As a two time-Star Baker and youngest ever Great British Bake Off winner, Peter Sawkins is no stranger to competition. This year he’s swapping the heat of the Bake Off tent to work up a sweat — taking on the virtual Edinburgh Marathon for CALM. We caught up with him to chat running, dealing with anxiety and, inevitably, cake.
Peter’s a pretty busy guy – aside from winning The Great British Bake Off, studying for exams, and being a badminton whizz, he’s taking on the virtual Edinburgh Marathon in 2021 to support CALM’s life-saving services. Why? As if an international televised competition wasn’t enough, he fancied a challenge.
“I play badminton, and this year has been, well, obviously a lot of things have changed and we’ve not had any competition in the works. So there’s a group of us that have been running together – and we’ve really enjoyed that. So we thought we needed a bit of a challenge. We kind of encouraged each other to take part in the marathon so we could have it to work towards.”
Running a marathon is nothing new for Peter who has been running on and off since he was a teenager – taking on the Edinburgh Marathon Hairy Haggis Team Relay in 2017 with his family. In fact, running, and any kind of exercise, helps Peter to manage when things get a bit much – and it doesn’t get much tougher than Paul Hollywood blind judging your rainbow bagels.
“Being in the competition was so much fun, but it was quite intense. When I was In the bubble during the competition, I made sure that I got out for a run. I did a workout after every day of filming – even if we’d had a long day, I’d still make sure that I got out for at least a 20 minute HIIT session, just to clear my head.
“And then, when the show was being aired on TV, it’s quite stressful being watched by close to 10 million people a week. It’s quite a distracting thing. The one time that my focus would be completely taken away from it was when I was in the gym, on a run, or playing badminton. And I think that’s so powerful for me. It really helped me in that journey. I remember when my name was released as winner my phone was going crazy with friends saying ‘Well done’. It was amazing, but I just had to get out for a run. No headphones, just locking in on doing something completely different to calm myself down and cool my nerves.”
It might sound like Peter has it all sorted, but it’s taken him a while to figure out what works when managing his mental health. He explains that after dealing with anxiety as a teenager, he’s gradually learnt what helps – and is keen to help others find the support they need when things are tough.
“When I was 14 or 15 I went through a really difficult time with anxiety and I was admitted to CAMHs (Children & Adolescent Mental Health Service). They really helped me out. I did counselling with them as well as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy). It felt like it took ages at the time – I think it was about a year and a half. I had low school attendance, I stopped playing sports because I just couldn’t bring myself to get out and do it. I kind of just shut myself off from my friends quite a lot. It was a really horrible time.”
While Peter doesn’t currently experience anxiety in the same way, he emphasises that mental wellbeing isn’t something that just goes away – instead it’s something that he consciously takes care of by doing the stuff he loves, whether that’s baking a cake or taking on a 10k.
“I don’t really see mental health as having a start and an end point. It’s kind of a spectrum and a process. I wouldn’t consider myself to have any issues with intense anxiety right now, but everyone has mental health. I have to make sure that I keep working on it – talking to friends and family, making sure I keep on top of it so I don’t come to a point like I’ve been at before. Having gone through a really difficult time, it makes me never want to get back to that point again, which kind of helps me to keep on developing myself and thinking about my mental health journey.”
Which is why Peter’s running for CALM. He’s passionate about helping more people access the support they need to look after themselves and their mental wellbeing when they’re feeling low. While the Edinburgh Marathon has gone virtual for 2021, Peter’s not put off, and is looking forward to running around the city he loves.
“I did the Hairy Haggis Team Relay in Edinburgh with my family two years ago. I did the first leg, which started right in the centre of town. The energy was amazing. And you run around the Old Town and go out towards the coast. It’s a really peaceful route. We will miss the energy of the other runners and the people lined up on the roads who would have spurred us on but I think between the four of us we’ll still have enough motivation and support to get through”
And, finally, it wouldn’t be a Bake Off article without mentioning cake – specifically pancakes, which Peter hopes will fuel his pretty intense marathon training plan.
“I suppose with all the running, I’m going to have to up my carb intake to balance that out, so maybe I’ll carry on the pancake rush that I had on Pancake Day.”
Whether you’re in it for the pancakes, or you fancy taking on a challenge to support CALM’s life-saving services when they’re needed most, you can check out the CALM events page for runs and marathons taking place near you. Watch this space for more from Peter from Bake Off and his marathon journey.
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