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Lucy Gossage: don’t write me off yet!

Chief Correspondent

Lucy Gossage: Don’t write me off as a Pro just yet!

Last week I interviewed David McNamee, who was Great Britain’s fastest male athlete at the Ironman World Championships once again this year.

Topping the speed charts for the British women this year was Lucy Gossage, who despite breaking her collarbone eight weeks before the race, was able to fight back (see our pre-race “when life gives you lemons… make lemonade!” video),  and achieve an inspirational ninth place finish, one position higher than 12 months ago.

It’s been a busy time for the Duracell Bunny in recent weeks and that is not going to change any time soon, as Lucy will shortly be returning to work part-time as an oncologist. Does that mean Pro career is now over? To anyone doubting her, she simply says, “I think anyone that writes me off the Pro scene just yet is wrong to do that!”

I sat down with Lucy on Monday when she was doing some promotional work with her shoe sponsors, Skechers, to talk through her challenging lead in to Kona, her motivations, the race in Kona, what the future holds and much more.

So Lucy, we are now just over two weeks on from Kona. How do you look back now on the race, given the circumstances and difficulties you had leading into the race?

I don’t think I’ll really appreciate it actually, maybe until after I’ve stopped triathlon. I was saying to somebody at the awards that it’s weird, that it almost feels normal – but it’s not normal – but you come back to the UK, life is so busy, I’ve been trying to sort out so many things in the last two weeks, that I’m not sure I have properly appreciated it yet. I am immensely proud of course, but it almost feels like it’s someone else that is doing it…

It feels like you’ve always had something of a love-hate relationship with Kona over the years, with the heat and the course not being your preferred choice. Given what you achieved this year and the hurdles you had to overcome to do that, what is your relationship with that race now? 

I’ve been five times – and the first time I hated it. I went for five days, I didn’t know anyone, I was on a road bike, I didn’t look like an athlete and absolutely hated it. The second time I was a good age-grouper – I quite enjoyed it, didn’t love it, but was with a few friends. First time as a Pro I walked the marathon… and definitely hated it! Last year I was immensely proud of what I did. I don’t feel like it was a great performance from me, but it was so hot it was just survival. I had a fun trip, but my memories are more that I was trying to conquer Kona (after walking the previous year), and I felt like I did that.

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2015
Kona 2015

This year I spent the whole year saying that I’d much rather do Ironman Wales than Kona… until I broke my collarbone! It was then I realised that I really did want to get to Kona. It’s the only time you really get to test yourself against the very best – for me triathlon is not about winning , it’s about seeing how well I can do, which is about dealing with adversity and challenges and Kona is all of those. I really did want to go and yes, this trip was just amazing, I loved pretty much every minute of it, really savoured it… and yes maybe I have learned to love it. It’s not a race I love – but I love the challenge associated with it.

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2016
Kona 2016

You are going to be going back to work part-time soon and you’d already spoken before about this being your last Kona, at least for a couple of years depending on how things pan out for you. With what you achieved, given the circumstances of your preparation, does it make you want to go back more or – perhaps in a similar way to Chrissie’s last race in Kona – would that make it easier to not return having achieved more than you thought possible this time around?

Certainly for this coming year I don’t have any interest in going back. I feel like I’ve done two really good performances where I’ve got the best out of myself on the day that I possibly could, and I want to do some fun races. For me, Ironman Wales is my favourite race I’ve ever done and I want to go back and do that again. So, I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all by not going back to Kona next year.

I probably would like to go back to Kona and be racing as a Pro – potentially in two years time – not because I feel like I need to do better or prove anything, but as I said before, because I like the challenge of racing the best in the world and that is the ony chance that you get to do it. So, maybe once more… but it’s Ironman Wales on my hit-list for 2017!

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2016

When you broke your collarbone eight weeks out from the race, was there any one thing, person or event which made you think that actually, no, I’m not going to give up and I am at least going to try and recover?

I’ve got a friend who was paralysed a couple of years ago, and I was thinking ‘it is just a collarbone, it’s just a race’ – but because I was going back to work part-time it did feel like more than that at the time. I was thinking, is that it for me in triathlon, do I just quietly fade away? I just didn’t want it to end like that. It was really tough, I came to realise just how important friends are; old Universirty friends, Cambridge Triathlon friends, so many people… but actually, it was a song from an eight year old that really was key! Her name is Billie and I’ve met her a few times, and she’s written me this song and I must have played it about 10 times when I saw it on Facebook. I phoned my friend Helen who is a psychologist who has really been helping me a lot this year and I said ‘I don’t need you now… I’ve got an eight year old!’, and honestly that song I played so much in the eight weeks leading up to Kona, in my head, on the turbo, on my phone!

One of the things I imagine you are concerned about must have been the swim given the collarbone break. I noticed that you did the Ho’ala training swim a week before the race and swam about one hour. Was that an important milestone and confidence boost for you?

