Episode 87 - NZ Coast to Coast Race Report with Kirsty Howatson 

NZ Coast to Coast Race Report with Kirsty Howatson

Ever thought about doing New Zealand’s Coast to Coast? 

It’s an epic one or two day multi-sport event spanning 243km of running, cycling and kayaking from one side of NZ to the other. Sounds epic right?!

Joining me for this episode is one of our Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes, Kirsty Howatson. Kirsty recently completed the two-day event in February and shares her race recap with me.

She explains:

  • Exactly what the Coast to Coast is and why she wanted to do it
  • Her preparation for a 2 day, multi-sport, ultra-endurance event like this
  • Her race nutrition plan and everything she practised heading into the event
  • How the event turned out - the highs and the lows 
  • Would she ever do it again?
Check out the NZ Coast to Coast event HERE

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Episode Transcription

Episode 87: NZ Coast to Coast Race Report with Kirsty Howatson

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:41

My guest today is Kirsty - one of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes. Although she's only done Phase One, we won't hold that against her. But she's not technically a triathlete. And despite her thick accent, which you will hear, she does live in New Zealand. And she recently raced the Coast to Coast in February, which is an epic multi day event that I'll let her tell you about. So welcome, Kirsty.

Kirsty Howatson  01:02

Thanks for having me.

Taryn Richardson  01:03

You are so welcome. So can you kick us off by explaining to the listeners what is the Coast to Coast event?

Kirsty Howatson  01:11

The Coast to Coast as it is named essentially is a race from the coast of one side of New Zealand to the coast of the other side of New Zealand. So one of the kind of epic things about it is you basically start at Greymouth and everybody goes and puts their hand in the water - you're trying to chase the water to get your hand on it without getting your feet wet. And then same thing on the other side, once you finish that stride to hit New Brighton - where you're a little bit less concerned about getting your feet wet. And the aim is that you're going to cross the country, which is 243 kilometres on foot, bike and in a kayak.

Taryn Richardson  01:40

Over two days (you did the two day event) there is the Longest Day which is a one day event as well, which is like the world multi sport championship event. But you're crazy and you decided to do the two days.

Kirsty Howatson  01:50

Yeah, I think you've got to be a special kind of person to do the one day. I've definitely got a few friends in that boat. But I think it's like everything. It's when you train for something like Ironman or those top end events, and you kind of sacrifice a lot for the amount of training you need to do - the cut offs for one day are pretty strict. You've got to, I think, cover Goats Pass in pretty much five hours, which is about 30 kms with 1000 meters of elevation. And when I say that it's not really true at all. It's like "Here's a kilometre and a half of me running up a river" - literally running up the river! Or "Here's the boulders that are bigger than my car" that I'm trying to scramble up.

Taryn Richardson  02:24

Yeah. See, I told you she had a thick accent! We might have to subtitle you Kirsty ...so we can understand what the heck you're saying. But do you want to explain what the Longest Day event is - like what they actually do in that day?

Kirsty Howatson  02:37

So it's essentially the Coast to Coast. You complete the entire thing. And the cut off, which I think is 14 hours, you start at 6am. So it starts off as a 2.2 km run. You go into a 55 km bike, which you're allowed to draft in, and then it's 30 kilometers over Goat Pass, which is one of the passes in the middle of the Southern Alps. You then have a 15 km bike - really just to get you to the start of the kayak - with a little 800 meter run because they don't like you to ride down that gravel road. It's then officially 67km, (but really 71 kms) in your kayak. I think that's probably to do with over the years the river having changed. And then the final 70 kms into Christchurch, which you'd always quite glad about, you think it's going to be fine until you're in a headwind for every part of that 70kms. You think "Oh, I'm in the streets - brilliant"! Or "We're going fine. We're going into a headwind but we'll get there. You turn a corner, you're still in a headwind. You turn another corner, you're still in a head wind. You're in the finish straight, you're still in a headwind! Just to make it a little bit more interesting, at the end, there's basically ... you finish on the beach in New Brighton. And you basically build a bank of sand, which is, I don't know, five meters maybe. And you need to basically scramble up this bank to actually get across the finish line - in your bike cleats mainly!

