Atkinson’s Next Big Adventure

Courtney Atkinson is a veteran of the Australian triathlon scene with a couple of decades of elite racing under his belt.

A junior world champion, multiple times Australian Champion and two-time Olympian. He’s raced and had success at nearly every format possible, from ITU to Half Ironman, XTERRA and Cross Tri. Courtney’s next adventure will see him take on the iconic 243km Kathmandu Coast to Coast challenge in New Zealand in February vying for the title of World Multisport Challenge.

Joel Savage caught up with Courtney to talk about these preparations.

 

Coast to Coast? Wow, that’s a big race! Why have you decided to take part?

It’s a bucket list event! Honestly, I thought I’d be doing it one day, retired, with mates for the adventure but I’m still loving endurance training and moving fast and the adventure side of the sport for me is so epic. Just look at what’s involved in Kathmandu Coast 2 Coast. The challenges it presents with a new sport for me, paddling, intermixed with some of my real strengths is appealing. I’m all in now. I’m an official ambassador for the event and doing everything I can to give the race a real good crack. The thing I like is my mates can also enter the two-day, two person race in a more relaxed environment while still experiencing the same epic course that I am doing the single day challenge. The first step is to head over to NZ and recon the course where I’ve got one of the best in the business as my tour guide, Rich Ussher. I’m in good hands.

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What have you changed in your training since deciding to take on the Kathmandu Coast to Coast event? How has it been training on the gold coast?

Overall, I’ve gone back to some real good aerobic focused training, which is something I’ve responded well to in the past. I’m not doing massive distances yet but a lot of continuous longer efforts at a pace that gets progressively less comfortable as time goes on. Coast 2 Coast will be the longest continuous race I’ve done so it’s nice to not worry about how fast I’m moving, at least initially. Specifically, I’m subbing paddling time for my old swim hours and with the running, I’m practicing getting across the rock faster and more efficiently. We have some good spots on the Gold Coast to practice creeks. I’ve got a good old crew of hardened adventure racers who have been, and still are, some of the best in the game helping me with specifics.

Gold coast is perfect for me to train with my focus on getting up to speed on the kayak. Some of my best mates are Olympians – there’s surf clubs paddling everywhere you look. It has also helped that my backyard lake that I’ve used for open water swimming for 15 years doubles as good flat water paddle session…although it takes a few laps to get the km’s up so I’m looking forward to getting out in the ocean and doing some longer paddle backs. I’m headed to NZ in December for a course reccy and to get a feel for the whitewater, which I will work on a few times over the coming months.

What do you enjoy about paddling a surf ski and kayaks? And do you see any benefits to other triathletes taking it up? 

Bringing anything new into training always invigorates what you do. After 20 years of swim training, changing the arm focus to paddling has done wonders for my motivation and because it’s new my improvement is daily, and mentally that keeps me wanting more and more. I really have had to make sure I take my time and not get too excited to quick, as I don’t want any niggles with the newer movements, but to be honest I have never felt stronger.

As a cross-training sport for triathlon I feel it has some great benefits when using good technique. Not only for swimming but also for running. The main development has been improved stability around my ribcage, shoulder position and general core strength. All of these convert to making running feel better, running taller and more stable. Plus while I was swimming and paddling, the front end of my swim stroke shoulder range increased in both flexibility and strength. All three triathlon disciplines swim bike and run are hunched shoulder sports and the active strength developed with shoulder back and straight back paddling offered me better feel than I would compared to doing similar back/shoulder exercises in the gym.

Hey, it’s not going to make you a better swimmer, but as cross exercise or sport to give you a break from swim, bike and run, I believe it offers some very specific benefits.

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How has the new paddling skills been going? 

So far I’ve been in a Fenn Swordfish S in the flat water with Fenn 3 blade. Initially just concentrating on building up some muscle memory for the paddle stroke starting at 20mins continuous over a few weeks working up to one hour at a reasonably consistent effort. I’ve just started adding some fartlek style efforts in to mix it up with the aim to get a better purchase on the water. The thing is my heart rate is so low paddling, as I obviously can’t produce enough power with the skill and training yet. I’m so raw I haven’t even had roof racks for my WRX STI so I’ve been contained to paddling in the flat water lake out the back of my house. But that’s changing next week when I’ll start joining sessions with surf clubs and getting some expertise off mates like Kenny Wallace. I have plenty of very qualified paddlers to help and train with.

This year’s field is looking pretty awesome with multiple winner Braden Currie set to make a return and 2016 champ Sam Clark also coming back as well as Alex Hunt who got 3rd last year – how do you rate your chances of a podium in that field and where do you feel your strengths and weaknesses lie across all of the disciplines?

Yeah it’s an amazing field. The more the better as I believe this is one of the most iconic endurance races you will ever see, that is why it has been on my bucket list for so long. And even though I thought I’d be doing it for fun in retirement vs. training myself to try to finish at the pointy end with limited experience, I do have 20 years for endurance training base behind me. The big question is how my paddling stacks up. I’m not completely raw as I’ve lived on the Gold Coast all my life and I’ve tried surf ski’s as a teenager but that was a long time ago! Swimming has always been strong for me so I just have to convert that strength over to the right technique in the boat.

Have you been to New Zealand before? If so how was it and are you heading there soon etc?

Yeah I’ve been to New Zealand plenty of times. It is an amazing location with some of the best scenery and adventures on the globe. Most of my time has been spent down around Queenstown but I’ve have driven through Arther Pass before and soon enough I’ll see what I’ve really got myself into when we check out the course.

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So with so much experience racing do you get nervous at the thought of such an epic and long race? And do you set yourself a goal with a challenge like this or is that too hard to predict?

I definitely get excited about the challenge as it’s so different, nervous because there are some new unknowns and skills to perform and yes the distances are huge especially the new kayck at 70kms! This will be my longest race I’ve done but I have raced very well over 4-6hrs before and completed an ironman in 8:35 give or take. The big difference here that gives me confidence is Kathmandu Coast to Coast always has something going on to keep your brain ticking… in comparison to an Ironman which in reality is a very repetitive and mentally draining event. The run here is 3hrs of rock, creek crossing, trail & amazing scenery and the paddle is long but includes moving water rapids to contend with. Even the break up of the race is interesting – a 3km run start, to a packed road ride and then the other two sections of the bike are individual TT.

A goal is very hard to know or even think about at this stage. I still haven’t been in the river or paddled anywhere near the hours I will during the event. But as the race gets closer and I know what to expect, I’m sure like any other event I go into, I will want to be the best I can be and in the back of my mind I always am wanting more…. I haven’t looked as forward to a challenge as this since I made my first Olympics Team .

Coast to Coast: The Coast to Coast is an iconic multisport event based in the South Island of New Zealand and is one of the world’s longest running multi-sport events founded in 1983. The brutal 243km challenge is traditionally run over two days that sees competitors take on a course combining several run and rides portions as well as 70km river section. The single day race – ‘The Longest Day’ – was introduced in 1989 and has the title of World Multisport Championship. The top single day athletes are expected to finish the course around the 11hour mark while the Two Day races will be finished in and around the 24-hour mark. For more info head head to www.coasttocoast.co.nz/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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