To try and to fail, or to ask ‘what if?’ Wimbleball 70.3.

My early season ‘A’ race was always going to be IMUK 70.3.

I felt I had unfinished business from my race there last year, and really wanted to prove myself on one of the toughest courses out there against many of the top Brits.

I’d always told training partners I’d sacrifice all my other races for a good race there – and if I could win just one race this year that would be it.

Winning it would be a long shot, but I felt it was just about feasible on a good day – and I certainly wanted to give it a go.

So I was pretty gutted when 2 weeks out from the race I came off my bike when my chain snapped. I can’t remember much from the crash but apparently the first two things I said when I tried to get up were “Wimbleball”, then “I’ve never banged my head that hard”.

All in all I was pretty lucky; I escaped with a nasty bang to my head, a bash to my knee, some standard road rash, and a large chunk out of my left elbow. Funnily enough I didn’t even realise I’d hurt my elbow until I was dropped off at home and peeled off my arm warmers before I got into the bath. Luckily I saw the large hole before I got it wet and Dad took me to A+E for 5 stitches.

At the time I thought any chance of me racing Wimbleball were out of the window. I couldn’t do anything at all for a few days – even dancing at a wedding a couple of days later was out of the question as any movement of the elbow caused me to wince. So I revised my race plans, wrote off Wimbleball and felt a bit sorry for myself. Until I got back on the turbo…Good old coach Troy gave me some endorphins and made me think that maybe, just maybe, I would be able to race. I could run with co-codamol the Saturday after the crash, took the stitches out myself on the Sunday evening and went swimming on the Monday. When I realised that physically I would be able to do it I knew there was no way I wouldn’t start.

My friends all said they knew that would be what I’d do. My parents thought I was crazy. My coach Chris was pretty level headed and talked through the pros and cons. At the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine watching from the sidelines and realised I’d rather try and fail than ask what if. I knew it would do me good to get beaten by people I didn’t want to be beaten by, and wanted to prove that I could cope mentally and physically with bad races as well as good ones. At the worst it would be a good learning experience.

Race week was very different to normal race weeks. Training wise I tried to cram in some swimming and since my elbow was still too sore to rest on the tri-bars I did my bike training doing longer commutes into work on the Pashley. Quite fun actually spinning down the country lanes in a dress with my laptop in the basket! My granddad had died the weekend of the crash; when I heard he had died my initial feeling was one of relief as he had been ready to go for a while and was having a horrible time gradually getting weaker and weaker. However his funeral was on the Friday, so my main thoughts then were of him and his life, rather than the race. He was very much like me – the kind of person who said it how it was and who never stopped moving (though he couldn’t understand why anyone would do any sport which didn’t involve a ball!). It was a lovely service and my grief was purely selfish – I was glad he had died but sad I wouldn’t see him again.
I drove straight from the funeral down to Devon, so I guess I didn’t really start thinking about the race until I arrived at Wimbleball for the briefing. Of course then I started to get excited, tried to put all thoughts of the crash out of my mind, and motivate myself for a hard day out. I had put a road bike and my TT bike in the car as I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to stay on the tri bars or not. In the end I opted for the TT bike with a tubi grip and padding on my elbow though I had to adjust my position on the bike a bit to get in the aero position.

Anyhow, in a nutshell the race was tough in so many ways! I actually swam better than I thought I would. I swam the whole thing on my own which suited me as it meant the chances of banging my elbow were much slimmer, and though I was a little bit slower than I would have been on a good day (I’m pretty certain the course was a little bit short looking at the times). I didn’t lose as much time as I had predicted. So onto the bike…. Mully was just ahead of me out of the swim and T1 so I thought I’d ride hard to catch up with her. Powered up the first hill and then saw Tom (aka ‘Lucy Gossage’s training partner’ by all Ironman commentators!). Brilliant – this was going to be fun. “You’re going to get chicked” I yelled as Mully and I powered past Tom. “ Mully this is our day”, I yelled, trying to psych myself up. But I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be mine…. They powered off and Granny Goss was left for dust. That ride was truly the toughest bike I have ever done. I think it was a combination of (1) being uncomfortable on the tri bars trying to avoid banging my elbow meaning I was shifting around and sitting up rather than focussing on pedalling. (2) having lost a bit of form from taper, recovery, crash, recovery, taper. (3) negative psychology by being passed by what seemed like the whole world and his dog. I was definitely trying to ride hard for the first lap, but if I’m honest I think I got a bit despondent in the second. The more negative I got, the more I focused on the discomfort in my elbow rather than riding. That made me ride slower so I was overtaken by yet more people, which in turn made me feel yet more negative. There were so many times when I wanted to stop and very nearly did. I almost wanted a puncture so I didn’t have to carry on. I even stopped to check my wheels weren’t rubbing as an explanation for my snail like speed…. No such luck. The only excuse was me!

Eventually I finished the bike, and at that time the ‘race’ for me was well and truly over. My only goal was to finish and I really didn’t care where I came or what time I did. So I started the run, literally at a jog. Feeling and looking s**t. I saw Corinne Abraham was a minute or so behind me and really didn’t care whether or not she caught me. I was going through the motions of finishing the race rather than racing it. Mum gave me some splits and all I said was, “I don’t care, I just want to finish!” However towards the end of the first lap I realised that actually, without trying, I was running OK. No-one was catching me and I was catching people. Harry Wiltshire was running about 100m behind me and shouted out, “I’m not catching you Luce”. Maybe I could salvage something from a bad day. There was no reason for me to run slowly; my elbow didn’t hurt running. I was just being pathetic. Dig deep and run Goss. So I did.

I ended up finishing 6th. Not the result I wanted at the start of the year, but one that, all things considered, I’m pleased with. For me, this race has been just as satisfying as the ones that went well. Yes I’m gutted I couldn’t have a good day at my A race. But I’m proud I started and even prouder I finished. It’s easy to push on when you’re doing well. It’s much harder to keep going when you know you’re not going to get the result you want, even if you do make yourself hurt. I’m proud I’m not scared of failing. I’m proud I don’t have a DNF next to my name. And I’m proud I started even though I knew all along it wasn’t going to produce the result I wanted. I reckon it’s true you learn more from the bad races than the good ones. Despite that I’m going to keep my fingers crossed the next one is a good un!!

Mully put in the performance of her life to claim the win. She was untouchable on Sunday and no-one deserved it more than her. Congratulations also to EK, Susie Hignett and Amy Forshaw who all had amazing days. Tom had as tough a day as me but stuck it out and finished. And Jared as always had a solid day. Mum definitely gets the award for ‘endurance supporter of the year’. I’d told her not to come. But despite travelling to Durham (work), Gerrards cross (funeral), Nottingham(home) on the Thursday and Friday, she got up at 3 on the Sunday to drive all the way to Wimbleball to watch me. And then drove 4 hours home again. Completely bonkers but much appreciated!

Time now for me to have a bit of R+R, both mental and physical. And then I need to work out what I’m aiming towards for the rest of the year. At the moment my race calendar is empty – who knows what I’ll put in it….

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