Escaping the Ordinary

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Courtney Atkinson is living some kind of life

In many ways Courtney Atkinson is a normal Aussie guy - a married, father of two who enjoys family getaways and loves a laugh. Speaking with him, it’s immediately obvious how laid back and well rounded he is; there’s nothing to suggest that he’s spent the last 20 years pushing his body to the limit, and is still searching for more.

Atkinson retired from triathlon as one of Australia’s most decorated stars of the sport; two Olympics, six time Australian Champion, three time winner of the Noosa Triathlon, and a host of other race wins around the world.

In isolation it’s an incredible list of accomplishments in one of the most demanding sports in the world. Looking back at it now, it feels like a warm up for Atkinson’s second act, after he switched to XTERRA (off-road triathlons - ocean swims, mtb and trail running) in 2013 and promptly won back-to-back Australian titles.

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XTERRA proved to be a gateway drug for Atkinson, who these days spends his time looking for epic adventures around Australia and beyond. His latest project? Hitting a trail run in every state and territory in Australia in a single week. Almost 150km of trails, late night flights, long country drives (3,556km driven in 7 days), snow, sun, and scratching that itch for adrenaline.

“I grew up cross country running even before I was doing triathlon. I was a trail runner who got pulled into triathlon because I could swim. So I feel like I’ve gone back to my roots in some ways.”

Beginner level trails are not going to satisfy a bloke who once rode his MTB off a bungee platform, so Atkinson went everywhere from the snow covered slopes of Mt. Kosciuszko to King’s Canyon, 300km west of Alice Springs.

The highlight was running at sunrise down a track off the back of Mary’s Peak at Wilpena Pound *(South Australia, check out his Strava). *It’s an incredible landscape, it’s something between a Victorian mountain landscape and what you might expect in Alice Springs. One of my favourite sections of trail ever!”

“I grew up cross country running even before I was doing triathlon. I was a trail runner who got pulled into triathlon because I could swim. So I feel like I’ve gone back to my roots in some ways.”

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Atkinson and Red Bull have just released a nearly twenty-minute video of the project, which you can check here. It’s quite remarkable - many of the runs are upto 30km on soft sand or singletrack, all of them attacked at Atkinson’s preferred speed - all out (he took Strava crowns in the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania). And it’s worth pointing out - everything you see on camera happened in one take, meaning Atkinson filmed and ran at the same time.

Hinchinbrook (Queensland) was the toughest thing I did. That was the real jewel of the trip; only 40 people can hike on it a day, it’s really untouched and special. Add in things like the possibilities of crocs and having to get a boat out there, it all just makes it a pretty incredible place.

30km up there on those trails in that hot Queensland weather was bloody hard.”

From triathlon, to XTERRA, to trail racing and now adventures across Australia, at which point does it become enough? Are we going to see Atkinson free climbing skyscrapers in 5 years?

“I think its in an athlete’s nature to look for things that replace the adrenaline they get from Olympic competition. It’s hard to find that same excitement, so you do see a lot of athletes chasing it.

With my association over the years with Red Bull and some of the tourism stuff I’ve done, I’ve been lucky to have these experiences and opportunities to go places that most people don’t get to go.

I pinch myself sometimes - how did I go from triathlon, which let’s be honest isn’t the coolest of sports, to jumping out of planes or doing bungee or filming trail runs for a job!”

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When I catch up with Atkinson, he’s hosting a challenge for Red Bull with Sydney running retailers Pace Athletic, inviting runners to log their best time on a 6.8km loop around the bay in Rozelle.

“Now that I’m a little bit removed from just focusing on my own training, I realise more that we’re all here for the same reasons, and that’s to feel good and do something we enjoy.

These Strava challenges are great because we get people running in groups and being a bit more goal focused. People who might normally walk this path or maybe they run but they haven’t done 7km before, we’re motivating them to get running and get the same enjoyment that we all get. So really it’s about empowering communities.”


This is the second of these challenges Atkinson and the team at Pace have created. Back in July 2018, fellow Olympian Ben St. Lawrence knocked Atkinson off the top spot on the leaderboard, and a week out from the end of the current challenge, St. Lawrence obliterated the competition again.

“It’s a huge compliment from Benny that he comes and runs our challenges! He’s the national record holder in the 10,000m, and he wants to come and get on top of our online fun run!"


Could we see a road marathon sometime this year from Atkinson, who is based on the Gold Coast, which also happens to be the home of Australia’s fastest marathon course.

“The honest truth is I just don’t have 8-12 weeks to put into it. And I respect it too much to not be in shape for it. Endurance wouldn’t be a problem but I think the specifics of marathon training, I just don’t have the uninterrupted time.

My goal these days is to find things that challenge people and inspire them to get out there. I keep myself in shape so that I can go and do these amazing things and show people our backyard.”

Whatever Atkinson does next, it’s unlikely to be what you’re expecting. Keep up with him on Instagram and Strava.

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