The accidental triathlete takes on swimrun

Mar 8, 2019

British triathlete and 12-time Ironman Champion Lucy Gossage talks to Swimrun Life Magazine about her debut swimrun at ÖTILLÖ Isles of Scilly on June 9th.

SLM: How did your career as a pro triathlete begin and how much time do you dedicate to training?

LG: True story, my first ironman was a drunken dare – I know that sounds familiar to swimrunners – after a long-term relationship had ended when I was 26. At the time, it was completely a one-off. I had no swim, bike or run experience and it was simply about trying to complete a challenge I thought would be impossible. I had absolutely no idea how it would change my life and alter my career pathway.

Looking back, I’d say I’m an accidental pro. It wasn’t something I planned or something I even dreamt of. Now, as I come to the end of my career, it’s incredible, and quite humbling, to look back and see what I’ve achieved. The places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met, and the small but significant platform I now have means that I can use my triathlon journey to develop projects around exercise and cancer, like the 5K Your Way, Move Against Cancer, which I co-founded with Gemma Hillier-Moses.

Held the last Sunday of every month in the UK and Ireland, the 5K Your Way, Move Against Cancer initiative encourages people living with cancer and survivors, families, friends and those working in cancer services to “walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer” during a 5 kilometre park run.

SLM: Is there a connection between your work as an oncologist and the drive to push yourself physically through sport?

LG: I think working as an oncologist helps me make the most of life as I realize every day at work that you never know what is round the corner. It’s so easy to just do the same old, same old all the way through your life; work reminds me to make sure I take every exciting opportunity I’m given. People think it must be depressing being an oncologist but it isn’t. It’s actually incredibly life affirming.

In terms of racing, I always remind myself when I’m hurting that suffering is a privilege. So many people with cancer would love to be well enough or fit enough to hurt themselves. So when it is hurting, if I remind myself it’s hurting because I want it to be, it makes it much easier to keep going.

SLM: You are a 12 time Ironman Champion, including Ironman Lanzarote, Ironman Wales, Ironman UK, Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote and Challenge Peguera last year. How do you stay injury free?

LG: Oh, I am rarely injury free! I’ve really not had much consistent running for a long time. I think I’ve just learnt to race well with poor preparation. Put it this way, I definitely think I race better than I train!

SLM: Is your goal of taking on a new sports challenge every month this year an ode to turning 40 or a way to shake up the Ironman training?

LG: No, this isn’t anything formal. I wanted to make sure I gave myself the opportunity to try new events and break away from my standard formula of ironman racing. Winning the debut Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon last year in Chile gave me a real lust for trying different formats and travelling to new places so I’m taking this mentality forwards into 2019. This includes ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Isles of Scilly but my main goal for the summer is Norseman, a super tough iron distance race.

SLM:  What goals are you setting for your first swimrun and what do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge for you in this sport? 

LG: Honestly, I just want to enjoy this. I’m racing with an old housemate from uni, Laurence Hulatt, who was the “sporty” one. He used to go out running in these hilarious short shorts and always tried to entice me along but I just told him there was no way I could keep up (and he looked absurb in those shorts)!

We aren’t going to be particularly competitive; everybody knows swimming is hardly my forte and Laurence is pretty similar to me. But I reckon we’re going to have the biggest smiles on our faces and that’s a win of sorts. We’re actually not going to get a chance to train together before the event as he lives in Plymouth so it really is going to be a case of suck it and see on the day. We’ll learn as we go on!

SLM: How competitive are you and can you live with not taking the top spot at these new sport challenges? 

LG: Absolutely. I only ever compete against myself and only ever want to get the best out of myself. Some races I really want to race as hard as I can; others I just want to enjoy the experience and soak up the atmosphere and scenery along the way. The Isles of Scilly swimrun will be one of those.

Looking back, the races I’m most proud are the ones I didn’t win. It’s easy to suffer on a good day but much harder on a day when things don’t go to plan. But the latter are the days that cement you as an athlete.

SLM: Something people would be shocked to learn about professional Ironman Champion Lucy Gossage?

LG: I’m ridiculously untidy and disorganised!


ÖTILLÖ’s swimrun season opener in Hvar, Croatia is around the corner. Read more about the Experience (6.3k), Sprint (11.8k) and World Series (40.425k) races on April 6th & 7th here.

Article first published March 2019.

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