We’re currently living in strange and challenging times, with many people struggling with motivation, maintaining a positive outlook, balancing work with home schooling, worrying about an uncertain future and more.
To help you persevere with your training and inject a dose of energy and positivity in your day, we have just the person for you.
Not only did our guest run into first place at the 2019 Xtri World Championships presented by Norseman, but she’s also an outstanding cancer doctor and her journey into becoming a pro triathlete is unique.
Without further ado, it’s our great privilege to introduce to you today. Dr. Lucy Gossage!
We hope this episode gives you a mini escape and/or is a great workout companion, and that you and your family are staying safe and healthy.
In this short episode you’ll learn three key things:
- Lucy’s journey from med student and first-time triathlete to oncologist and pro triathlete
- How to stay resilient during tough times
- Power of exercise for living with and after cancer
Listen to the episode on:
Scroll down for the full episode notes with accompanying images.
Lucy: Hi! Thanks for inviting me.
Adelaide: Norway has been in lockdown for over a week and the UK is about to go into lockdown, how are you feeling?
Lucy: I would say very good, but COVID-19 is making it slightly less than very good. But yeah, all things considered. I’m pretty good.
Adelaide: That’s good to hear. We are living in crazy times, which we’ll get to later on when we talk about resilience.
But first, could you please tell us who you are and what it is you do in the world today?
Lucy: I am an oncologist, a cancer doctor and I work in the UK. I was a professional triathlete for quite a long time. Most of the time whilst I was working and I’m the reigning Norseman champion!
Adelaide: Being an oncologist and Norseman champion is doubly amazing! What drove you and inspired you to take on this incredible career, and how did that lead you to becoming a pro triathlete?
Lucy: I think a lot of my life I kind of fall into things. I was a junior doctor and I’d done my my first three years of my exams and was thinking about what I wanted to specialise in.
I thought about which patients I’d remembered over these three years and as a medical student, and they were all of the patients who’d had cancer.
I was actually applying for some odd jobs in oncology to see whether I liked it, but then ended up getting a more senior job, which was a specialisation training programme.
The main thing about medicine is enjoying the patients that you work with and the diseases that you work with. And I really, really love it.
One of the things people often say is that it must be really depressing and it’s sad sometimes, but it’s not depressing.
I feel really lucky to have a job that I love. I think a lot of people don’t get that and I think it makes you appreciate life a little bit more being an oncologist.
Adelaide: Just dialling back slightly, what made you become a doctor in the first place?
Lucy: I was quite bright at school and at the school I was in, it was either you practice medicine or law.
But actually what swung me was when I was about 16, I ended up doing two or three weeks as a volunteer at a holiday for people with disabilities. They’re basically respite holidays for people with disabilities and their carers, and they go to a residential home, and you go and stay there and look after them.
I think that’s when I realised I like working with people.
I would say to people at school who were thinking about doing medicine, you’re only going to like it, if you like working with people and it’s very different to enjoying understanding the body, which is very important too. But fundamentally, if you don’t like people, you’re not going to like being a doctor.
It was suddenly that week that made me think I’d like to be a doctor and then I applied to medicine at university and the rest is history!
I never planned the circuitous route I took to becoming a consultant. That certainly wasn’t on the cards when I finished medical school and that’s pretty incredible!
Adelaide: Do you now specialise in a specific type of cancer or is it quite broad?
Lucy: I treat germ cell tumours, so they are more commonly testicular cancers and sarcomas, which are cancers of connective soft tissue. They’re very uncommon and there are lots of different subtypes.
The reason I wanted to get a job treating these two main cancers, is partly because they often affect a lot of younger people and I really enjoy working with younger patients, and also their particular sarcomas, but also the kind of poor prognosis testicular cancer. So these are the more aggressive ones, as the overwhelming majority of people with testicular cancer are cured, but in Nottingham, where I work, we see the more serious and more advanced testicular cancers and the same with our sarcomas. They’re very rare cancers.
I think that makes it challenging as an oncologist and it makes it very challenging as a patient, but I actually think it’s more rewarding and I find it rewarding. So those are the two reasons why I wanted to get a job treating those two kinds of cancers.
Adelaide: You are and your patients sound incredible. Where do you see yourself going in the future?
Lucy: I don’t know, I’ve only been a consultant for a year and I only work part time. I think that works really well for me, because it stops you getting too burnt out and I really enjoy going my work. I think if I was doing five days a week every week, I’d probably get exhausted.
