For many people, the push to exercise comes from a health scare, whether it’s high blood pressure or like today’s guest, breast cancer. The desire to do as much as you can to improve your health can really spur you into action. Alison Wren is the perfect example of even when you can only swim ‘face out of the water’ breaststroke and don’t own a bike, you can begin training for a triathlon! Bringing exercise her life has even led to a redirection in Alison’s career. Read on and be inspired.
Tell us a bit about yourself Alison?
I’m 58 and live in Manchester with my husband and cat. For most of my adult life I’ve been an enthusiastic watcher of sport but not a participant. I’ve been self-employed since 2002, most recently as a digital marketing consultant specialising in the wedding industry. Running a business can be all consuming and exercise was not usually a priority until I took up triathlon four years ago. I’m now completely hooked! I’m currently studying to become a personal trainer as well as launching a new triathlon club for “back of the packers”. I want to encourage anyone to have a go at triathlon, no matter how old or unathletic they are.
You can visit my website Tail End Triers and find me on Twitter @AlisonWrenTri and Instagram @alisonwrentri
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy but luckily didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, I struggled to recover from surgery feeling constantly tired. I knew I needed to sort out my fitness. Cancer was a big wake-up call.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
I started running with couch to 5k working up to doing my first Parkrun. A cancer support group I was in was getting a group together to do a triathlon the following summer – I signed up!
I booked swimming lessons (I could only do face out the water breaststroke), bought a bike and started getting myself fitter. I got round that first triathlon and absolutely loved it. And I discovered a passion for open water swimming.
I’ve now done several triathlons and open water swims including Lake Windermere, Loch Lomond and the river Dee.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
I’ve always been useless at sport – slow and uncoordinated. I was inevitably last pick for teams at school. Learning to swim front crawl was a real struggle. Coordinating breath, arms and legs was too much – I drank copious amounts of pool water and it took a long time to be able to swim 400m continuously.
And I’m still a really slow runner and cyclist, which gets frustrating as inside I feel I should be a super fast athlete!
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
Not many – the one thing I have had are occasional patronising comments.
Most coaches have been brilliant – supportive and encouraging – but there’s a tendency to equate slow with beginner. It takes a lot of courage to go to triathlon club training sessions when you’re older and slow, and being treated as a novice when you’ve done lots of events doesn’t help.
Also I’m a big fan of run/walk intervals and I’m actually faster over 5km with this method than if I try to run non-stop. When you do walk intervals you get a lot of comments which are meant to be encouraging but are actually quite annoying.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
Every year brings new goals – my first was to get round a sprint triathlon. Then I wanted to swim a mile in open water. Next was complete an Olympic distance triathlon. I’ve done those.
I’ve still to manage under 30 minutes for a 5km run – a tantalising 18 seconds over last time.
My next big event was to have been a 3.6km sea swim in Australia in February 2021 but Covid has put paid to that for at least another year.
What benefits has being active brought you?
I feel better all round – fewer aches and pains (except when I fall off the bike!), more energy and better sleep.
Wanting to do better at sport has made me focus on eating better and drinking less. I’ve also made some great friends through triathlon.
And when my previous business collapsed at the start of the Covid pandemic, sport offered me an opportunity to retrain and start something new.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
Just start. Don’t worry about being too old, slow or the wrong shape. Try different things and find what you enjoy.
What a wonderfully inspiring story of change! If you’ve become active and would like to share your journey to celebrate it and help motivate others then please get in touch.