Lucy Gossage: things I wish I’d known as a kid
15 July 2014
Since 2011 Lucy Gossage has raced as a successful professional triathlete, despite only taking her first steps in the sport at the age of 26. Until turning pro she also worked as a cancer doctor in Cambridge.
In a very short time Lucy has chalked up a long list of wins, including three Ironman triathlons. Here she tells us how she developed from a child who showed absolutely no aptitude for sport to become Ironman UK Champion as an adult.
If you’re a young cyclist or triathlete (or the parent of one), what Lucy has learned about sport and life along the way might be the most valuable advice that you’ll ever read.
I wasn’t particularly sporty as a child…
In running races at primary school I was the girl at the back hoping someone ahead of me would stop so I could stop too and pretend I was helping them. And at secondary school I did two cross-country races; in the second I came dead last.
I didn’t run again competitively until my first triathlon at the age of 26. And in swimming lessons at primary school I never got promoted past the slow lane and thus never got taught anything other than breaststroke kick holding on to the edge of the pool.
So I doubt any of my teachers would have expected that, as an adult, I’d become quite a good triathlete with three Ironman wins to my name.
I do know one thing though. I’ve always been determined and I’ve always worked hard. And generally, if I fail at something I’ll stick at it and keep on trying until I succeed.
With running it may have taken me the best part of 15 years to pluck up the courage to give racing another go, but, who knows, maybe coming last in that cross country race aged 13 has spurred me on more than I realise in terms of my triathlon journey as an adult.
Taking up sport late…
I took up triathlon aged 26, when I was working long hours as a junior doctor. I’d put on some weight and wanted to get fit so signed up for the London triathlon as a challenge. My only goal was to finish the race. I ended up finishing bang in the middle of my age group but my placing was largely irrelevant to me. I’d loved the experience and felt enormous satisfaction on achieving my goal.
A few weeks later, someone dared me to do an Ironman. An ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and then a marathon. My initial reaction was ‘that’s impossible’. Quickly followed by ‘that’s ridiculous’. But the seed was sowed in my brain, and eventually I signed up for Ironman UK the following year. I did all my training on my own, not really knowing what I was doing. But always, at the back of my mind, I had the thought of this challenge which deep down I believed was impossible, driving me on. As race day approached I gradually got more and more scared. I was terrified I may not finish. And as someone who doesn’t do failure that was a scary prospect.
But, as I’m learning, setting yourself a goal that seems impossible and facing up to the possibility of failure makes the rewards when you succeed much greater. Finishing that first ironman remains one of the biggest achievements of my life and, despite winning four Iron distance races and finishing a PhD since, nothing has been quite as special as crossing that first finish line. I had achieved something I had thought impossible and not much beats that.
Since then, I’ve gradually started to take triathlon more seriously. I’ve progressed from someone who did races to finish them to someone who races competitively. Right now, I’m taking a two-year sabbatical from work to allow me to train and race full time. This wasn’t something I had ever envisaged when I entered my first triathlon but I guess I’ve come to realise that life is a journey and, to some extent, you have to go where it takes you.
So what have I learnt along the way..?
Firstly, what you do at school doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life.
It’s easy to get ‘put in a box’ as a kid. The clever kid, the sporty kid, the naughty kid, the shy kid. Yet actually, even if you are not the fastest or the cleverest or the most confident when you’re growing up, don’t let yourself be given a label early on. Be brave enough to follow your dreams; generally in life if you want something enough and are prepared to work hard for it you can get it.
Secondly, perhaps in the long run failure is what moulds you as a person in the future.
Although at the time no-one likes failing, you’ve only failed at something if you’re too scared to give it another go. In terms of triathlon I know I’ve learnt far more from my bad races than my good ones. And though I’m no longer scared of not finishing races, I’m continually pushing myself with new challenges; racing faster people, doing bigger races, setting myself tougher goals. I don’t always succeed and it’s often tempting to take the safe option and stick with the familiar. But I promise you, it’s always better to try and fail than to ask ‘what if?’
Thirdly, do things because you want to, not because you can.
When I started work as a doctor I was climbing the career ladder as quickly as possible without really thinking about where it was taking me. Triathlon has helped me to take a step back and think about what I really want from life. As I’ve learnt, it’s far better to be slightly lower down a ladder you want to climb than at the top of one you don’t.
Fourthly, hard work and determination will get you an awfully long way.
Hard work will ALWAYS beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard. So, if you love doing something, whether it’s maths, sports or anything else you set your mind to, and are prepared to throw your life and soul into it, don’t be put off if you’re not immediately good at it. Often the things we find most difficult are ultimately the most rewarding when we crack them.
And finally, whatever you are doing in life, try and keep it fun.
Of course, to be as good as you can be, there will always be times when you want to quit, times when you want to stay in bed and times when you want to do anything but what you’re meant to be doing. In terms of triathlon, I always struggle with the extra swims I do as I try to improve my technique. And I have a love-hate relationship with hard running intervals. But, like most things in life, if you make sure you enjoy 80% of it, it’s the 20% you don’t enjoy that will probably be doing the most good.
Strive to be the best you can be.
That doesn’t mean always winning, it means working to get the very best out of yourself.
You don’t have to be the best to be proud but you do have to try.
Remember you’re doing it because you want to be doing it. Keep your long-term goal in your mind. And believe in the mantra that hard work pays off. Push each other on but embrace other’s success.
And, as my coach always tells me, racing with a smile will always make you quicker.