Taryn Richardson  03:51

Crazy. So the male elite winner did that in 11 hours, 40 minutes and 15 seconds this year - Sam Manson. And the female winner, Simone, who's a crazy German - she's won it, like, four times in a row or something? Did it in 13 hours, 11 minutes and 18 seconds!! Like it's a massive day. You think Ironman's hard? This is hard.

Kirsty Howatson  04:13

Yeah, I came from a biking background on the track. Came into triathlon when I was in New Zealand and then I've got a bit more into multi sport and adventure racing. But when you watch, like, a Braden Currie win Coast to Coast like he did last year, when Ironman got cancelled. Compared to winning Ironman - so much of it is the unknowns. You don't know some of the conditions that are going to be like on the day. You can have 30 degrees. You can have the river levels being really high. You can have, like this year, very little water in the river, which meant the river lines were really difficult. And I found that with adventure races  - where like Ironman tests you in a continuous way, you need to make sure you're still there after 15-16 hours, but adventure racing tests you and you're mentally tired and you still have to keep making decisions.

Taryn Richardson  04:58

There's so much nutrition in that actually. So why on earth did you want to do this event?

Kirsty Howatson  05:02

It's really interesting when you do something like Ironman here, like people are just like, "Oh, what's next? Coast to Coast! You're going to do the Coast to Coast!?. And I was always like, "Nah, like, maybe some point in the future". And I suppose for me, it's like, I can run, I can bike, but the kayak is the thing that makes or breaks your race. And it's obviously one of those things - it's not just kayaking down the river - it's Grade 2 rapids. It's the fact you spend a lot of time upside down in your boat when you're learning, etc. But I found after Ironman, I probably had 12 to maybe 18 months where I pretty much just got fat and sat on my couch. I've done this race that was incredible. But what's next, like I raced the Marathon in Hawaii that year I reckon. Like we'd got really cheap flights out of New Zealand - me and my mate went. There was a marathon on. We were like, "Yeah, we'll give that a crack". And it was like, I didn't really do a lot of training. I got my tonsils out weeks before and I got through it. But you got through it because you've got this mindset from Ironman that it was going to be fine. You just knew you had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I've done that after 180 kms - it's going to be fine on its own.

Kirsty Howatson  05:57

I think Coast to Coast was like that - it was the big enough carrot. It was the "Yep, I'm ready to get back my bike and do some proper training. I want to get fit again. I want to have that kind of drive to challenge myself".

Taryn Richardson  06:09

You need the challenge to get you out of that slump in a way.

Kirsty Howatson  06:12

Yeah, something that gets you out of bed in the morning. Something that you're, like, I'm willing to get up before work and put some training hours in.

Taryn Richardson  06:17

And so how long out did you start preparing for something like this?

Kirsty Howatson  06:22

So in order to do it, you've got to get your Grade 2 Kayak Certificate. So you've got to basically go on a four day course and prove that you can paddle in water, that you can self rescue, that you can rescue the rope, that you've got a certain range of skills. I think I did my Grade 2, kind of like, in September. Just before I'd signed up I'd, kind of, made the decision that even if I didn't get an entry, I was going to have a crack at it. So even if it wasn't next year. So I started paddling 2020. I'd bought a boat. I've done a few entry lessons down at our local club in Christchurch. And it was that whole thing about starting to look at, okay, what's your nutrition going to look like over the fact it's a two day event? What's it going to look like the fact you're in a boat for six hours? How do you actually eat in that situation? What's it going to look like in terms of your recovery? Because Day Two, is always going to be bad in the morning. How do you make it less bad? So I reckon was my two big things like - I kind of knew if I did enough, I could get through the race, but the kayak was going to be my biggest challenge. And then if I got my nutrition right, it was going to help me even if training hadn't been perfect.

Taryn Richardson  07:21

So you gave yourself a couple of years, but then you only did your kayaking, what, five months before the race?

Kirsty Howatson  07:27

What do you mean?

Taryn Richardson  07:28

Did you do your level two in September?

Kirsty Howatson  07:30

Oh I did my Level 2 in September the previous year.

