It’s 15 degrees in Vermont and Courtney Kaup is standing outside the physical therapy clinic where she’s been seeing patients all morning.
“I love winter. I love the cold. I love the snow,” she says. “As long as you are dressed appropriately, there is no reason not to be outside. I did a 10-mile training run last week in minus 20 degrees weather and I had everything but my ski goggles on. I just put a bunch of Bag Balm on my face and went for it.”
those who don’t live in Vermont, Bag Balm is an ointment that was developed more than 100 years ago to heal cracked and chafed cow udders. In World War II, soldiers used it on their rifles. Nowadays, Kaup uses it to keep her face warm.
Whereas most XTERRA athletes as successful as Kaup grew up swimming or running or mountain biking, Kaup played basketball. Although she is only five feet five, she was a standout point guard and played NCAA Division I basketball at George Mason University where she holds the school’s all-time assists record.
“After college, I was done with basketball and got into riding my bike,” said Kaup. “Then in grad school, someone dared me to run a marathon.”
The dare turned into a dream.
Her marathon and recreational rides quickly turned into training for her first triathlon. When she moved from Baltimore to Vermont, to pursue more of an outdoor lifestyle, XTERRA was a natural progression. The only thing not totally natural about Kaup is how fast she is, and just how hard she trains.
In 2016, Kaup won the 35-39 division XTERRA World title and was the second-fastest female amateur. In 2017, she was best in class at XTERRA Gator Terra, XTERRA Beaver Creek, and the XTERRA Pan Am Championship and in Maui, she was second only to Kristy Jennings, who finished two minutes ahead of her.
“I was chasing her down,” said Kaup, whose run split was almost five minutes faster than Jennings. “But I ran out of real estate.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking Kaup is dismissing her first age group loss as bad luck. Instead, she is already focused on what she can do to make this season even stronger. A physical therapist who works with both endurance athletes and orthopedic patients, Kaup is always finding ways to improve her craft, which is both an art and a science. She does the same thing with her own training.
“You can learn from everything,” she says. “Let me learn and I can be better. And I always want to do better. It’s a vision of life and sports is part of life. Can I push harder? Can I see more patients? Can I get up earlier? Can I handle more discomfort, so I can get to the top of that hill faster?”
Last year before Worlds, Kaup focused on running and her bike-to-run transitions.
“I was training for my runs at a really high intensity and my running was strong. This year, I want to improve my bike handling and anaerobic conditioning. The other big learning curve I had at Worlds was that I didn’t follow my nutrition plan to a tee before the race and had a calorie deficit going in. That was a mistake. When there’s a plan, you need to follow the plan.”
The other thing Kaup is changing this year is that she is trying more of what she calls “new age training modes.” You know, things like heart rate monitors.
“I’m coming out of my old school training methodology and I’m open to learning more about technology because of the research behind it. If there wasn’t research behind it, I wouldn’t do it,” said Kaup, who is also working with a coach for the first time.
“Look at me, talking about power and heart rate and zones,” she exclaims. “But to be honest, a part of me is still like, FTP? What’s that? Just pedal your ass off and go for it!”
The fact that Kaup – who believes that what happens above the shoulders determines 80 percent of your success – is changing her old school ways so dramatically says a lot about how badly she wants it. While she hasn’t nailed down her specific race schedule, you get a sense that she wants that XTERRA World Champ title back.
But rest assured that Kaup’s dedication to winning will never eclipse her zeal and passion for a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. The real reason she is out there training in the snow is because she loves it.
“Yeah, I’m wearing these watches, but I don’t want anyone to tell me I can’t ski or drink beer or that I have to give up anything that takes away any quality of life.”
For now, we’re guessing that means the Bag Balm stays too.