Adventure Racer And Former Olympian Courtney Atkinson Talk Race Day Diet | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Can’t Quit Chocolate? This May Be The Perfect Sport For You

MH – What first drew you to adventure racing and endurance events?

CA – When I was a kid Cross Country was my sport which led into 20 years making a living in Triathlon all the way from World Junior Champion to Multiple Olympic Games so that explains the endurance events. But adventure I had a different pathway. I was invited to Mark Webber’s Challenge adventure race he’d put on each year in Tasmaina in my off season where I partnered with Olmypic Kayak gold medallist Kenny Wallace. Was great tough fun racing across Tassie and there I was also introduced to arguably one of the best ever adventure racers and also mogul skiing Olympian Kiwi Richard Ussher. After my final Olympics our world connected when he was race director of the iconic Coast to Coast Adventure race in New Zealand… with his help I started aquiring some new skills in the adventure world and have never looked back. I suppose in a way I’ve come full circle back to my roots and love of cross country, but sport in general with less boundries.

Do you have one particular race that stands out to you as the hardest you’ve completed?

Nothing is ever going to match up to racing the London Olympic Games. It’s what athletes wait a lifetime for. But in endurance events Coast to Coast mentioned previously is hard to beat… the location in the NZ alps, the idea of racing across a country in day but also the unique skills needed for the terrain in NZ & specific river kayaks used for the 70km white water paddle there. But every event I choose to do these days has a reason. I have just come back from a marathon trail race in the Basque country of Spain that hands down had the best crowd experience outside of Olympics I seen in endurance events. Then I was in Japan at a unique Red Bull run up 3333 steps to a temple which 25mins at my pace of continual stairs! And big ones at that! 

As an adventure athlete, what’s the darkest place you’ve found yourself? Physically and mentally?

Mentally it’s often away from racing to be honest. The adrenaline the excitement, the direction and motivation to race these endeuance events around the globe, even when it’s hurting I still love it. I’m where I want to be! I say we do these crazy races cause the idea sounds good, often in them it’s so hard you’re asking yourself WHY? Thinking never again, but then a few hours after the race it’s like what’s next! That’s the way the endurance racers brain works… not for everyone right?

Physically anytime a race is long and hard enough that you empty the tank completely and still have to keep going to the finish. This is especially true in team adventure racing like Red Bull Defiance. These are long hard event with challenging terrain and if one partner runs out of energy it’s then upto the other/s to take that weight. Even carrying toe ropes to drag the team mates around.

What sets RB Defiance apart from other events you’ve competed in?

Red Bull execution of event, the epic location and the diversity of location from Rainforest to Reef… and the exciting disciplines you race. Rafting, ocean kayak, mountain trails etc

What do you anticipate being the hardest leg and why?

The trail run on the first day through the misty mountains will be the biggest challenge. You’ll face the unqie tropical queensland style trails, lots of tree roots, mud, elevation and just maybe depending on the weather Leaches!

On race day, what does your nutrition look like?

With the days racing likely to be over 5 hours I like to have solid foods at the transition points while racing, these will range from chocolate bars to possibly sandwiches depending on the weather and length. Then I’m hydrating the whole time through the event with water and after 1.5hrs I start drinking a RedBull  at each transition and continue that throughout til the end.

Post-race – do you have an indulgence?

When up North Queensland cold beer goes down nicely!

Does your training follow a pattern or is the goal to stay race-ready year-round?

 When I was training for the Olympic Games campaigns there was a structure to the with the aim of peaking a few times. Now days you are correct I stay close to race ready all year round. Because I can get called on to race in anything from a marathon trail race to a 25min stair run (see latest video) to RedBull Defiance my goal is to always aim to run once a day year round. Running is by far the best fitness return on time spent exercising and then 6 weeks out from an event I’ll start specialising again on sports I’ll need to race at and distances.

How important is strength training for an endurance athlete such as yourself?

I believe it becomes more important as we age for sure. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary but lifting weights with the goal of being functional in the movements and sports I compete. Plus I believe movements with weight also help keeping the body range of motion in check especially as an endurance athlete doing things with a lot of repetition day in day out.

How do you recover from ultra-events?

Rest #1 and try to keep moving lightly even if walking for first few days beats being completely sedentary. I personally get pretty sore off the real long trail runs because I’m not racing as often as some. I’ve also seen some gun ultra runners do 50km races one day and back running the next not sore? I’d say it’s pretty individual and also depends a lot on the specifics of your training and the intensity you race.

Are there any races or events out there that scare you?

 Non off the top of my head but races that have the location and ability to be really really cold, scare me more! I’m Queensland born and bred and prefer the heat. If I’m rugged up on an expedition with the right clothing no problem but to start a race in shorts in the mountains for example and then the weather turn bad or snow…. I may as well go into hibernation.

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