I’ve also developed an interest in what we call exercise oncology, but basically the the benefits of physical activity for people living with and after cancer. So I’m doing quite a lot of charity stuff around that. I guess that’s where my triathlon world and my work world coincide, and it’s nice to be able to link the two worlds together.
So at the moment work wise, I’m just trying to become a good doctor, good oncologist and get to grips with being a consultant and chasing these rare cancers. I never plan too far down the line, but exercising cancer is an evolving field and it’s something I’m really passionate about and the benefits it can have for people with cancer and after cancer.
I’ll definitely carry on doing what I’m doing in that in that area as well.
Adelaide: Is that what led you to create your charity 5K Your Way?
Lucy: 5K Your Way is a move against cancer. It’s is an initiative I co-founded with the amazing Gemma Hillier-Moses, who is a runner and had cancer about eight years ago when she was 24. 5K Your Way is under Gemma’s Move Charity.
5K Your Way is a really simple initiative to encourage people living with and after cancer to walk, jog, run to or volunteer at Park Runs on the last Saturday of every month.
We started 5K Your Way in June 2018 with just a local group in Nottingham and it’s kind of snowballed since then.
We now have about 5,056 groups across the UK and Ireland. Now we’ve got this platform, we want to to expand and have groups available to everyone living with cancer in the UK.
I also think there’s an opportunity to provide more resources about physical activity and cancer.
I’m really passionate about it and at the moment we’ve got these groups of people all around the country on the last Saturday of every every month who are just getting out there and being active, and being around people who get what it’s like to have cancer. They don’t necessarily go and talk about it, but they know that other people get it and have had or are having similar experiences.
It’s really uplifting and positive. People say it gives them something positive to work towards once a month. I also think the friendships and having something positive that you can do with your body outside of turning up to hospital appointments and going for your treatments is really powerful.
There is a lot of evidence that says exercise is good for people living with enough cancer. So it’s not just me banging on about how I like running and how everyone should go running! We’re definitely not just about running. We’re really encouraging walkers as well. They’re actually the people I get most excited about, because they’re probably the people who wouldn’t get out and do something without it.
It’s really amazing to see people transform, I just love it. Some people from the Nottingham group are now signing up for triathlons. We have this amazing lady called Sue, who’s 72 and she’s got bowel cancer. Sue never ran before her diagnosis, but when she heard about 5K Your Way, she was in hospital and couldn’t get out to go to the toilet, she was so poorly and she saw it, and decided that she had to get fit to run it and she did! Sue just kept getting quicker and quicker and she’s just amazing the most amazing person.
There are so many incredible stories coming out of 5K Your Way, so I’m really proud of it.
I hope that we can become more than 5K Your Way and that we can provide some really useful resources for people, because I still get emails the whole time and messages on social media, you know, I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, can I still exercise? Can I swim? How do I do this? And there’s no where to signpost people to, so that’s 5K Your Way in a nutshell.
Adelaide: That’s incredible and it sounds like it’s on a very exciting trajectory! Let’s link up your work world with your triathlon world, how did you become a pro triathlete?
Lucy: I did my first triathlon when I was a junior doctor, basically I just started putting on a lot of weight, kind of working hard, playing hard. I would go to work, go to the gym and then go to the pub. Then my long-term boyfriend and I started having some issues, so I kind of just signed up for the London triathlon as a get fit challenge.
I’d never done anything like that! I could swim breaststroke, cut I couldn’t swim font crawl. I’d never biked apart from getting around University and I’d never ran competitively.
I loved the London Triathlon and then a week later, my boyfriend and I split up. I got very drunk and some medical students I was teaching told me about this thing called an Ironman. I was like that’s impossible, that’s ridiculous and then I got very drunk, and I said:
‘If I’m single on New Years Day, I’m going to do an Ironman.’
Soon New Year’s Eve, I was at a party in Scotland and met a guy who’d done an Ironman and he said it was amazing. So I thought that was fate. I signed up for Ironman UK on the second of January.
It was only ever going to be a one off challenge. I was just going to do this stupid thing, which sounds ridiculous and it is ridiculous. I didn’t join any tri club, I didn’t know anyone that had done a triathlon other than this guy.
I used to call Ironman Geek, because he would give me training advice like train and wear a heart rate monitor and I’d just go to the gym and sit on the exercise bike for an hour and then go play tennis.
I didn’t have a Garmin and I didn’t have a watch. I’d ride my bike by ripping the pages out of my car map, highlighting my route and stopping at every junction and just kept going.
