SWAP SUPERCARS FOR HALF-IRONMAN
WILL DAVISON & COURTNEY ATKINSON
SUPERCARS DRIVER Will Davison (left) had already competed in a handful of triathlons, but the Sunshine Coast 70.3 Half-Ironman was next-level, extra-curricular pursuit for even a fitness fanatic like the 34-year-old two-time winner of Bathurst. To say he engaged the right man to help him prepare is an understatement of epic proportions. Enter Courtney Atkinson, Olympian, six-time Australian triathlon champion and elite-level tri competitor across 15 years. Together, the Polar ambassadors worked to get Davison to the starting line of his first-ever Half-Ironman, with Atkinson – these days a professional inspirer and motivator – playing the role of mentor. Davison’s 70.3 challenge was a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run. This calibre of triathlon takes athletes to all sorts of strange, deep, personal places in the minds and bodies of competitors. Atkinson, 38, won five of the seven 70.3 events he entered during the last two racing years of his career, meaning Davison was well and truly in safe hands. Here’s how they prepared Will for the hardest slog of his professional sporting career.
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW EACH OTHER …
COURTNEY: “I’ve known Will for years through my associations with Red Bull. So many of the Supercars drivers and motorcycle riders live on the Gold Coast and all need to be fit. As far as motorsport athletes go, they’re probably the closest people I’ve seen to triathletes and cyclists in a sense of fitness. These guys are already super-fit for what’s physically required of them.
“Realistically – and I’ve seen the data – they’re going around these race tracks with their heartrate at the equivalent or higher than what we race at. Although there’s not that same physical impact, their heart is seeing the same strain which triathletes experience in races.” WILL: “During our prep I certainly asked Courtney some silly questions, the answers to which might seem so simple to him. Stuff about how to best prepare your transition. Or when do you push on the bike and the run? There are so many little techniques he helped me with. Even getting your wetsuit on and off, having everything laid out perfectly just to set up for that transition. Whether it’s tapering techniques, strength techniques, stretching ... It’s not just about running and riding, there’s so much other stuff you have to make sure you keep an eye on in order to get your body performing better.”
COURTNEY: “Coming from my background, obviously being an Olympic triathlete and professional athlete, mine is more of a mentoring role. I do see myself more as a mentor; although, even that term mightn’t be the best way to put it. I’m more like a bank of knowledge, if you like. I like to impart on people who are highly talented in their own different areas, but want to get into endurance sport for either fitness or fun, or have other personal goals. If I can help make that a little bit easier for them through my 20 years of experience at the top level, then that’s my definition of being a ‘coach’, I guess.” WILL: “I’m so far out of my comfort zone with triathlon. I’ve done between seven-eight Olympicdistance triathlons now, and quite a few sprint ones. I’m familiar with the way it all works, but I’ve taken it up another level now. This was the most serious I’ve treated a triathlon, while still competing at a reasonably low level. But I enjoyed the process of improving my fitness and with that, I’d noticed all these other little details which I needed to make sure were crossed and dotted. You
“AS FAR AS MOTORSPORT ATHLETES GO, THEY’RE THE CLOSEST PEOPLE I’VE SEEN TO TRIATHLETES AND CYCLISTS IN A SENSE OF FITNESS.”
can overlook a lot of them and maybe do an injury or something silly.”
COURTNEY: “The number-one thing that zaps your energy in the triathlon swim is fighting people. Obviously you’re bunched together and have to get to one buoy. You’re already in the open water, so that creates a little bit of anxiety for people. The second thing is, if you’re actually getting knocked and hit by people, it creates a lot of adrenaline. Your heartrate skyrockets and when that happens, obviously you’re zapping all the energy you want to use later in the race on your legs.
“On the bike, the main goal is to keep aerobic. It’s a 90km leg. You want to be burning a majority of fats more than burning up all those fast sugars. You want to be keeping your heartrate steady, to be keeping the watts steady and be making an even effort right throughout the whole 90km.
“And then the run, I mean, that’s where it all happens, right? By that stage you’re tired, you’ve just ridden 90km; your legs are buggered. If anyone’s run off a bike, after they’ve been riding hard, running is a whole different experience off a bike. What happens in the run off the bike is that people get sloppy and tired and start having a lot of lateral motion. The problem with that, is your energy is going up and down and to the side, when you want to be moving forward in the most effective way possible.” WILL: “As part of my preparation for the 70.3, I’d actually been learning about the art of the transition with a new squad of people I was training with. I’ve definitely spoken to Courtney about how triathlon is different to just going for a run or a ride. It’s about things like bike position; on a time trial or triathlon bike, making sure you’re sitting slightly different and working a different muscle set on your legs so you don’t use up your running muscles. There are so many things that are far beyond what I’ve ever had access to. I didn’t take it too seriously. That was the beauty of it. It’s a new world for me.”
COURTNEY: “You can train someone physically, but there’s nothing you can do repetitively to train them to be mentally tougher in the race ... You just have to actually become mentally tougher. You can, however, give your athletes cues to help them become stronger in that department. That can be either through triggering your mind to think about certain things, which then creates an environment for you as an athlete in the race that makes it more comfortable or more desirable to chase your personal goal. For example, it might be a reward at the end of a race. Or you might be aiming for a set time and you want to beat that ... or a mate’s time.” WILL: “I love pushing the mind further than
“IN THE LEAD-UP TO THE 70.3, I EXPECTED THE RUN OFF THE BIKE WAS WHAT WAS GOING TO REALLY HURT.”
what you think it can do. There’s no hiding out there. If you haven’t prepared, and you haven’t done your work, you’re going to be in trouble.
“Triathlons have taken me to some pretty unique places during a race. I love that; I don’t get scared by that. I come from a sport where you need to be headstrong anyway. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone. When I’m out on the course and I’m not fit enough, in the middle of a triathlon, and I’m in that place where I want to stop, I thrive on getting myself out of that position. I like the mind games that you play with yourself, making sure you push the boundaries and that you keep going.”
THE GAME PLAN
COURTNEY: “As far as Will was concerned, he already had a very well-structured training program that keeps him fit for driving. I didn’t want to impact on that. The last thing you want to do is be making changes in anything because that’s obviously when injuries and all these other things occur. In the end, although he was training for a triathlon, I can’t speak for him, but his priority is winning driving races, right? So the number-one priority for him was still to be in the best condition to drive a Supercar each week that he could be in and to use his triathlon goals as motivation for him to keep fit. For me, it was more about making the process of doing the triathlon easier for him and more enjoyable.” WILL: “I’m just constantly fascinated by athletes like Courtney who are always finding new means and ways to keep their training interesting – not making it regimented, too monotonous. Can you imagine the amount of hours he’s put into training over the course of his life? It fascinates me how he spices things up in his workouts. His is a very individual sport. As athletes, we can all draw upon each other to try and make ourselves better, even when we’re from completely different sporting codes. You can always pick something up from people like Courtney; the way they structure their lives. He’s a pretty inspiring type of guy. The workload of a triathlete, to him, is the norm, because it’s all he knows, and the way I operate is normal for me.”
COURTNEY: “One of my – and I shared this with Will – personal cues, and this goes for any level of athlete, whether you’re racing at the Olympic Games right through to walking your first 5km fun run ... This was given to me as advice a long time ago: if you’re really stuffed, you just need to concentrate on the smallest portion of what you’re doing. I do something as simple as counting ten steps on my left leg, and then ten steps on my right leg. I just do that over and over again. What that does is it tricks your mind into concentrating on something specific for a really short period of time. Doing that well will get your mind off the bigger