Earlier this year, Lozza completed the Outlaw Half Iron. It was a massive achievement, and she's given us permission to share her race blog here.
It's a long one, but an amazing read - and I hope by the end you'll agree with our Roving Reporter that Lozza's iron heart is purer and stronger than any heart of gold...
My journey to Sundays Outlaw Half started back in August 2013, well, no, it started way before that, 8 weeks before my first triathlon in May 2013, when I first got in the water with a trusted friend to help tackle my fear of water. Up until this point my swimming had been off of Nans, a signed up member of the dry hair brigade, and I hadn’t done that for years. During this time in the pool, I got my face in the water, I learnt to relax, and there was even a teeny bit of swimming! My friend was patient, there was a little bit of panicking and whining, but there was huge progress and I had something to work on, I had 8 weeks to learn front crawl and to believe that every time I went in the water I was not going to drown. I did it. I learnt front crawl. Then the next task, I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 12, and I was shit at it then, and had NEVER ridden on the roads. In fact, I had no bike, so borrowed a friends mountain bike, that’ll get me round! It did. I entered another triathlon in September, I gave myself a target, I bought a road bike, this was getting serious!
The seed had been sown. The friend who had helped me overcome my fear of water was competing in IM Zurich and suggested with my progress that I had the ability to try my hand at a 70.3 event. This set my brain ticking into overdrive. Could I??? I had seen his journey to IM from the beginning, and had lived it with him, I had seen him turn himself into an athlete and he believed I could do the same. He completed his IM, and the decision was made, next year was my year for 70.3, and Outlaw Half was the chosen event, so the online entry was completed and the journey made official.
Next up was my first venture into open water. I was petrified, like properly scared. Although I had overcome some of my fears in the water, every swim session fills me with dread (open water or not, and still now). I haven’t told this story to many before, but it isn’t just me being a baby, it isn’t just a case of getting on with it. When my face is in the water I can’t breathe and I can’t see, it sends me back to the 8 year old me who was caught underneath a boat in the River Avon who couldn’t swim because of constant ear operations, I couldn’t breathe underneath that boat, I thought I was going to die till I was pulled out, and that isn’t a pleasant experience to go back to twice a week when I get in the pool, but I have, and I have learnt how to deal with it. Open water would be different, it would be cold and it would be dark, I had worked myself up about it for days, but I went and I did it. It was scary, but there were no panic attacks, it was a coached session and I did everything that I was told. By the end of August everything was looking good for a good run in to Outlaw Half over the winter, I shouldn’t have been so complacent about that.
I lost my friend a week later, we tried to be kind to each other but it just didn’t work for either of us at the time. We had been best friends for years, he was my whole world, so going it alone on a journey this big was going to take some doing. I questioned if I could do it, I questioned if I still wanted to do it, but something kept me from pulling out. I was still going to go on this journey, but it was going to go in a different direction than I had hoped, and I would be going alone. I knew nothing about triathlon, I knew nothing about Ironman, I knew nothing about training plans, I had to do this alone and I was too scared. Again, I asked the question, could I? Could I do this? But this time it was different, I had no one who understood, who knew what it takes, who knew me and the person that I was, who believed in me and knew that I could do it, and what I needed to do to get there. I got the triathlon out the way in September, then a week later I fell and damaged ligaments in my ankle. No running for 8 weeks, no cycling as I couldn’t twist out of the pedals, and swimming only with a pull buoy.
Training got back on track come New Year but I was way off where I wanted to be, and over the next few months I resigned myself to the fact that my original goal time that was set when I entered was slipping further and further away. I had gained incredible support on and off twitter over recent months, they believed in me, this had been what I was missing and this is what I needed to get me to the start line. I have come a long way over the last 12 months, but it was all started by my friend, I wouldn’t have attempted to try if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been brave enough.
