathon and she has trained so hard for it. She left the water with a smile on her face and there it stayed all day.  


I was so nervous all day but standing in transition in our wetsuits with running kit laid out I was literally shaking. Those around us discussed their previous conquests while I buried my head into Becky’s shoulder questioning my sanity. As we warmed up the Great Swim staff were packing up, I remember thinking why would they pack up now. As the event progressed it became more clear that the Aquathon was the poorer relative of the Great Scottish Swim, close enough to be invited but not quite part of the family. 


As we entered the waters of Loch Lomand we stayed at the back, clear of everyone, I wanted my own space to try and swim. 150m in I felt pretty good, I was even contemplating telling Becky to go off ahead. Then out of nowhere the fear and panic exploded inside my head, everything was going wrong. As calm as ever Becky talked me down, waving the safety boat away, 600m to go I was refocused on each buouy. As ever Beck stayed by my side coaching swimming and psychology. The water was choppy, and this combined with swimming alongside the giant Maid of Loch my brain was fried with fear and emotions. 


The swim finished (and breath) we were into transition, changed and off running. Looking at my watch we were running at a decent pace which shocked me knowing how much energy I’d wasted panicking. We kept the pace going, enjoying the scenic park, focusing on on people in front of us, working to overtake them. Before we knew it we were back over the bridge, rounding the corner and running towards the finish line. Crossing the line I was relieved, happy and grateful. Looking at my watch I was only a few seconds short of my PB, this time last year I watched Beck at the same event my immediate future and health was in turmoil yet here I was surviving swims and chasing PBS. 


It was disappointing that so much of the event village had been dismantled, they had ran out of small and medium tshirts (I’m 4’11 a large tshirt just won’t work). As we collected our kit and made our way back to the car the announcer talked about those left on the course while even the photographer packed away.  To the organisers, everyone has worked towards this event, yes they may be slower but they are working, putting the hard work in, please treat us ordinary people with the same respect as those guys and gals finishing in impressive times. 


As for us, we have another triathlon in a couple of weeks, I’m aiming to swim without my personal lifeguard by my side. I’m loving this journey back to fitness, im probably fitter in many areas than I have been in over a year, there’s still some areas to work on and goals to be set!

The big showdown!

So tomorrow is the big day, the battle between two powerhouses. No not Mayweather and McGregor! the battle between my brain and body (powehouses? Who am I kidding). Tomorrow is the day of the Great Scottish Swim Aquathon, 800m loch swim followed by 5km run. I signed up for it all confident that the months of training would be long enough to convince my mind that I am more mermaid and less ugly sucker fish at the bottom of the ocean (I’m sure they actually have a name.) with 24hours to go this is not the case. My mind is convinced that I will sink, certain the water will sweep my off somewhere and positive I am a fool for agreeing to this. This is crazy, I’ve done the distance, I can swim and yet the battle continues.


So here I am in the back of the camper van with queen mermaid (aka the wife), her mother, Gary the open water widower and my trusty (waterphobic) dog Lexi, embarking on a 5 hour drive to Loch Lomand. Queen mermaid will be completing the swimming equivalent to a half marathon, 5km and her mother 2 miles first thing, I get the pleasure of waiting and watching all day before I dance with danger and dive (read waddle slowly) into the water. Kit has been packed twice already today, I’m convinced I’ve forgotten something but we are actually going to do this.


The swim is the precursor to the 5km run which a few months ago would have been a challenge in itself. I am looking forward to this part of the challenge, the finish line will be waiting with a medal and a tshirt and I will walk away slightly taller (metaphorically of course), once the relief has died down. The journey continues and I keep finding and booking challenges to keep life interesting. In the mean time if anyone finds my comfort zone please hand it back, I like to visit it from time to time.

My next challenge

I’d told myself I’d take a week of rest and relaxation after Castle Howard. The reality though was that I was left with a greater drive to push on. Having put myself under so much pressure to be able to participate in the triathlon it was a relief to come through relatively unscathed. The relief was soon overtaken by the desire to evaluate performance, why did the swim go so wrong? Where could I have made time up? When is the next challenge.


Thankfully the next challenge has been booked for some time. The Great Scottish SwimRun, 800m swim followed by a 5km run. My two weakest disciplines in the triathlon? Swim and Run. My biggest disappointment last week was my inability to overcome the fear during the swim, so to face a swim twice the distance in unknown waters in just 23 days is both petrifying and exciting(ish). 


I’m still trying to focus on my journey and my progress and achievements. I’m fully aware that for many an 800m swim is barely more than a warm up but this is the point that I’m at with my journey. I remember the days of learning to get my face in the water, the days where 2 lengths of a 25m pool was a challenge, my first terrifying attempt at open water swimming. I’ve put in the hours of hard work, tears, tantrums and failures to get to the point of looking at an 800m open water swim. Just over three months ago there’s an entry in my training diary referring to a failed attempt at a 25m swim. It’s been a rough journey so far with so much more to come. How do I feel about the 5km run? Well let’s think about that if I survive the swim. I’m excited and anxious to discover what part the Great Scottish SwimRun will play. 


In terms of personal journey this week has been great for reflecting on how far I’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, being one of the last out of the water and being overtaken by all ages on the bike and run isn’t great for the ego but you can’t judge without knowing individuals journeys. My journey in the last four months from open hysterectomy to triathlete has been a mega rollercoaster, it still is. I feel like I’m chasing my own expectations, expectations that are probably unrealistic, and expectations that are constantly changing. Less and less I’m looking at the performances of those around me, but rather focusing on where I’m at and where I’m going. This new mindset isn’t always easy to maintain, the competition is now me rather than others. Will this mindset help get me through not only the SwimRun but also my second triathlon? Well there’s only one way to find out.