I did that for Ironman UK and I genuinely didn’t think I’d finish. I’ll never forget lining up at the start. I was in a wetsuit and everyone seemed to know what they were doing and I felt like I was under prepared, like a soldier going into battle. However, I absolutely loved it! I chatted my way around the bike all on my road bike with puncture-proof tyres, because I didn’t know to change a puncture. But I absolutely loved it and kind of thought that was that.
I went back to my old life and started going to the pub and again. I realised I did quite like the training and luckily a guy I was working with had just joined the local trip club and he was like, why don’t you come down?
I said no as I felt that would be far too serious. That wasn’t for me. I’m not a triathlete.
Eventually I built up the courage and joined the local triathlon club and that was it really, because I I found this whole new social life outside of work. We’d go swimming, then to the pub, for a cycle ride and then to the pub or cafe and it was really sociable.
They were all people who weren’t doctors and that’s how I fell in love with it properly and little by little, I got a bit better.
The reason I got good was because when I moved to Cambridge to do a research PhD, I really struggled. I really missed my patients and I was in the lab, and I didn’t really know what I was doing and I didn’t know why I was doing it. I felt like I didn’t have much purpose to my job and I wasn’t getting much satisfaction from it. I think as a consequence, I started to train rather than exercise and again, and networking in Cambridge was very different initially too. So then training became a way to validate my days. Certainly the first couple of years of my PhD and that’s when I got good as an age grouper.
Then I got very good as an age grouper and eventually I plucked up the courage to get my pro licence when I was working full time. Then I went part-time at work for about three years and when I finally finished my PhD, I realised it was now or never, and I had two and a half years of being an athlete full-time athletes.
I went back to work in 2016, but carried on racing professionally for another couple of years and last year, I wasn’t racing professionally nor training professionally, but I was still doing some races that I really wanted to do, like Norseman.
Adelaide: What an incredible journey, so many twists and turns!
Lucy: It’s bonkers! I’ve just moved house and I’m sitting in my conservatory and I’ve put all of my trophies up on a little shelf and it’s crazy, because when I look back to entering that first Ironman, I had no idea you could do it professionally.
Had I known you could do it professionally, it would never have even crossed my mind that would be a path I’d like to follow, and anyone who saw me do it, it would never have crossed their mind that I’d end up doing it professionally either!
Is still feels like it’s a different person and a different life. I feel so lucky to have had those opportunities, but I think you just never know where life’s going to take you. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, not get too stressed and just follow your heart.
If I’d not followed my heart and not taken a few leaps of faith, I’d have never ended up doing what I did. But it’s interesting, because it’s taught me a huge amount more than just triathlon.
It’s taught me so much about myself. It’s taken me off the career ladder. It’s let me kind of accept that you don’t just need to be at the top of a ladder. You need to be lower down the ladder you want to be climbing. It’s taught me not to fear failure. I’ve just learned so much about myself, that has made me a better doctor in the long run. It’s crazy.
Adelaide: Just an amazing journey! You just mentioned that triathlon taught you not to fear failure and a question I’m asked quite a lot is, how do you maintain a positive outlook? Which is very relevant in today’s crisis, whether you’re experiencing failure after failure, or whether we’re in this uncertain climate. What’s your best advice for staying resilient in a difficult time, when maybe you are going hit failure after failure?
Lucy: I’m incredibly anxious about what the next few months hold for us due to COVID-19, particularly in the NHS. I worry that we’re woefully underprepared and I’ve got myself very anxious about it. I’ve literally read everything I can find out about it, but actually, I hope that the coronavirus is an opportunity for us.
I see it when I think of my patients and I see some people who’ve got these horrible conditions, a 17 year old and 20 year old who are diagnosed with an incurable cancer and you look at them and you look at their parents, and you just think, how do they cope?
I couldn’t cope if I was in that situation, but they do every single time and I think cancer or anything that makes you realise how precarious our existences is, is an opportunity to face up to our own mortality – and that’s scary.
However, it can be a vehicle for change, and it can make us take a step back and reflect on what’s important to us and perhaps realise that the small things in life that wind us up, aren’t quite as big and that we shouldn’t worry about them. When you’re dying of cancer, you don’t worry about the little things that normally piss you off.
I just hope that in the long-run, COVID-19 can help us re-evaluate our existence and what’s important to us and who’s important to us and how we can make changes in our life, so that we live our best lives.
It isn’t easy and I definitely don’t do this myself. But when I think of my patients, when they think they have a cancer and then they find out that they don’t, actually that can stimulate some really positive life changes.