Taryn Richardson  07:33

Ah gotcha! Man that's a tight turnaround!

Kirsty Howatson  07:36

I'd given myself a year because they basically say that's the one that you can't, kind of, cheat the time on. But you can do intense stuff - you will get better. But it's really interesting to watch some of the internationals come over this year - fly in 10 days out from the race. And they're like "I learned to do my Level  2 in a harbour in the Netherlands." And you're like, "Cool. Grade 2 is going be fun for you". Yeah. So it's like a lot of them have got a signed off certificate, but there's a massive difference between getting your Grade 2. Like you can do it in the harbour in Wellington. Cool. But it's absolutely nothing like being in Grade 2 rapid! So the preparation for that is to get in your boat, spend time in your boat be comfortable in it, be happy to paddle in it, be happy to wait in it, probably learn to roll - make your life easier. And then at that point, I'm looking at race lines. I'm doing research on these things.

Taryn Richardson  08:22

Yeah, cool. So a fair way out for paddling experience. What about ...how long did it take you to get prepared with things like nutrition and even just your mindset for a two day event?

Kirsty Howatson  08:34

Nutrition was one of those 'lots and lots of small pieces' things. Like I'd sign up for the first round of TNA and got some just really good things to structure my day to day routine, but also my recovery. And I found that was really important. But even the stuff you're going to eat pre session, different things you can eat, how many carbs you're looking for - all those things that become really important when you're doing long stuff. Because I think on that sort of thing, you kind of know, if you keep fuelling your muscles, they're probably not going to give up on you in a two day event. Like realistically, you just watched these guys do God zone in the last couple of weeks, and you're just like, Well, you do that for seven, like my body can do it for two - it'll be fine.

Kirsty Howatson  09:08

And I think it just becomes that process of you go out and you try things, right? I'm going to go and try this session. And I'm going to eat this before and like I'm going to have like ... I'm going to eat two slices of toast and Nutella. And if that works, then I'm going to keep doing that because it's the sort of thing you can eat. Whether you toast it ... and it actually tastes okay.  But I've got a funny story that you'll probably enjoy. So there's this race that happens basically, down the Coast to Coast kayak race about a month, maybe six weeks, out from the race. It's called The Classic and it's been going from like 1970 or something like that - it has been around for 30 plus years. And kayaking's, like, so much admin - you get your boat, you have to get to the start and you've got to have someone to pick you up there. And you've got a car at the end, all of those things. So I'd arrange somebody to take my boat up to the race start, but I hadn't got a seat for me yet. So I put it out - there's a like a Coast to Coast page - a bit like the Ironman or the triathlon community. Everyone's really willing to help you. So this other guy racing was like, "Hey, hey, I'm already picking a couple of girls up. I'm dropping them off, like, I'll take you." and I was like, "Right. Cool". So we got to the start point. And I'm like, right, okay, I've made these two slices of toast and whatever. And I like so I had all my stuff at my boat, and I'd left and I'd gone to look for something else. And I come back. And this guy that given me a lift, David, was standing there. And he was like, "Did you have a couple of slices of toast?" And I was like, "Yep". He's like, "That dog over there looks like it's just had a really good day".

Kirsty Howatson  10:22

And this was like, half past eight and I was thinking, oh, like it's two hours before race start. This is really not ideal. Anyway, this guy who literally messaged (absolute random) was taking me up (like hell of a good guy) who knows no more than I, but he was like, "Sorry, we stopped at the pie shop I bought that lolly cake. I'm sure that will sort you out." Yeah, and Kiwis all know what lolly cake is. I don't know if you guys get it in Australia?

Taryn Richardson  10:41

I don't know what it is. I was going to ask you what on earth are you talking about?

Kirsty Howatson  10:44

Lolly cake is this, like, traybake. And it's got like marshmallows. And it's not like Rocky Road - it's not chocolatey. But it's like the most sugary cake you can pretty much eat in New Zealand. So he gave me that. And that was alright. And then I suppose this is, like, what made and broke my race - the river was really low  - it was running at like 35 cubic metres. And for context, that just means there's pretty much no water in the river. The first 15 kms that are braided, which means you need to pick your race line. So you need to be like, I'm going to pick this line because there's more water in it right? So I got braided out in the river. And I had to carry my kayak for at least 500 metres. 