That swim was good, because I was worried about getting hit in the water, and so with that out of the way and survived, that worry was eliminated. My swimming has always been a battle… but I was actually quite surprised when I got back into the water after a couple of weeks that I hadn’t lost as much as I thought I had. I think working with Helen has helped make me look at things more positively and because of how the swim works in Kona, you are most likely to be in a pack. Realistically my swim had got better but that probably meant that I may well have been leading a pack rather than sitting in it, and so I’d perhaps now be in that same pack and working a bit harder to stay on or, worse case, maybe lost a couple of minutes. So, I was pleasantly surprised with the swim on race day.

On to the bike, one of your strengths which you’ve proven in long distance time trials in the UK. Given where you exit the swim, does that become tactical or do you just ride to your own effort / pace / power?

My bike was actually my biggest worry after the crash. Although I’d been doing a lot on the turbo, I’d been doing hour and a half sessions and breaking them up but I’d only done three long rides before the race with my friend James and I was smashed at the end of them, so I knew that my bike legs weren’t quite there. I actually did a 50-mile TT the day before I flew out and I’d psyched myself up for it – I’d had caffeine, beetroot shots and done everything I could possibly do because I knew for my head I needed to get a decent time. I did that, getting the same time more or less as the previous year, but I had ridden a lot harder!

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2016

Because I knew my bike wasn’t where it had been I didn’t look at power at all during the race because I thought if it is off then it’s just going to mess with me so I just rode my own race. I wasn’t catching people as quickly as I thought I might but I knew I was riding as well as I could. I think because I didn’t have any expectations of placing before the race I didn’t worry about it as I was doing everything I could do.

And then the run – I think you were 18th starting the run and finished up ninth. How did that play out, because there must be a lot of carnage and athletes blowing up out there with how aggressively the Pros are racing? Also, did you pace it well, as you have been known to go off a bit quick at times in the past?! 

Actually I was quite confident about my run. Ironically I’d probably done more running in those six weeks than I had in the rest of the year – and that’s not an exaggeration, mile-for-mile it probably is true. All really slow, eight-minute miles or slower, but I’d done a couple of races that had made me think that actually I probably am quite run fit.

I set off on Ali’i Drive and I felt like I was jogging and I wasn’t in a rush. Again, I wasn’t aiming then for top-ten, I felt pretty good and I was just cruising. I wasn’t realy catching people until about 10-miles and than at I think around 14 or 15 miles someone said I was in the top-10… and I thought ‘blimey, I could end up like sixth!’, that was really the only time that I’d thought about position. I thought I had enough in me for a quicker last hour, but I didn’t and maybe the bike had taken more out of me than I thought. I’m not disappointed with the run, I definitely didn’t over-pace it at the start – I faded, but I didn’t blow up.”

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2016

Your are shortly going to be returning to work part-time as an oncologist. I know that is another passion of yours, you’ve completed your PhD… is that an exciting prospect for you?

It’s really mixed emotions, really mixed. I loved being an oncologist and seeing patients; I didn’t like my PhD… which is why I got good at triathlon.

It’s funny, until about a year ago I would have felt much more confident about saying I was a good doctor rather than a good triathlete and now it’s time to go back to work and see patients that I haven’t done for a long time, I feel much more confident about saying I’m a good triathlete! So, I’m nervous about still being a good doctor, I’m nervous about how I’ll juggle the two and nervous about whether I’ll enjoy it or not. I’m quite excited about the challenge of trying to juggle them and I do think there is something to be said about having other things in your life. It is harder than people realise to be a full-time athlete and certainly this year I’ve had so many injuries. Both of the physios who have helped me have said that on paper you really shouldn’t have been able to do any of those races.

I’m worried about whether I’ll still be a good doctor… but only time will tell!

Race wise, you’ve talked about Ironman Wales in particular, but I know you also enjoy racing in the UK generally – and not just in the bigger races – are you going to be pretty much focussed on racing UK events next year? 

I’ll probably do some European 70.3’s but I definitely want to do Ironman UK and Ironman Wales. I might do a later season Ironman using the Ironman Wales fitness as a bonus, but Staffordshire again, so really those three I’ll do for sure and then try and fit in some others around them.

I like racing and that’s why it annoyed my last week when somebody said to me ‘you won’t enjoy it as much when you are not as good’. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that I might not be as good, I mean you look at Simone Braendli, she was amazing when she went back to work full-time. I could be better for example if I’m less injured, we’ll find out.

But also, I don’t do it because I win everything. The best weekend’s of the year for me were the Long Course Weekend and Tour of Wessex and I wasn’t winning anything at those… I do it because I love it, and maybe that’s what makes me a bit different? So I’ll do some more local races and I’ll be back in Nottingham so Outlaw and the Relays which I missed this year… but I think anyone that writes me off the Pro scene just yet is wrong to do that.

Well… it wasn’t me! I’m sure we’ll still be interviewing next year (as a successful Pro…!), and I’m sure you realise, but you do inspire lots of people with what you do and achieve, so keep that smile and we look forward to following you to I’m sure more success in 2017 and beyond.

Thank you John!

Lucy Gossage - IRONMAN World Championships 2016

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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