I guess at the moment everyone all over the world is facing up to this uncertainty that most of us have never imagined and I think that it is a really big opportunity, as scary as it is.
So I hope in the long run, the world will be a better place before this. I’m optimistic that it will be.
Adelaide: I love one of the key things you touched upon, which is when we’re faced with something, whether it’s a unprecedented challenge like COVID-19 or a smaller challenge, a key element of a resilient mindset is turning that threat into an opportunity.
Lucy: Absolutely. I think something that really helps me when I’m racing, is that you will always get tough parts and that’s when I remind myself, it’s hurting because I want it to be hurting. It’s hurting because I’m pushing myself and that’s the way you unleash your best yourself and that’s what you want to do.
I also remind myself that I’m choosing to do this and so many people don’t get that choice to suffer and to make their bodies suffer. I’m making myself hurt, because I’m in an incredible place, doing incredible races and pushing my body to the limits.
For me, remembering that it’s a privilege to race is really powerful.
There are loads of strategies that you can use in terms of sports psychology and I think it’s definitely something that a lot of athletes don’t do enough of, work on their mind.
Everyone thinks that if they swim X number of times a week, bike x miles and run X number of miles then they’ll race their best. But very rarely do athletes actually take the time to sit down and think: Why am I doing this? How am I going to train my mind to be as strong as it can be?
I have actually created a course with a sports psychologist called Ironmind, which is a six video course with worksheets, aiming to help people work through what makes them tick, how they’ll deal with adversity, how they’re going to get the best out of themselves, mentally and physically in training and in racing.
When you invest time in sports psychology, it can change everything in your life. It’s relevant to triathlon, it’s relevant to anyone doing Ironman or Norseman or whatever race you want to do well in.
The skills that you learn and the things that you learn about yourself, when you do sit down and invest time and effort into thinking about it, can change your life completely. Helen, the sports psychologist behind Ironmind, is amazing and I’ve learned so much by working her.
Adelaide: That’s great. I’m 100% with you. That’s what I do in my work too and changing my mindset completely transformed my life too. Learning how to wire your brain for the life and race you want is just so important.
Lucy: I’s so important, now more than ever. So many people’s races are cancelled and I think people are struggling with that, whether it’s their first one or their, tenth one. They’re really fit and they’ve invested so much time and that’s clearly so disappointing, but actually, it’s also an opportunity, because it helps them to work out how they’re going to deal with setbacks, and it’s a setback.
At the end of the day, it’s just a race and I think what’s going on in the world makes everyone realise that triathlon for everybody, no matter how serious you take it, is just a sport and it’s just for fun. If you’re doing it for the right reasons, then the training and the friendships that you make are probably more valuable than the race itself.
Adelaide: Again, I completely agree with you. Although it sounds so cliche, you have to find happiness in the journey, not just the destination.
Talking about choosing to hurt yourself and go through pain in a race, could you tell us about your Norseman experience?
Lucy: It was amazing. I’m actually staring right now at a photo of me just summiting the top of the mountain on my wall.
I did Patagonman at the end of December, which is a breathtaking part of the world and it was just so refreshing to do an Xtreme triathlon.
Everyone’s heard of Norseman and the questions people ask you are: you’re a triathlete, have you done an Ironman? Have you done Kona? Have you done Norseman?
These are kind of the questions that you get asked and I’m so glad I did Norseman.
We were so lucky with the weather last year. It was incredible. It’s like a heat wave and the scenery is absolutely stunning.
I had no idea what we were climbing up until I got to the bottom and then when I got to the top and I just looked around, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing’!
I really think that everyone should try an xtreme triathlon, because it’s so different to Ironman in a really good way. They’re like two different sports. Yeah, you’re swimming, biking and running. But the feelings are completely different. I don’t think one’s better than the other. They’re just completely different and everyone should try one. I think everyone who does long distance triathlon should try an extreme triathlon.
Adelaide: It was amazing to see you cross that finish line!
Lucy: It was just absolutely beautiful and I kind of naively thought it would be easier than an Ironman, because I thought you’d be walking the last 11 miles or whatever it is up the hill, but I didn’t realise that you can run all but the last 5km!
I didn’t realise quite how steep it was.
I didn’t realise how hard it was walking that last 5km!
I didn’t have a heart rate monitor or anything, but I’m sure I was cardiovascularly working 100 times harder than I would be when I’m running and you just have no idea until you get to the top. You can’t breathe! It was super tough, but just incredible.
