Lucy Gossage is a cancer doctor who last year put her career on hold to become a full-time, professional triathlete. A self-confessed late starter, Lucy didn’t do any sport seriously at school or university. Her first triathlon a decade ago was a New Year’s challenge to herself and she only tried Ironman after a bet in a nightclub with a friend. Training with a free online programme, often with a hangover, she only realised she had won her age group and qualified for Kona, Hawaii (the holy grail of Ironman events), when she was checking her results the next day. Now a four time Ironman champion, she talks to Totally Active about swapping her stethoscope and hospital scrubs for a wetsuit and bib-shorts. This is a feature article from Totally Active Magazine originally posted on 30th September 2016.
Totally Active: It was a big call to put your medical career on hold and go pro.
Lucy: I don’t think I’ll ever regret it. I know I won’t look back in two years when I’m an oncologist and wish I was a bit higher up the career ladder or had a bit more money in the bank. You can’t buy experience like I’m having.
Totally Active: After winning Ironman UK in Bolton in the summer in 9:31:58, you finished tenth at Kona in October with a time of 9:28:36. You tweeted afterwards, “My next race is going to be hilly and cold. I HATE the heat!” Talk us through it.
Lucy: I did Watt Bike sessions in the hot yoga room before I went out. They were absolutely horrible but when I got out there I was quite pleasantly surprised with how I coped. But by race day it was just crazy. Apparently it was the hottest Kona for eight years – more than 40C. Bolton was my perfect day whereas Kona was a long way from being a perfect race. I was disappointed with my swim [2.4 miles in 1:05:08]. The bike leg [112 miles in 5:02:40] wasn’t amazing but it was solid. The run [26.2 miles in 3:15:51] felt horrendous, but wasn’t as dire as I thought it was. I’ve never suffered that much before. I certainly had to dig deeper than I’d ever had to.
Totally Active: Last year at Kona you ended up walking five miles into the run, finishing in 32nd in 11:32:12. What did you do differently this year?
Lucy: There’s definitely been a mental shift. I went there ready to race rather than to finish it. Last year I didn’t think I was good enough to race competitively there. This year I knew that I was. I was confident that if I could put together a performance as good as my Bolton one, I had a good chance of getting into the top 10.
My achilles had flared up running into the race last year but actually I’d already messed up the race before I got to the run because I rode the bike leg so slowly. I think what I’m most proud of about this year’s race is that I had the guts to go back and conquer my fears. When I came out of the swim in exactly the same time as last year, way down the field, it would have been very easy to let those fears overcome me. It could easily have turned into failure once again.
Totally Active: You won your first Ironman UK in 2013 despite your bike computer breaking. Do you think people get too hung up on stats or have you morphed into a tri gear geek?
Lucy: No. For me numbers aren’t really important. I think that’s why I struggle with swimming because you can’t hide from your times, whereas I won’t look at my Garmin when I’m running. I just use it to record data to look at afterwards.
Often I’m so tired that I can’t hit anywhere near the numbers that I’d hit in a race. You know how hard you’re working. For me it’s better to go out with some friends and do a slightly less specific session than to go out and do a highly specific session on my own that I don’t get that much out of.
Totally Active: You wrote on your blog on the plane to Kona that for you the result on race day is almost irrelevant and the process is as important as outcome. Do you genuinely believe that?
Lucy: I do. If you go into a race and you know that you’ve done everything that you could do in the build up, then that’s all you can ask. Yes, I was disappointed I didn’t have my Ironman UK race out in Kona but I couldn’t have done anything differently. I wouldn’t change a single thing, other than the swim start.
I found out how much I could suffer. I had a horrible time but I didn’t quit. I had my dream race at Bolton and then in Hawaii I had the race where you find out a lot about yourself as a person. That’s why I do triathlon, not for the money or winning.
Totally Active: What advice would you pass on to amateurs from your age-group days?
Lucy: Join a club. When I joined TFN tri club I was a complete novice. It was a way to meet people who love being outside. I didn’t know anything. I just rode my bike and ran and swam. I wouldn’t have even known what a brick session was. You find out about intervals and structuring your training. You push each other on and bring out the best in each other.
Also I think if you’re a woman, don’t be scared of racing. It’s obviously a generalisation but I think it’s fair to say that quite often women like the racing less than the training. I used to get so stressed about racing. Women are perhaps less confident about putting themselves on the line than guys.
Remember to have fun. Any age grouper is doing it as a hobby and what’s the point of a hobby, if it’s not something you enjoy?
Totally Active: Swimming has always been your weakest link with your early successes coming in run-bike events like the Powerman Zofingen duathlon. How have you tackled that?
Lucy: Joining the City of Cambridge Masters swimming club has revolutionised swimming for me. Before I loathed going to the pool. Now I swim with Masters three times a week and organise my own sessions with some older friends another couple of times a week. So instead of dreading swimming I enjoy it, even though many of the sessions are at 5.30 in the morning.
This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.