The weeks had flown by, and soon it was time, I was packing kit and making final preparations to travel to Nottingham for the weekend. Taper madness had taken hold, I had become impossible to be around and I was scared stiff. Open water training had not gone to plan and I was petrified, I’d been having panic attacks in the water and going back to being under that boat again, there was a real concern that I wasn’t going to get through it, it was just SO FAR!!! I was worried about chasing cut offs, could I get round in time? Apparently so, I was told. I was worried about coming actual last, who cares, I was asked. Last or not, I would still be a Half Ironman, something that many surely wouldn’t believe, or if they did, would they understand what it meant? I wrote messages on my hands, I made my race band, I wouldn’t be alone for the day.
I had bought Anne along for support and to keep me calm over the weekend, and also to make sure that I didn’t try to escape to avoid the day. We were staying in the same hotel as lots of fellow twitterers so I got to meet up with others that were also a little apprehensive about the race. I registered, went to the race briefing, met up with Neil, Jo and Rach for a natter, met my cousin who was also racing before getting ourselves back to the hotel and out to eat with Anne, Neil, Pilla, Matt and Saz. Then bed. Tomorrow was ‘The Day’. No escaping now.
We left the hotel at 5am. After the satnav took us to completely the wrong place (no, this didn’t make me happy) Anne dropped me off at 5:30am. I got my stuff together and walked Le Bike towards transition. I looked at the lake and the course, I didn’t panic. It all seemed quite still and calm, not just the water, but the atmosphere. I think this is when it happened, I switched. I wasn’t scared, the fear left me, and it was going to happen. I got into transition and racked my bike, laid out all my kit, and then I stood, looking out to the water sipping my drink. I was calm. Then, out of nowhere, I was thrown. My friend walked in front of me, he said hello, and then he was gone, tears filled my eyes and the fear started to come back, I knew he would be there, and we had got in contact with each other again to make things right, but I was thrown. 10 seconds later, Coach Dave appeared and I ran out of transition to him for hugs, he calmed me down and I got back into race mode. Today was about me, and Sophie. That was what mattered. I looked at my hands and my race band, I remembered words that had been said to me, cards that had been written, belief that people had in me, and seeing Sophie when I got back in from the bike leg. I put on my wetsuit, hat and goggles and closed my eyes, I felt myself in the water, swimming. Next thing I knew, we were being ushered down to the water, then I was in it.
It was so cold. It STANK. It was full of weed. This was not the pleasant water that I had been promised!! ‘Oh HPP is lovely to swim in’, ahem, no it bloody isn’t!! It is horrid!!
I bobbed up and down, I got my head in, I blew lots of bubbles, but it wasn’t working. I looked around me and I was in the wrong place, I needed to be on the left hand side of pen 2, I was just in the middle. Two minutes to go and not enough time to move, still not able to get my head in without panicking so I resorted to plan B, I stayed where I was and made sure I had lots of room, if I needed to do this with my head out the water I would. Once I was in clear water and could relax, I would see how I felt. Ten seconds to go.
Race target plan – 50 mins
The hooter sounded and we were off. I had lots of room, I kept my head up to stop any panics in the first few hundred meters and I got myself into a rhythm. Swimming front crawl with your head up is a hard task (one that I am paying for as I write this, chaffing and a knot in my neck) and it is energy zapping. I knew it would be, but I just wasn’t brave enough, what if it made me panic? I couldn’t risk it, this was the shortest part of the day, just get this over with Loz and you’ll soon forget about it! One stroke at a time, just keep going. The one benefit of swimming like this is that I could see where I was going so no zigzags! It seemed like an age before I got to the turn, by this time there was a lot of room around me and I started to get that fear of being last, I was also so hungry, and the burps were sonic boom worthy. I turned towards home and remembered my race band, 950m – 1425m was Rach, and I remembered what she told me, each stroke, ‘I, can, swim’, I remembered my right hand ‘Don’t be shit’ and I caught a lady ahead and we swam together side my side, then in the last 400m together we caught a small pack in front, I got a boot in the face and had to stop very briefly to compose myself, then off I went again and I caught the group and went passed them. Before I knew it I felt the ramp with my hand and I tried to haul myself up, a volunteer grabbed my hand and I was on my feet, my legs gave way and again she helped me up and I wobbled up the ramp and around the corner towards transition.