The lake to the bottom of Zombie is flat and about 25km, then you’ve got 12km of road running up, which is Zombie Hill, and that’s the bit everyone says, ‘Oh, you walk that bit.’ But actually, you can run it and it’s bloody hard! I think that’s what I underestimated.
I didn’t quite realise how hard it would be and I hadn’t trained running up mountains and then the last 5km I wasn’t running. I ran little bits, but unless you’re a proper, proper, proper fell runner who knows how to do it, I don’t think anyone can really run it and walking is not easier than running. I was like holding my quads.
It’s just so different with your team as well. My parents were my support crew and that for me was really special, because they’d been to see a lot of my races and they were incredible! They were just driving and I didn’t have to stop on the bike once and I thought I’d have to stop each time I want a bottle. Mum was like a professional aid person and dad was on crutches. They were just a dream team. It was really special.
I think that’s something that you only get at the extreme triathlons. You can’t do the race without them. It is really a team team effort.
Adelaide: If you talk to any Norseman athlete, they say that having their support team is the most special experience.
Lucy: Definitely, for me to have my mom and dad actually part of the race, rather than just standing there watching is really, really special.
Adelaide: And finally, could you just let us know how Norseman led you to work with a Norwegian charity called AktivMotreft
Lucy: AktivMotreft translates to activity with cancer, I think. This is just such a cool coincidence.
So when Dag, General Manager of Norseman, and I started chatting about me doing Norseman, he knew that I was interested in the power of exercising and cancer and because my mum couldn’t run up the last 5km with me, he suggested that Helle, who’s the CEO of AktivMotreft, would love to do it with me and talk about exercising and cancer!
I was like, this just seems too good to be true, like the two worlds really are coinciding. So Helle was my support person for the last 5km and bless her, she’s super fit, but I don’t think she quite realised how hard it was would be.
So she started with me at about 10km and then I kept dropping her, so sensibly, she got a lift up to the 5km point and she was absolutely fine. It was super cool.
After the race, I went to Oslo and spent a day with her and her charity, finding out what she was doing and explaining what I was doing.
I actually then went back to Oslo a couple of months later and attended a exercise cancer day that she had organised, which was just incredible.
They’ve got gyms in most of the big hospitals in Norway, so that people with cancer can exercise during their treatment, and they’ve got a massive awareness campaign and they’ve got a huge, huge public profile. So it’s really exciting to see what they’re doing.
This year the title sponsor of Norseman, Zalaris, are auctioning off some charity spots, which they’re raising money for 5K Your Way and the amazing charity that Heller founded.
It’s so cool how triathlon and oncology can lead to these amazing opportunities together and so weird that a bucket list race has has led to that. I’ve learned so much from Heller in terms of what she’s done and how she’s done it and how she’s achieved it. It’s just absolutely inspiring. She’s a really valuable contact and I’m very grateful to Dag for putting us in touch.
Adelaide: That’s really incredible for all of that to come out of Norseman, how wonderful!
Lucy: I know, I’d have never believed it if someone had said to me, you’re going to end up racing professionally, and then you’ll develop this interest in exercising cancer, and then you’ll do a triathlon race and that will help you grow your interest! It’s funny how life works out.
Adelaide: Finishing on that really positive note, we just have a quick fire round!
How would you describe Norseman in one word?
Adelaide: What three athletes would you love to see race Norseman?
Lucy: Dame Kelly Holmes, as I think she’s awesome.
I think it would be good to get some some really good pro’s, they need to go off the beaten track. It’d be quite cool to see a pro announcing they’ll do Norseman at their peak and see how quick they could do it.
I would have liked to have done it two or three years ago when I was at my absolute best, just to see how quick I could have gone.
Adelaide: That’s awesome! Lucy, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on Norseman Radio, thank you so much.
Lucy: Thanks for inviting me! It will always hold a special place in my heart and who knows, maybe I’ll be back in one capacity one day, never, never say never!
About Adelaide Goodeve
Adelaide is a member of the Norseman media team and a professional mindset coach. Find out more about Adelaide here.
About Lucy Gossage
Lucy is a ex-professional triathlete from the UK
If you’d like to connect with Lucy, then you’ll find her on
5K Your Way:
- Website: 5kyourway.org
- Instagram: @5kyourway
- Twitter: @cancer5kYourWay
- Facebook group: 5K Your Way: Move Against Cancer
Aktiv Mot Kreft
About Norseman Radio
If you’d like to listen to interesting and intriguing stories around the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon and fully immerse yourself in the experience, then Norseman Radio is for you.
This podcast is not just for those who’d like to jump off the car ferry into Eidfjord and run up Zombie Hill.
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