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Podcast No. 19: Kate Courtney, Mountain Bike World Champion

April 17, 2019

My guest today is mountain bike world champ Kate Courtney.

By Will Ahmed

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Last season, Kate won the 2018 UCI World Championships despite being the youngest competitor in the field at just 22 years old. She turned pro in 2014 at the age of 18, but still managed to graduate from Stanford with a degree in human biology.

Kate and I discuss everything she’s done to reach the apex of her sport, including her love of data that led to her using WHOOP for the past year.

We talk about her training on the bike and in the gym, what her daily strain is like, how she prioritizes recovery, her love of meditation, habits that help make her a self-described “great sleeper,” and the surprising piece of cooking equipment she always brings on the road with her.

I had a lot of fun chatting with Kate, and we’re expecting big things from her again in 2019!

Show Notes:

3:10 – Why Mountain Biking? “I fell in love with cycling with my dad as a kid and being on the mountain. … As soon as I lined up and raced for the first time it was a completely new experience for me.”

6:26 – National Junior Champ in 2012. “When I started racing internationally it was a completely different ball game, I got my but kicked in a lot of other races. … I saw how far I had to go and what types of things I needed to do to really be competitive.”

8:06 – Reaching the Next Level. “One of my favorite things about the sport is that there are so many opportunities to improve. My motto with my coach the last few years has been trying to be like a diamond–cut on all sides.”

9:49 – 2018 World Champion. “That was a pretty cool day.”

11:37 – Love of Data. “In the realm of people focussing on data, I am way far in the extremes. … With WHOOP, that’s been a huge way to quantify recovery that I’ve never had access to before.”

15:45 – Meditation. It’s the first thing Kate does every morning. “For me, 15 minutes a day is perfect, and I’ll do it every single day. … It’s part of my routine, it’s how I reset to start my day.” She’s a fan of classes by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

21:52 – “I Think Recovery is a Life Skill.” She discusses insights gained from WHOOP quantifying strain. “In a lot of ways WHOOP has helped me be a little less paranoid about my preparation … the added stress and anxiety isn’t really a benefit.”

23:57 – Fueling with Waffles. “Usually I have waffles before a hard ride. It’s complex carbohydrates. … The biggest things now are really managing what’s going to allow me to train as hard as I can, be recovered, be happy, and be fueled so that I can do it all over again.”

25:29 – Where Does she Train? “I just go right out the door, which is a really phenomenal thing for me. … I ride my bike 7 days a week, sometimes twice a day, and I’m in the gym 3 days a week as well.”

28:37 – Training Hard in the Red? “Sometimes we’ll make the decision that we’re pushing as hard as I can go. But you can only do that with the understanding that you will recover. It’s kind of a partnership in managing my fatigue.” Will explains the concept of functional overreaching.

31:11 – Multiple Red Recoveries in a row? “Two is probably the most, I think my body bounces back pretty quickly.”

31:32 – “The Kate Epic.” A super-intense 8-day training block she does every year, mimicking the Absa Cape Epic. “It’s like running 22 miles before you go run a marathon.”

34:29 – Go-To Meal. “Right now it’s kind of a sweet potato, carrot, broccoli stir fry with some eggs over it, maybe some kale.”

35:18 – Afternoon Naps. “As long as I can. (laughs) Usually 45 minutes to an hour.” Kate discusses how her nap routine fits into her training.

39:01 – Gym Workouts. “I do a lot of stuff in the gym, I love that part of my training, it gets your mind in a different zone. … We spend a lot of time on injury prevention and mobility.” Deadlifting and squats are the norm for mountain biking, but she likes trying all kinds of new things. “When you’re learning something new it is a different neurological experience, and it helps you.”

43:00 – Role Model. “One of my biggest heroes in sports in general has been Lindsey Vonn … she promotes that idea of just working your ass off.”

44:08 – Too Strong on the Bike? Will mentions hearing of a rider who intentionally got his upper body as small as possible, Kate doesn’t accept that philosophy. “The more that I fuel my body, the more that I build strength the harder I can work and the harder I can train. … A healthy rider is a fast rider, and in my opinion a happy rider is a fast rider.”

48:01 – Cooking and Nutrition. “I love cooking. It’s really cool for me to be able to make sure I’m putty really healthy, yummy, awesome things in my body, and cooking them is the easiest way to control what you’re eating. … Sweet potatoes, avocados, dark chocolate are my main things.” Kate also works closely with a nutritionist, “making sure that my body has the fuel it needs to meet the demands I’m putting on it.”

49:48 – Pre-Bed Recovery Routine. “I’m a pretty big creature of habit in that.” She likes to do NormaTec for 40-45 minutes, as well as foam roll and other techniques, but always prioritizes sleep first.

52:22 – Instagram. “I feel mixed about it, it’s something I spend too much time on, but it also brings so many magical things to me. … I have a job because people watch and care.”

56:31 – WHOOP + TrainingPeaks. It’s still in the beta stage, but WHOOP will soon integrate with other apps. “I just want to say that this is my dream!”

57:39 – Sleep Habits. “I don’t sleep with my phone in the room. … If your phone’s in the other room and you want to meditate, you’ll just sit there and do it.” She also wears a sleep mask, ear plugs, and writes in a gratitude journal every night.

1:00:09 – Importance of Routine. “Things that I do every day I’ll do everyday, things that I do sometimes I forget to do.”

1:01:35 – What Does She Read? “I like reading psychology books, autobiographies of athletes, interesting high-performing people.” Kate recently finished Let Your Mind Run about the mental side of running.

1:05:12 – Sleep Environment. “I like it very dark and I like to have a million pillows, other than that I’m a pretty great sleeper.” She regularly spends 9 hours in bed per night. “I always have something warm before I go to bed.” She likes tea with Calm Natural Vitality, and greek yogurt. “I need a greek yogurt sponsorship, I have a greek yogurt problem.”

1:08:54 – Recovery on the Road. “Just planning. If there are things you know you need, bring them and make sure you have them. I bring my waffle maker with me to races,” (and Bob’s Red Mill gluten free mix). She also sleeps well on planes. “Having a good night’s sleep that first night [when you get there] makes a big difference.”

1:10:51 – Typical Day Strain. “I think my average strain right now is like 17.5-18. … More like 14-15 in the days prior to a race.” Kate talks about the strain from her daily life that she wouldn’t know existed without WHOOP. “Because of the nature of data and cycling I have pretty good measures of what I’m doing on the bike, but before WHOOP I had no way to quantify those other things.” Sometimes she’ll reach 20.5 for a single activity. “Basically it means I’m using a whole day’s worth of energy in less than a day.”

1:16:35 – Where to Watch Mountain Biking. The races stream live on Red Bull TV.

1:18:28 – Worst Recovery? “Honestly, I’m not that cool. If I have that low of a recovery score I brought it upon myself from training hard.” She guesses maybe a 20%.

1:18:57 – 2020 Olympics? “I hope so! I’m doing my absolute best to qualify. It’s been my big goal for a long time.”

1:19:07 – Find Kate Online on Instagram @kateplusfate, and at

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.