Hat and goggles off, I tried to find the zip to my suit, I couldn’t and I started to panic, a volunteer told me to calm down and I found it straight away, unzipped and arms out before I entered transition, still walking like I was pissed. Saz, Chris, Wellies and Dave were there cheering me on which was a welcomed surprise, and told me that it was 7:50am, so I had made my target time, I had been so scared that I would miss cut off, but I was on target, yes! As I looked out into the lake there were still loads left in the water, phew, not last! The wetsuit came off quickly, I composed myself, got socks and shoes on, helmet, race belt, gloves and glasses, had a drink and something to eat, final check and I grabbed Le Bike and made my way out of transition and onto the ride. The part that I was dreading, that I was so scared of, was done. There had been minimal panic and I had got through it, within target, alive. I reached the mount line, and got on Le Bike and off I went, with a HUGE smile on my face. I had faced my fears and I had won, I was on my way.
Race Target Plan: 4 hours
As I headed off around the lake with that huge beaming smile, I heard my Auntie Lorna shouting my name as I rode passed, I got myself together, ran through my gears, had a drink and started to relax and get comfy on Le Bike, this was going to be a long ride!! As I came around the lake and off out on the course, I saw Saz, Chris and Dave waving me on and then it was all about me. I knew my bike was slow, I carry more weight than I should so propelling myself along is stupidly hard, note to self, change in future please! I got myself into a nice rhythm and kept an eye on my cadence and gearing, I was pretty pleased with my pace over the first 10 miles or so, and as I turned on the long straight towards Oxton Bank there were other athletes coming in the other direction which was lovely as to be honest, I had started to get a little lonely as there were no riders around me. I heard a ‘Lozza!’ and turned to see Gareth waving over at me and shouted back to him, then again I carried on, spotting someone in the distance I got my head down and set about catching them, another couple of unidentified ‘Lozzas’ I headed off onto the first loop, so if this was you, please let me know, I need to say thank you!!
I looked at my hands, oh good one Loz, gloves on hands means I cannot see messages, well done! All I kept thinking was the sooner I get off this bike, the sooner I can see Sophie, pedal faster. When I reached Oxton Bank I had caught a few riders, my pace was still good and I headed up the hill. I don’t know what made me make this decision, but as I went around the corner I jumped off Le Bike and walked up, it hadn’t even started to get hard, but hey, it’s done now. I grabbed a bottle at the feed station and headed to Southwell. The next few miles were great, really enjoyable and I like to think that I flew down the hill, well, I did pass a few! I looked at the Garmin at 28 miles, carry on at this pace and I would be on for 3:50, great going, pedal faster. I headed off to the second loop and again started to see the faster riders on their way home. As I went through Car Caulton I spotted Rach and we shouted encouragement to each other, she looked like she was flying and was properly racing with those around her, brilliant stuff!
A few miles down the road I had to concede and stop for a wee, (I know, but I COULDN’T just do it, ewwwwwww!!) I grabbed another bottle and a gel and carried on. The toilet stop had obviously slowed me down and by this time I was on my own. I remembered this loop on our recce ride being glorious, but these last few weeks have obviously been long enough for the hedges to grow out and there were no views to keep my mind occupied. At this point my shoulders hurt, the chafing on the back of my neck was stinging, my hands were numb and my elbows kept locking, I was starting to get fed up as there was nothing to occupy me apart from how much I was aching. More worryingly, my ankle was hurting, it often does when I am out riding, but going into a half marathon I was concerned that it was going to hinder me. I kept pushing and came off the loop and made my way along for the next 6 miles back to HPP. I saw a rider in the distance and tried to catch her but couldn’t, then joined that stupid bumpy road for the last mile before heading into T2. I unclipped and put my left foot down as I stopped, ankle was ok, but my glutes were complaining and I still couldn’t feel my left hand.
