This Ironman is a Woman of Steel (and Proof That Anything is Possible)
I started running as a way to process my grief, using the physical pain of endurance to conquer my emotional anguish. Yet this journey within myself has led me to a place I could never have dreamed of.
Editor’s Note: Excerpts of this blog post were originally published on Lorna’s personal blog, The Ordinary Ironman. We wanted to share this Zebra’s story with the world, though. So, Lorna graciously allowed us to republish it here on Your Edge, with some additional commentary included throughout.
On Friday, 25th February 2022, I sat at my kitchen Island, steaming coffee in hand, suitcase and washing strewn all around as I re-acclimatized from a ski trip in the mountains. I scrolled absentmindedly through my email when my eye caught a message from Ironman. A message marking the biggest peak in my Ironman adventures so far. Something I started half a decade ago. A goal I had only achieved in my wildest dreams. “Ironman All World Athlete. A special invitation to you Lorna. Join us at the Worlds [Championships] in St. George, Utah.”
I read the email again. Jumping around the sentences as excitement surged through my body. Unable to slow down and absorb the words fully, but it was there, written in black and white. I had achieved the dream I had barely thought possible. I had made the cut to attend the Ironman World Championships.
Desperate to share the news, I rang my partner as I paced round and round the kitchen Island. I rang my mum. I messaged my daughter. I messaged my coach. I still couldn’t believe it. An ordinary athlete had achieved the extraordinary, fulfilling the Ironman vision, ‘anything is possible’.
Two days later, I was still in dreamland. My space booked and my focus on getting myself into the best shape of my life at the front of my mind, I took my bike out on a beautiful sunny wintery Sunday. The cold air made me feel alive, so I rode. I also thought long and hard about my journey – what had kickstarted this mission and what I had done to achieve the impossible.
The start was sad. Yet this was the catalyst that drove me from comfort to achieving things beyond expectation.
Why I Approached the “Starting Line” for the First Time
In June 2015, we lost baby Leo at 5 weeks to sudden infant death syndrome. In the early days, I was in shock. I watched the trees, drunk lots of tea, walked the same walk over and over, rode my horse, processed. I couldn’t eat or sleep. My thoughts were in hyperdrive, and I was full of anxious energy I didn’t know what to do with.
Then my brother Gavin gave me purpose. We entered the London marathon and began fundraising for the Lullaby Trust to raise money for other bereaved parents.
The endless hours of training let me slowly start to heal. I could think things over and over with the feel-good chemicals of exercise taking the edge off the emotional pain. I ran and ran and ran and did the Portsmouth marathon Christmas 2015.
On 24th April 2016, I ran the London Marathon, 17 weeks pregnant, with baby Joel, named so as it is Leo spelled backwards.
Joel was born in September 2016, and I invested my everything into him. Baby clubs, coffees with friends, trips to cathedrals, parks, museums. I’d always gone back to work straight after babies. But this time I wanted to cherish, as I appreciated how fragile life could be. I spent every moment of my life with Joel.
Sadly, my marriage was not doing so well. In 2018, I began divorce proceedings which turned bitter. A fifty/fifty childcare order was forced upon me, and my world was turned upside down all over.
Suddenly half my life was redundant. The anxious energy I’d felt after Leo was back in hyperdrive. My emotional state plummeted. So, I did what I always did. I ran, and ran, and ran.
Then my little brother Ross entered the Staffs half Ironman, so I had to as well. Then I began to bike.
I rode out with my big brother’s best friend for hours and hours. Then I joined Staffs tri club and entered the Staffs half Ironman. I trained in my parents’ 7.5m pool. I trained on my own. I cried sometimes. Or I looked at rainbows or fields and I felt gratitude.
In the midst of the storm, I changed jobs. But I had four weeks of gardening leave, so I trained every day. I was strong and fit when I did my first half Ironman. My little bro signed up for the Welsh Full Ironman, so in pure sibling spirit, so did I. I ramped up to compete in the Welsh full Ironman, one of the toughest in the world, in just a few months.
By the end of 2018, I was divorced, back with my kids, significantly advanced career wise with my first full Ironman under my belt.
In 2019, I did the Staffs half Ironman again – smashing my personal best (PB) before going on to do the Bolton full Ironman, knocking two hours off my Welsh Ironman time.
In 2020, I had dreams of my first international competition and signed up to compete in the Barcelona Ironman – but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. I took up duathlon for a season and won my first-ever event.
Then, in 2021, I had a bump in the journey when I messed up in the Staffs half Ironman, adding significantly to my PB due to the hot weather (although I moved up from 15th to 9th position by age). Then I headed to Barcelona (finally), which was an absolute dream of an experience. Wild stormy seas, fast and ferocious biking, then running as the sun went down. I finished in 15th position, and as the 4th Brit, against a strong competition of international athletes.
It was Staffs 2021, plus Barcelona, that gave me my silver All World Athlete (AWA) Status, which means I was considered a top 10% world Ironman athlete.
My Silver AWA plus a big dose of luck was the reason for the email I received on 25th February 2022 – the email from Ironman that said I’d qualified to race with the best in the world. An email representing five years of blood, sweat and tears. Tears of joy, tears of pain, tears for Leo.
Champs is the destination, but it is the journey that got me here. The hours and hours of trudging foot after foot, day after day, swim turn after turn, chasing wheels, freezing toes, sun burn, frozen faces, blisters, thinking, processing, sun rises, sun sets, friendships, rainbows, rolling hills, personal bests, hills, beautiful views, love of your friends, love of the event, love of the process and love of the finish line.
That is why we do it.
May 2022, Utah, USA.
Anything is possible.
There are several women in the Ironman Hall of Fame, yet women make up less than a quarter of the competitive field today. This article from TriAthlete puts the gender parity in perspective. Let’s all do our part to #BreakTheBias by encouraging “ordinary women” to follow in Lorna’s footsteps and become the next “ordinary Iron(wo)men.”
Interested in running your first triathlon? The resources and support offered through Women for Tri can help get you one step (or several steps) closer to the starting line.
Lorna will also be competing in the Staffs Half Ironman, Bolton Full Ironman, L'Etape (part of the Tour de France) and the London Marathon this year raising money for the Lullaby Trust who offer emotional help to bereaved parents and raise awareness of SIDS. Please support her if you can.
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