Kirsty Howatson  11:20

Anyway, so I got to the first checkpoint like, probably 45 minutes later than I should have. Having had this not so great start to my morning. And they were like, we didn't know you were on the river. Because you've not followed all the routes like the safety crew go through. So we can't actually let you continue in the river. And it was one of those ones that I was like so frustrated. And yeah, had a little cry about it and was just like, I don't know if I can do this race. Like I don't know if I'm gonna make it to the end of this race. It's like, I can't do this.

Kirsty Howatson  11:48

So for Coast to Coast, you need a support crew. You basically need someone who's nice/stupid enough, that's going to get up at 4:50am and take your kayak to the kayak start and who's going to pick up your bike and take it to places and who's going to feed you all weekend and stuff. And my support crew were epic. They're two really good mates I know from, actually, triathlon, and I'd messaged them and I was like, "I don't know if I'm going to do this race. Like, if you guys have taken time off work, like at what point do you make a decision before you'll not get paid for those days? Like, what are we going to do?"  And you realise that you put the right people in your corner when they're like, "Nah, like, it's just a bad day, you're just really tired, like you're frustrated. We're going to go away for the weekend anyway, Marie was like "I've already taken off work, like, it doesn't matter. Like, if you don't race you don't race, but don't worry about us."

Kirsty Howatson  12:31

And then there's a really good community around kayaking in Christchurch, because there's obviously a lot of it for our Coast to Coasts. So a couple of really amazing people basically were like, "Look, we're going down the river with another couple of people - we'll take you down the river". And then literally was like, "Do these things. Try this". And it was just that little bit of confidence I needed. I just needed the extra confidence. I got all the way down and didn't swim. I think you can practice lots of things and training with your nutrition for the kayak. But it's really different to what you're going to do nutrition wise if you're racing the lines. There's definitely parts in the gorge, you can still open stuff. But you're far more restricted than you are to say, like, on a bike or on a run, as to what you can pull out of a pocket and open. Like you've always got to have one hand on your paddle otherwise, it's floating down the river.

Taryn Richardson  13:13

That's what I wanted to talk to you about - is like what do you actually do with your nutrition on the day? So like, talk me through some of the strategies you implemented on Day One, and even some of the things that you had to adapt on the fly based on what was going on.

Kirsty Howatson  13:26

Before I got to the point, I'd kind of realised that I tried a lot of different products - that I tried to buy a lot of different products. But you're kind of restricted to what you can get in New Zealand and or what's super expensive. So I'd messed around a little bit with the Maurten Gel stuff, and their liquid nutrition. And I knew that the way there was potentially going to be really variable, I was kind of on the thing that I didn't actually want to drink any of my calories on the bike and or run on the consensus that I could take something and add it or I could have gels but at least I knew they were separate. And if I drank, I knew I had drank. I suppose one of the differences between using things like bottles on your bike and having a pack on your back is you kind of have an idea of how much light it is. But you can't be like, oh, like a lot of triathlons very much like, okay, at 15 minutes, you could drink X number of mls and you can mark it out on your bottle or whatever.

Kirsty Howatson  14:16

Adventure racing's just a bit more chill than that. You're kind of like, well, we'll do a bit of this and it'll be okay. And if I haven't quite drank enough, then it's probably not going to be optimal. But also, you kind of know what you're in the ballpark. So bike at the start, I had a bento box and the first bike's only will be 55kms.  I knew there was going to be a lot of drafting. You can basically get yourself in a group, save energy. And really what I took in the bike was gels. So that was just easy. We were drafting a lot and I was probably faster than I would have been going by myself. And just it was one of those quick and easy utilise it and move on sort of thing. When I got to ... on the run, I'd made a choice. I don't really enjoy sweet stuff later on in the day. I don't know when you get over it - your taste buds change. It's a weird concept. If you haven't raced really long you wouldn't really know what I'm talking about. But I decided the night before that I was going to ... like potatoes are always a good way to do it. And I'm far too lazy to actually deal with that or cook them even if it's in an accommodation. So I went to Domino's and I bought a pizza and I bought some wedges. And on race day, I took two slices of pizza and half a box of Domino's wedges. Plus all the gels and stuff with me as well. And I was kind of like to myself, right ....?

