Two-time Olympic triathlete Courtney Atkinson is tackling the epic Kathmandu Coast to Coast event in New Zealand this weekend, a gruelling 243km journey from one side of the South Island to the other on bike, foot, and kayak.
Before he goes through the punishing multi-sport event, he takes Men’s Style through his elite preparation of body and mind.
“I’m up early, especially in the Queensland summer to beat the heat — that means a 5am call most mornings, then a big glass of water followed by a coffee and then out the door to a workout. This can be running, riding or paddling from home or a quick fun drive in my WRX out in the state forest into the trails for a run.
“On sleep, I aim to get eight hours a night but it’s normally on the seven hours side — I do better in winter. Sleep is the single best recovery for hard work and it’s at night where the real magic happens strengthening the body. These days I don’t even need an alarm . . . my five-year-old boy Leo’s knee to stomach at first light is my real world!”
“Okay, I’ll be honest, I’m pretty lenient with my diet. I’m burning a lot of fuel but the real goal is about eating balanced and healthy to have a strong body and a good immune system. Hydration is another big focus again, especially through the middle of really hot days in summer where I can lose up to 3-4kg — no, not joking — in a long session that runs towards the middle of day.
“I believe my diet would be fairly similar to normal healthy eaters, where it does differ is calories around and in the training sessions. Most of the extra calories come from fluids — pre-training, during training, and post-training I consume a mixture of drinks and smoothies. I also drink a Red Bull pre-training in the afternoons and post-training my go-to smoothie is whey protein, mixed frozen berries, a bit of honey, skim milk or yogurt and my special ingredient is a Zooper Dooper ice block.”
“I train anywhere between two to six hours a day, depending on the sessions — add in mucking around with the kids in my lake or on bikes after school, which adds another few hours as well. A day can be hard — usually involving fast and shorter sessions with some type of fartlek intervals — or longer, easier days where I spend hours or hundreds of kilometres out on the road or in the forest.
“Lately with my training for the Kathmandu Coast to Coast I’ve also been kayaking out in the ocean… that’s the great thing about multi-sport: variety and balance of muscle groups. They’re all legs, arms and great core sports, but my passion is running and always has been and after a long career in Olympic triathlons running is now the basics of what I do. I then target different events from there. Riding has always been the foreign sport to me so it’s hardest sometimes to do the long road miles — these days I’d rather be on a mountain bike through the forest trails.”
“I try to rest up more and stay indoors out of the sun in air-con during summer as much as possible. I also try to watch what I eat a bit closer coming into the race because when I start freshening up or tapering for the main event, if I keep eating the same, the weight will slowly go on. I know that sounds silly but at the top level in these sports a kilogram is noticeable and we work hard to arrive at the main race at an appropriate race weight.”
“After 20 years racing professionally and a few Olympic Games where the pressure is maximum, you quickly realise what races are important to you beyond that. I don’t generally get too nervous these days for much but I like it when I do as that means it’s important to me or I’m excited about the event and that’s the feeling I’m still searching for.
“The Kathmandu Coast to Coast definitely ticks that box. It’s the longest and hardest one-day event I’ve stepped on the start line for but also I’m also excited for it because it incorporates all the things I love about endurance sport: physicality, skill, it requires mental concentration, adrenaline and a bit of old-fashioned style racing. We also have a sports crew for the day to deliver nutrition and gear to transition throughout the event (a good mate and my wife) so although the Kiwis call it the ‘longest day’ and an individual event, it’s also a team effort.”