Kate Coward found ultra endurance racing later in life. Now she's hooked on pushing boundaries, losing her GPS in the middle of storms in the dark, and helping others live their fullest potential. In this interview, we talk about biking, motherhood, and Arrowhead 135.
Kate Coward is a Minnesota based athlete, mother, business owner, and coach with an addiction to pushing boundaries in everything she does. She helps people discover their full potential with custom ultra-endurance training plans. To learn more about Kate or her business, Full Potential Performance Coaching, visit her website.
Kate, you've already had an incredible career as an endurance athlete. Where do you go from here and what exactly is your personal best?
I’m a little panicky because I feel like I found this sport late in life and there is so much I want to do!
I’m still searching for my personal best.
I seem to be getting stronger and faster as I roll through my 40s — so I’ll take it! I have a number of goals on my list to accomplish, and you never know where life will head but I will work toward them.
The toughest thing for me is focusing on a sport or a season. I enjoy anything long and hard across any mode of transport all year around, but to be truly competitive you have to specialize and have an off or rest season.
What's the hardest event you've ever done?
2020 Iditarod 350 hands down. It was the most physically and mentally demanding event I’ve done. I lost my GPS at mile 100 and then my phone.
I was blind for the next several days feeling my way through windblown “trails” or whatever was left of a trail I could find, through lakes, rivers, and mountain passes. I had to use my intuition to get to the checkpoints - thank goodness I have a great sense of direction. There were a few hours here and there I thought I was walking off into the abyss.
"I walked for endless miles through storms, in the dark, in -50 F weather and had a lump in my throat for 2 days straight on the trail.
I was scared and lonely.
There was a legit threat of safety from the outrageous numbers of moose on the trail. Everything hurt. My brain was tired from all the emotions and working so hard to overcome the mental pressures. So that win was so sweet and catapulted my confidence. Maybe that is what I’m the most proud of?
How was your 2022 Arrowhead Ultra? Highs, lows, and how does it compare to your other Arrowhead events?
I love the Arrowhead trail and community, so that did not disappoint!
The 2022 race was somewhat uneventful for me. The weather was warm and the snow wasn’t super fast, but firm and rideable. There was no risk of frost bite. I had no epic battles with myself or the trail. I didn't eat or drink enough which hurt me, but my body knows what to do. I had some aches and pains, but nothing unusual.
I think the biggest hurdle was that nearly the entire race was rideable, and so it was very physically demanding because it was just non-stop riding. I’ve completed this route 8 times, 6 of which were actual races, and every other journey had a struggle, either internal or external. I’ve walked my bike for hours on this trail, fallen asleep at the wheel and ridden into trees, shared hours on the trail with new friends, breast pumped milk at checkpoints, biked alone during a -30 F night unsupported when there was no race in 2021.
When I did the race on foot, I did a double 270 mile with very little training and in my first trimester of pregnancy. On skis, I had to get cortisone shots in my forearms after my tendons flared up and I got nerve damage from double pole planting for 35 hours. So much drama! 2022 was “easy” relative to other years. I was kind of trained - just held onto some fitness from the summer gravel season.
Weather-wise, we lucked out because just 1 day after the race cut off, the region experienced record temperature temp of -42 for the date! I had some “lows” but pretty quickly pulled myself out of them with my mental techniques.
I know the course well enough now I sort of know where I am, but I don’t bring a computer or watch, so sometimes an hour feels like many hours … so the biggest challenge is staying present and trying not to anticipate the finish. I think time was slowed down since there wasn’t anything interesting to focus on, people to chase or be chased.
"The highs were DEFINITELY being on the starting line with this awesome community after 2 years apart, and then rolling into CP2 and CP3 because the volunteers and Embark Maple crew were totally awesome!"
I always look forward to these checkpoints for the people as much as the recharge.
How does motherhood tie into your purpose as an athlete, coach, and business owner?
Many of us have been socialized to think your life is over when you have kids — or that you won’t be able to be as fast or strong since your body changes (as a woman).
I’m still besties with all my alpine ski racing friends from when we were teenagers, we are all raising our kids together now and sharing outdoor experiences with them. Also, pay attention - there are a number of the most insane female pro female athletes out there who have kids and continued their careers and are thriving.
This has been such a passion of mine.
"I changed my expectations and approach to my training and competition after having my son, and turns out I just got stronger and faster."
Ultra racing it the greatest equalizer … age and gender seem to fade as we do harder and longer events. This really inspired me to show other (women especially) that you have so much more potential than you know.
Maybe things change with kids.
Maybe your long run on Saturday is half with a kid in a stroller at a slower pace.
Or maybe you have to get on the trainer at 9pm. It’s all possible, just about changing your expectations, getting creative with your workouts, and having a supportive partner or family.
What's the achievement you're most proud of?
Hard to say. I usually put everything I have into everything I do in many areas of life, so I usually walk away feeling proud I gave it all.
Finishing in the top 15 at Unbound 200 last year, my second gravel race, was definitely a highlight. The caliber of talent was the most concentrated I’ve ever been around. I was very surprised at the finish!
Flat bars or drops?
Music or silence?
If I’m with others, always silence (or chatting of course).
Long runs - podcasts
Short runs or races - music.
Bike races: silence.
Favorite on-course snack?
Favorite place to ride in The Nxrth?
I love the Driftless region down near Lake Pepin. It’s as close as we can get to mountains and gorgeous views.
My favorite book is the 2nd of the Pillars of the Earth Series by Ken Follet, World Without End.
love epic sports books such as Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald, about the epic Ironman Triathlon battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen, arguably two of the best Ironman triathletes of all time.
Otherwise I recommend Andrew Coggan’s Training and Racing with a Power Meter book -haha!