Taryn Richardson  15:24

Taryn's gonna kill me.

Kirsty Howatson  15:24

Well, no! Taryn's always said "If it's carbohydrate, she said, don't choose the thin crust pizza". And you said, don't put lots of toppings on it. That was the rules when you said about ... when we were talking about pizza.

Taryn Richardson  15:33

It's funny what you absorb, out of all the things I teach you, that's the things that you've absorbed!

Kirsty Howatson  15:37

I think what you realise in these events is you've got to do the things that are going to mentally make you happy, because actually, there's some point you're going to be in a hole seven hours in, and it's going to be a sad face, and how do you get through it. So we got off the bike and - actually had a really good bike was really happy with it, - got into transition and got out of transition, that was fine. And then I was like, Oh, my back's quite tight. This isn't great. But what I'd done was, I was like, right, if you get to go this far you can eat, you have two slices of pizza, like life will be great. Like, that's what you need to look forward to.

Kirsty Howatson  15:38

Anyway, for anyone who hasn't been listening, there's a lot of river crossings. So it's really common when you're hiking in New Zealand. But I think river crossing here is slightly different, there's probably more of it, and they're slightly higher, but the first river crossing came up to my waist. So bear in mind, I'm 168 centimetres. I'm not the shortest person in the race, and it was up at my waist. And so you basically find someone to hold on to cross the rivers with. So I started off and I had some gels. And like I was going okay, I was just kind of getting through. But as the race wore on my back was tighter it was as if my shoulders were tight, and my glutes were tight, and my back was the bit in the middle that was getting pulled. So it almost felt like down my left hand side was just a tight muscle the entire time. And I'm sure that's not great if you're running on road. But if you're basically on rock and off balance and stuff, it was a bit of a struggle. So my run time wasn't great. But it did mean that when I hit points, I kind of knew how many carbs I kind of had to consume to get there. I knew roughly where my race time was going to be. But yeah, the pizza definitely got eaten earlier than it normally would have.

Kirsty Howatson  17:05

But for that the other differences. So you have to carry your emergency kit, you have to carry your waterproof jacket, your waterproof pants, your thermal basically are your top and bottom, your woolly hat, your emergency blanket, all that sort of stuff. So you don't actually want your food to be an extra weight. That definitely came into the considerations of would I have taken more Frooze balls or would have taken OSMs - it's kind of the trade off between what's got nutritional value, what's got your carbohydrate load, and then what you're actually willing to carry for your race plus, probably two hours of extras just in case you end up somewhere you shouldn't. So I definitely had some gels, ate my two pieces of pizza earlier - all those sorts of things.

Kirsty Howatson  17:45

And then I got to a point and I was like, Ah, I don't feel amazing, didn't feel terrible, but didn't feel amazing. And was very much like I've had this point before. And it was really interesting. And it was like one of those moments where you're like, I've done this before, and it was a bike training session that I’d done - it was relatively long and had consumed a lot of gels. And I can't describe it, it was just like, this is near my point - this is near the point where you can go one way or the other - like, if you consume loads more here, it's going to go badly for you. And if you back off, it'd be okay. And I kind of knew I'd front ended by bike, knowing that it was going to be much easier to digest on the bike than would be on the run. So I kind of front ended my nutrition on the bike. And then it meant that on the run, when I hit that point, and I was four or five hours into the race, it was actually okay, because I knew I was going to have enough in the tank to get going. It wasn't going to be great. Wasn't going to be peak. But I wasn't in peak shape at that point anyway, so it didn't really matter. But yeah, we got there.

Taryn Richardson  18:38

It's nice to have the ability to fix something. You know you've got enough knowledge that you knew what the problem was. And then you knew how to resolve that in a racing situation. So it's one of the things I really like to teach my athletes - is how to be independent and self sufficient. Yeah, so that you can change things on the fly. Like you're not so hard and fast fixed with this one plan that you don't know anything about. You have the ability to count carbs in your head. You know what your targets are. You know what it feels like, if you've got that wrong, and then how to fix it.

