Meanwhile, back in the real world

If I were to ask friends to describe me, I guess the words “enthusiastic, energetic, loud, bonkers, bossy, gossip, driven, and competitive” may be some of the first which come to mind (not necessarily in that order).  Ever since my school days, I’ve always pushed myself and if I set myself a goal I’ll do everything possible I can to achieve it.  At school and at university I pushed myself to excel academically. Although I enjoyed playing lots of sports, a typical Saturday at uni might involve a hockey match for the medics’ “drinking” team, followed by a tennis match with friends and a college squash match.  I didn’t do any of them particularly seriously and was definitely a “participant” rather than a “competitor”. I think my year book entry at Oxford described me as something along the lines of a very noisy, energiser bunny!

My route through medicine

I did my undergraduate degree in Cambridge and then moved to Oxford for clinical medicine, qualifying as a doctor in 2003.

Then followed a few years where, like many junior doctors, I was working hard (at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham), partying hard and getting through my post-graduate exams as quickly as possible. When I finished these I was fortunate enough to get a training number in oncology at Nottingham City Hospital, where I worked for nearly three years before moving back to Cambridge to start a research PhD on kidney cancer in 2009. Oncology is an incredibly rewarding specialty to work in; people assume it’s depressing which isn’t true. Oncologists are privileged doctors who have the opportunity to forge exceptionally strong relationships with their patients. Developments in medical research mean treatments are continuously evolving and improving and it’s exciting scientifically. My long term career ambition is to work as an oncologist in a university hospital and run clinical trials aimed at improving treatment strategies alongside my clinical practice. You need a strong basic science background for this, which is why I put my clinical career on hold for a few years to do my PhD. I was fortunate enough to receive full funding from Cancer Research UK to support my research.

Lucy and Triathlon

I entered my first triathlon in 2005 in the same way that most people decide to do a marathon – I wanted a challenge. Someone suggested the London Triathlon. So I bought a bike and a wetsuit, did a bit of training and finished the race. Like every novice I questioned what on earth I was doing before the start, lining up at the docks with an army of wetsuit clad women, all of whom seemed to be far less clueless than me. This all changed the minute the start gun went off, and running down the finish, mid-pack, with a huge beam on my face I realised I would definitely be doing more triathlons in the future!

Shortly after that a long term relationship ended and I suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands. One of the medical students I was teaching at the time mentioned the word “Ironman” to me and explained what it entailed. Ridiculous I thought…..until a friend in a night club dared me to do one the next year. The idea slowly grew on me and (as you do!) I decided if I was still single by New Year’s Day I’d enter one. So I guess it was fate that on New Year’s Eve in Scotland I met someone (from then on jokingly referred to as Ironman Geek or IMG, though of course I am now far more of an IMG than he!) who had done an Ironman. He said it was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. On 2nd January I ran a half marathon on the treadmill. On 3rd January I entered Ironman UK.

Looking back I had absolutely no idea what I had let myself in for. I found a free training plan on the internet and did every single session on my own without an ipod. All this was intermingled with night shifts, my final post-graduate exam and job applications. I did nearly all of my long runs hungover and all my friends thought I was utterly mad (except for IMG who was the only person I knew who thought I would actually finish it). Crossing that finish line I was completely and utterly elated. I had achieved the impossible, and loved it. Job done! In fact I ended up winning my age group and qualifying for Hawaii, something I only realised when I was looking at the results online at work the next day.

But then

A month or so later I started to miss the training, so eventually I plucked up the courage to join TFN Tri Club in Nottingham. I have to admit I thought they would be a bunch of geeks obsessed with heart rates, training plans and run speeds.  In fact this couldn’t be further from the truth.  TFN is an utterly inspiring club, with a huge range of athletic abilities and goals, but one common theme – people who love active adventures outside.  The social side of the club is just as important as the training side and I soon found a brilliant bunch of friends from all walks of life, none of whom I would have met without triathlon. I’m now a member of the equally inspiring Cambridge triathlon club.

Since then I’ve gradually taken my training and racing more seriously and have evolved from a complete novice to an average and then good age grouper and, since 2011, a professional athlete. I’ve won 4 Iron distance races (Barcelona 2012, UK and Wales 2013, Lanzarote 2014) and in 2014 was one of 35 women to qualify for the Ironman world championships as a professional. I went part time at work at the end of 2011 and finally completed my PhD in March 2014. In terms of my career this was the perfect opportunity to take a career break and I’m currently training and racing full time as a professional athlete. Since 2013 I’ve been very proud to be part of the Erdinger Alkoholfrei professional triathlon team.

When I entered the London triathlon back in 2005 it never even crossed my mind that 10 years down the line I’d find myself a full time professional triathlete. This wasn’t something I planned or something I’d even dreamt of. However, I guess I’ve come to realise that life is a journey and you never know where it will take you. Sometimes it’s good to throw yourself out of your comfort zone and follow the road less travelled. Over the last few years I’ve had experiences I never imagined and have made a huge number of friends of all ages from all walks of life. I feel immensely privileged to be in the position of getting a bit of money for what is essentially my hobby. I know I’m not the most naturally talented athlete by a long way. I hope that what I lack in raw ability I make up for with mental strength, determination and – most importantly – a real passion and enthusiasm for both the training and the racing.

I still haven’t lost the “fun factor” and hope I never will.