I got off Le Bike and walked into transition, I felt weird. I saw Chris and Saz again shouting encouragement to me from the bank and it was good to see humans again! That had really been a lonely 4 hours out with only my singing to keep me company. I racked Le Bike and took off my helmet, my left hand still wasn’t working, it wasn’t asleep, I could feel it, but I just couldn’t make it work. Taking my gloves off took an age, well in fact, everything did, it was like everything was in slow motion, I think it might have taken me a full 2 minutes to put on my garmin because I couldn’t make my hand work, I was shouting up to Saz and Chris that my ankle wasn’t working, Chris told me it was 12midday, calm down Loz, I knew I had 4 hours to get round this half marathon, I could walk that if I needed to. I looked at my hands, I knew I wasn’t being shit, and that now I got to see Sophie. I asked Saz where they were and she pointed over to the bank the other side of transition and that was it, I was gone.
Target time: 3 hours, plan B, get round!
I might not have been running very fast but I felt like I was flying to the other side of the lake and there were tears streaming down my face at the thought of seeing Sophie, and then I saw her, jumping and smiling at me as I ran towards her, I stopped briefly and gave her a hug, this was what this past 6 months had been about, and all the pain getting to the start line was forgotten. I carried on to the first feed station where I stopped and grabbed a zero, which I had planned to do at every feed station, I had to keep hydrated today, it was so hot, and Lozza + heat usually = a shit day at the office. I’d gone through three bottles of zero on the bike so I knew that I was ok, I just needed to keep topped up.
I headed out towards Trent Bridge and felt really good, I followed the pre-set beeps on my garmin which kept me to a 4:1 run/walk, there were lots of people out on the course who were by now on their second lap, I ran passed the pirates and heard a ‘Go Lozza’ but by the time I realised I’d not got my name on my kit it was too late. Soon enough I saw Lu and then I was at the turn back towards HPP, I still felt good. I saw Rach coming towards me and we stopped and gave each other the best hug, simultaneously saying ‘you’re doing fucking amazing’ before we both carried on, back to the pirates and it clicked that the ‘Go Lozza’ had come from Pete who was out on the course supporting his wife, Jo, who I had not long high fived as we passed.
Before long I was coming through the car park and I saw my family, I was still feeling ok, legs were getting heavier but I was still sticking to the race plan, I collected my band and headed off for my first lap of the lake. By this point I think it was the hottest part of the day, my shoulders were burning so I stopped for sun cream before carrying on, soon I got to see Saz and Chris, I told them I was quicker walking but they were telling me I bloody well was not! As I passed the red carpet to head off onto my final lap, I got my favourite cheering memory of the day! Pilla, Anne and Matt were going crazy and behind them Neil was jumping around like a mentalist! I saw my friend, I put my thumb up as I went passed him and he shouted encouragement to me as I headed off. As I was on the other side of the lake I heard Anne and Pilla shouting ‘Lozza we love youuuuuuuuuu’ and I blew them a kiss them head up the short ramp to the feed station and where my family were, I said to H that I thought I was last, I don’t know why I was panicking about this, but I just didn’t want to be last.
At this point my feet were hurting, but I was still sticking to my 4:1 run walk strategy, even though I was getting slower and slower, and I was hot……so hot…….so sunburnt……so red and crispy.
As I headed out again towards Trent Bridge most people had gone home, there were only a few people out on the course and I passed someone every few minutes, but like on the bike, it was lonely. I saw the pirates again and a few runners and then Lu as she headed back towards HPP. By this point, I was walking, my hamstrings were ceasing and my feet were shredded, but I was ok, I was happy, I knew that I was going to finish, every now and again I did a cry, because I had started to realise that within an hour I was going to do this and get that medal. I was going to see Sophie, I was going to get the best hug. Although this part of the course was lonely, it seemed to go quickly, a few ladies passed me, I wish I had taken each of their offers to join them, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was back at the scoreboard, by my family, still smiling, but in pain with only one lap of the lake to go, I was so close.
I picked up my band and tried to run, by this point my feet had got so hot and swollen (in trainers that had gone over THAT point) and running felt like my feet were being attacked by a cheese grater with each step. I look back now and I wish that I had just battled through that and carried on running, but I didn’t and I can’t change that, I walked around the lake and after the fed station I saw Dave waiting for me and we chatted as we walked that last mile.