Kirsty Howatson  19:07

One of the things I've learned about that is just that. Here's how many carbs that potentially I do want. Here's what I want. So if I'm like maximal compared to just aerobic and then where that, kind of, line is. And then actually, well, does it matter if I'm not at the top end of that? No, probably not. What's the bottom end of that? Will that actually work?

Taryn Richardson  19:12

Yeah. And is there anything that you did differently from day one to then day two? Like did you change your strategy? Did you have to do anything different to get through the second day?

Kirsty Howatson  19:35

Day two was just different because you're in the kayaks. You are more restricted to what you could have. Like if you want to open 10 gels on a run, then it's totally fine. It's easy to do - you just pull them out and open them. On the kayak, you don't really want to be spending loads of time doing that. So I'd gone for this strategy - over here we've got these bars called OSMs or One Square Meals, and they've got like 90 grams of carbs in them. You knew that you could open it, you could have a bite of it and it'd pretty much do you for 45 minutes, maybe longer. And you were just like one mouthful - so open it, one mouthful, done.  You can put it back in your, like your spray skirt or whatever. So that was definitely a change. I definitely had some gels because I've always found if you capsize your boat, one of the things you want to do after you get back in your boat and you've emptied it and stuff is actually have the sugar hit. So I always carry some gels with me. And I quite often use them for just points - if I knew I was going to be in the rapids in the next three or four kilometres. It's like - have a sugar hit, get focused. Do that.

Taryn Richardson  20:28

Just a bit of mental focus. If you've capsized and you've lost the mentality, like get some fast, simple sugars to your brain, quick so you can concentrate.

Kirsty Howatson  20:36

Absolutely. So I kind of ... I suppose I structured it around having OSMs at specific points in the race knowing that I could then supplement with gels. And I knew roughly how long it would take me to get down the river and carried extras and then I suppose extras in the back of my boat. So it just gives you options versus what I think I'm going to do. But actually, I've kept like … and luckily we didn't capsize the boat … like, (if) you capsize your boat cool, I'm going to stop and have a gel or those sorts of things.

Taryn Richardson  21:01

I saw the female winner Simone had a vest thing on that looked like she was pregnant. Like it was just full of all this stuff. I have no idea what was in there. I'd love to know. If anyone knows her, let's ask her. But just stuff that you could quickly get and eat because yeah, you're in the river, can't let go. Like how are you actually going to fuel yourself through that?

Kirsty Howatson  21:20

Yeah, the real interesting thing about it is you come from somewhere like triathlon where everyone's like "get aero, get aero, buy this kit, or buy these wheels, do this"... and you get to adventure racing and it's like well, cool, you can go buy your nice suit. But by the way, here's a vest, you're going to wear over the top of it - with your number on it. And also, you're then going to put your PFD vest on underneath that. So all that access you had that you practiced with, you're not going to have that on race day, depending on where you keep your nutrition. So it's super fascinating. There's definitely points that people are super aero and do things but it's very different because a lot of the time gains are not necessarily aero in the same way. It's very much like you make gains on the mountain run or you make gains on the boat and stuff.

Taryn Richardson  21:59

Yeah, although I did see some sperm helmets kicking around for the bike so ...

Kirsty Howatson  22:03

So if you're doing the one day you're allowed to time trial the last 70kms. If you're Day two you can race but you're actually not allowed to time trial, you're not allowed to have aero bars. And I'll tell you another funny story you're truly going to appreciate here - Sort of, I don't know, three weeks out and my support crew are like, "Right, what do you want it that last transition? Like you're going to be, probably, a disaster. Like, what do you want?" And I was like, "Oh, actually I'd like a beer". And my support crew was like, Absolutely not. Like you're not doing this. And I was like, Mark could give me one -  Mark's her husband and I've known him for a long time. He's the guy that offered me an ice cream when I was doing Ironman. I was like, no, no. And I still have regrets about the ice cream. Anyway, so we'll get to the bottom of the transition. And I'm like, not in the best shape and he's like, you've such a big smile. And I was like, because I was so glad to get out this boat after 70 kms. Anyway we've got to transition. And they're like, I've got your beer and then they produced a McDonald's cheeseburger! Skulled some of the beer, got on the bike, put the cheeseburger in my back pocket, got the first hill, and then I was like, “Alright I’m in”, and you eat your cheeseburger and you're like, “Man, my life is complete. Look at me, I'm gonna make a home now, isn't this wonderful?”

