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Lucy Gossage: Conquering Demons at Kona

Wattbike Ambassador Lucy Gossage recently returned from the Ironman World Championships, in this guest blog, Lucy shares her experience at Kona:

I had a lot of demons to conquer out in Kona this year. Unlike the other races I’ve done it was a race I felt I had to do rather than wanted to. If I didn’t go back after last year I would have been defeated by the island and the race. Kona’s never going to be somewhere I perform at my absolute best – I’ve always struggled in the heat and the swim is far more significant than at other Ironman races due to the nature of the bike. In my heart I would much rather have raced Ironman Wales instead. But that would have been running away from my fears and not daring to face up to failing again. And if I’ve learnt one thing as a triathlete it’s that it’s far better to try and to fail than to be too scared to try and always wonder ‘What if?’

I knew I’d done everything I could to prepare for the race and I also knew I was fit going into it. But that didn’t change the fact that I always struggle in the heat. The first week or so I was out in Kona it was brutally windy out on the bike (which plays into my hands as a reasonably strong biker who would always ask for a tough bike ride) and relatively temperate. While I didn’t enjoy the conditions it was manageable. But then it got hotter. And hotter. And hotter. Apparently race day was the hottest for 8 years – temperatures were rumoured to be into the mid-forties out on the run. And the famous Kona winds had virtually disappeared. So a course which was always going to be challenging for me suddenly became even more so.

I had a far from perfect day out there on Saturday. My swim was very disappointing – I’d been swimming well in the pool and had a huge confidence boost from a great swim in the practice race on the swim course the week before. So I was pretty gutted to come out a further 4 or 5 minutes behind the leaders than I’d hoped to based on that. It would have been easy to let that play with my head, but I managed to put it behind me when I got out on the bike. My ride was good – I just put my head down and rode reasonably hard solo trying to make up as much time as I could. Certainly for the first 4 hours I was riding really well, though I did fade a bit towards the end as the temperature soared. I rode myself into 11th place, which I would have taken at the start of the race.  So onto the run, the make or break part of the race. Well I felt good for about 2 miles and the rest was a nightmare. My legs felt dead, my head was pounding and nothing I did seemed to help me cool down. I could see each mile getting slower and slower – by the time I entered the energy lab I felt as though I was hardly moving. The worst part I think was at the bottom of the energy lab – I could see about 6 or 7 girls not far ahead of me who were clearly all suffering too. On a normal day I’d be expecting to be running through the field and picking them off one by one. On this occasion my body was simply not playing. At the top of the energy lab I stopped at the aid station and wondered if this was it. OK Lucy, walk a minute, use the ice, water and coke, cool yourself down and reset. Just start jogging again, slowly, and get to the finish. It’s the world champs – you can’t let yourself quit so close to the end. It’s the world champs! Remember how hard you’ve worked to get there. So I got myself jogging, and then I started running. And with around 3 or 4 miles to go the clouds came down and I started running a bit better. It was absolute carnage out there on the Queen K. As I learnt, at this stage in the race you don’t need to be running well in order to pick people off, you just need to be running. Back into 13th, 12th, 11th. 10th! 10th Lucy – you get your fruit bowl. You can’t lose it now. Just. Keep. Moving. Forward. We got very drunk using that phrase as a prompt for drinking at the Ironman South Africa Awards party. It sounded cheesy then. For me right then it became very pertinent.

Running down Alii drive, as 10th female IN THE WORLD I had tears in my eyes. When I got into the finish I sat down and sobbed and sobbed. I expect when I look back in a few years time this will probably be the race of my career that I’m most proud of. It was far from my best performance but it was the absolute best race I could have put together on the day in those conditions. And mentally it took absolutely everything I had, both to get myself to the start line in a position to ‘race’ the race rather than complete, and to get myself to the finish line within the top 10. I don’t think I could have done anything differently, other than perhaps been more tactically astute at the start of the swim. And if you finish a race knowing you’ve given it everything you can’t help but be proud. If you end up with a fruit bowl and a top 10 in Kona you can be more than proud!

2015 has been an incredible season for me. Given where I was this time last year I couldn’t have asked for much more. I’ve had so much support before and after the race, from friends, mum (who came to watch the race), my very generous sponsors and loads of people I don’t know. It’s been humbling to read all the messages and comments on social media. Thank-you.

As for what’s next – who knows? I’ve got a holiday in California first to think things through and work out the next steps….

Kona is never going to be somewhere for me to have a dream race.