I didn’t realise how close I was, then all of a sudden Saz was there jumping around with my pizza, Rach was screaming that I was so close, ‘this is the easiest bit!!!!’, my friend was cheering me on, Neil was jumping up and down like a loony, James was shouting me on. Again, I don’t know how fast I was running, it felt like I was zooming along at 8min/miles, in reality, it was probs more like 13, Saz was running alongside the other side of the fence and I turned onto the finish chute with the biggest smile. I was amazed that there were so many people still there! I ran passed my twitter buddies Andy, Gareth, Pete and Jo who had stayed to see me in and high fived as I went, I saw my family, and Sophie cheering and clapping, I saw Shabbasister Sara and I clapped at them all and bolted for the finish. And then it was done.
There are too many thank you’s I need to say for the last 9 months, I need to say them, it’s important to me.
Twitter – For introducing me to amazing people. For letting me vent when I needed. For fixing my broken heart.
Shabbas – For welcoming me into your family, for all your support when I was doubting myself, fantastic support on the day Sara x
Daz – For picking me up last year, there can never be enough thank yous or hugs for that, you got me moving in the right direction when I thought I was lost.
Regency Runners – For the company, the support, encouragement, but most importantly the friendship.
Pete, Jo, Andy, Gareth, James, Lu – For waiting, for being incredible support over these last 5 months, for going on this journey together.
My friend – For sowing the seed, for starting the journey, for the support on the day, for waiting to see me finish, for seeing it through to the end of the chapter.
Chris – For incredible support during the race, for understanding what it meant, for ‘getting it’.
Coach Dave – For helping me to switch back off race day, for the belief every step of the way, for making me faster, the fantastic photos to make incredible memories. We have work to do this year David!
Phil – For kicking my ass every Friday, for stopping me behaving like a baby, for pushing me to limits I never thought I would reach, for THAT shoulder press!
Neil and Pilla – For becoming such wonderful friends, for your support every step of the way, for your belief in me, for the VERY LOUD support on the day, and for your spread sheets!
Dan – For being the voice of reason, for knowing that I can do it, for all your encouragement, support, for wearing sunglasses and for being my friend.
Rae – For letting me cry, for letting me pour out my heart, for keeping me up. It is what it is. Thinking of you always xyz
Rach – For grabbing hold, for your help with the swim, for the squash during the run, for waiting, for the help to switch me back on. You know.
Brian – For being my very own bike maintenancer! For being so very kind, the last minute fix up of Le Bike, for the absolute belief that I would complete.
Saz – For making me faster, for SLP, for having faith, for understanding the jigsaw, for never questioning that I could do it, for being awesome.
Anne – For teaching me how to ride a bike (this is not a joke), for the hours of training, for keeping me calm, for coming with me, for believing.
Momatron – For just being you, for being my best friend, for not pushing, for understanding, for not missing it.
H – For being my amazing sister, for understanding how important this was, for supporting me the entire way, for missing out on time spent together and the belief that I was going to do it. I’ve missed you these last few months, I’m sorry x
Sophie – For being my motivation. I hope you read this one day, and understand how special you are, and how much I love you. All of this is for you. Don’t ever let anybody tell you there is something you can’t do, anything is possible, all you need to do is face your fears, and believe. You will be amazing, you are amazing, being your Auntie is my favourite ever thing.
So, now it is done. Before the race, this was to be my last triathlon, this would be where that chapter of my life ended. In a way it has, and it had a great ending, the ending that I hoped it would have.
The race made me remember why I loved triathlon so much. It will not be my last. There will be more, but will I go long? No. I don’t want it enough. At this point in time, 70.3 is far enough for me thank you!
Three days after the event and I have set my target for next year. I have decided what I want for each discipline, they aren’t stupid, they are realistic for me.
So yeah, Outlaw Half 2015 will be my A race next year.
But for now, SLP begins.