Kirsty Howatson  23:00

And I think that's the point you realise that you're there for enjoying it. I'm not sure it was the best in terms of nutrition. But what you realise when you race two day or longer events is, kind of, you've got to keep that mental game, because actually, that's the bit that keeps you going. And actually, when you're in a black hole, or you're not feeling great, you actually need those really small things to make you feel happy about it.  Or to feel that you're enjoying it, I suppose. And that's my little wins as much as you hate them. There's carbs in beer isn't there?

Taryn Richardson  23:25

Let's not .... let's not go down that rabbit hole. Oh, my goodness, yes, there's carbs, alcohol and muscle and performance - probably not a good mix. But like you said, whatever gets you through mentally, because a lot of multi day events, so much of it is mental. Like we are capable of so much more than we think we can do. And if that made you happy, and it got you to the finish line, then ...win!

Kirsty Howatson  23:47

I remember when I was doing Ironman and somebody was like, you can always take one more step, you can always take one more pedal rev, you can always put one more stroke in. And it doesn't always feel like that at the time. But I definitely probably two points in the race - one on the run, and one on the kayak where they're basically like they say to you on the run, "You've got two options of getting out of here. You either come out in your own ... under your own steam or you can make it out in a helicopter!" Like that's it. And at the lowest points I remember being in the kayak and being like, "Ohh there are still 20 kms to go like, this is a long way. I don't feel amazing, but I've no other way to get off this river". So I'm just going to sit here and be a little bit sad for a moment. And then I'm just going to have to start paddling again.

Taryn Richardson  24:25

Such good mental toughness. So on that, do you have any advice for anyone that is interested or looking at doing the Coast to Coast as an event?

Kirsty Howatson  24:34

I think the first thing is, you've got to sort out your kayaking. That's the one thing like even where I got to on race day, your race day would be so much better if you spent so much more time in your boat. That's the one thing that I would say about it. It's the bit that most people will say challenges you and the most part that breaks people or their boats - as we saw on race day this year. There's a few boats with a few holes in them but what I reckon is that preparation for your kayak. But then also I've kind of come into it from a background of I can bike and I can run. And what I forget all the time is a lot of people don't have that in their arsenal - like a lot of people are like "I don't own a road bike", or "I've never run more than 10 kms".

Kirsty Howatson  25:10

And actually what you realise is you pick all these small goals, and it's like for me, it was like, Okay, get your Grade 2. Okay, next I'm going to enter this event, that's got like a 15 km paddle. Okay, we're gonna enter the Classic at 60 kms. Okay, we're going to do a gorge trip. And it was the same in the bike. I remember before Ironman thinking 108 km is a long way. And then kind of once you've trained to 150, you're like, No, this will be fine. Only 30 more kms. So yeah, I think it's that if you want to do it, it's an amazing event. The community out there is amazing. The experience is amazing.

Kirsty Howatson  25:41

Being at Klondike watching people come in after the first day is incredible. Even just the chat you have with people in the river - like watching other boats capsize and feeling a little bit smug about it. Or when tandems (because there's like a tandem category, which is like two people have to within 50 meters to the entire race, they paddle and a duel like a boat with two people on it essentially) and they are going to be so much faster than you so they come crashing past you and you have a bit of yarn about how your day has been and what you've been up to and all that sort of thing. But there's just points where you're going to realise that community stuff is there.

Kirsty Howatson  26:14

And it's definitely like just the practice. If you can run - brilliant, go and try and run trail. Okay, you can run trail - perfect. Go and try and run off, like, go and try one of the massive hilly races. Excellent. Okay, you've done a race at 1000 metres of elevation go and find something that's on riverbeds. Excellent. And it's the same with a bike - Cool, you can bike - like I find it amazing how many triathletes can't ride in a pack. A lot of people just do a lot of time trialling. And it's skills - like I've learned it from racing on the track, or road riding. But that's a massive skill - you're going to get so much faster if you can draft off people, if you can work as a team. Like my average pace for the last section was probably not quite up there but pretty close to it, which is faster than I'd ever been. Like mine on average was like 27/28. But we just ... basically there's three of us basically team time trials for 70 kms in the headwind - you sit in it for a couple of minutes, you peel off so that you'd go through - and I think it's that ...it's the skill development stuff and it's all those. It's actually - be good at your swim. Doing it in your kayak. Doing it on your bike. Doing it on your run. Sorting your nutrition.

Kirsty Howatson  27:15

And actually just practicing them. The more time you spend doing those things - like I made those nutrition decisions on the day, because I'd been in that position before. And I was like, Oh, I felt like this before. What can I do about it? Or you go out and paddle and you set something up - like you put liquid nutrition in your bike and then you decide you're actually really thirsty halfway down the river? How do you compensate for that? Do you put a cup in the front of your vest? That's what some people do. Do you run a chip into the river. That's what some people do. But if you've tried those things out, then at least you know.

Taryn Richardson  27:45

So practice, and testing it all out in training first. Great advice.

Kirsty Howatson  27:50

And find some good people to do it with - it's much more enjoyable if you've got good people there.

Taryn Richardson  27:53

Oh, totally. There's always such a good community around things like adventure racing, triathlon, any sport, really. But I find adventure racers are a very tight, crazy knit community.

Kirsty Howatson  28:03

Yeah. I think the first time we did a 12 hour adventure race, we toyed with the idea to sign up for the 24. And then at the end of the 12, when we'd like failed to finish, you kind of realise that it's a different kind of mental skill. You kind of come back to your day job and you're like, "Man, I can do anything. Because if I can go and deal with that, then when you're put in situations you can't get out off, which is what essentially adventure racing is, even like the kayak and the course it was like, I don't know my way out. So what you're going to do about it. And actually, when you don't have an escape route, it's much easier to keep going.

Taryn Richardson  28:32

Because there's no choice. So if anyone's listening, and they're like, Yep, I'm that kind of crazy, I want to do it. The next one's on the 9th and the 10th of February 2024.

Kirsty Howatson  28:41

Nah - it's already done. So the waitlist already has 524 people on it, or something like that. But this is the point - you should sign up for your Grade 2. So sign up for Grade 2, and then enter the ballot next year. Because by that stage, you're going to be an absolute pro. And you're going to have bought your boat and you're going to have sorted your life out.

Taryn Richardson  28:59

Great advice. Well, thank you so much for joining me, Kirsty and giving us some good insight around what Coast to Coast is actually like, if anyone understood a word that she said!

Kirsty Howatson  29:09

That's the standard of my life. So you just need to tune in, I get told.

Taryn Richardson  29:14

I can understand you - maybe it was my time spent in the UK. But yeah, I'm sure like, living in New Zealand, people are like "What?"

Kirsty Howatson  29:20

Yeah, but then they're just like "You're from Scotland. Okay, so my Granddad was from here" - it's a great connection story.

Taryn Richardson  29:26

Yeah. Cool. Thank you so much for joining me. Will you do it again?

Kirsty Howatson  29:29

I'd definitely love to have another crack at it. But if I'm honest, I'd love to have a crack at the one day, you know, just up that level of crazy. I think it pushes you in different ways. I think you need to be so much more on top of your ability to get through things like later in the day in the kayak, you're going to hit headwinds and things but you’ve got to just keep the challenges ticking along. So yeah, no, it's definitely another one for the future. I would definitely highly recommend - would do it again. It's amazing, but ...

Taryn Richardson  29:55


Kirsty Howatson  29:55

Maybe. We're probably not going to have 18 months to get fat after this one. So it's all good on that front. I've already got some challenges in the pipeline. So....

Taryn Richardson  30:02

Good. Good. Good. Thank you so much, Kirsty.

Kirsty Howatson  30:05

Great to be on.

Taryn Richardson  15:56

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 


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