Inside the Mind and Body of Five-Time Coast-to-Coast Legend Simone Maier

On a brisk February morning in 2024, Simone Maier not only celebrated her 44th birthday but made history.

Winning her fifth 243 km Coast-to-Coast multisport race, Simone crossed the finish line with a time that shattered her previous record by 40 minutes and left her closest competitor trailing by half an hour.

What drives this extraordinary athlete to achieve such unparalleled feats?

How does she prepare, fuel, and push through the gruelling race that spans New Zealand’s rugged terrain?

In this article, we delve into the secrets behind Simone’s success.  From her meticulous training regimen and strategic fuelling techniques to the mental resilience that has defined her journey, we uncover what makes Simone Maier an unstoppable force in the world of endurance sports.

What is the Katmandu Coast-to-Coast? 

The Coast-to-Coast is a 243 km (151 miles) race from the west coast to the east coast of New Zealand, which includes:

  • 3km run,
  • 55km cycle,
  • 33km run,
  • 15 km cycle,
  • 67 km kayak and
  • 70 km cycle to the finish line! 

As you will see, finishing, let alone winning, the Coast-to-Coast race is a superhuman feat of physical, mental and emotional strength.   

Simone’s Backstory

German-born Simone moved to Wanaka, New Zealand, in 2007 to start a new life.  She was known as a ‘hyperactive child’ who always loved sports. 

To cut a long story short, after having flashbacks in her teenage years of sexual abuse that occurred when she was a toddler, she has faced some demons. 

Over the years since she has done some tough mental work that has undoubtedly contributed to the fierce athlete she has become, able to push through the physical and mental barriers that hold most of us back from reaching our full potential.

Simone started competing in triathlons 20 years ago, winning her age group in the 2009 Taupo (NZ) Ironman.  In 2009, she placed third in the Kona Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, five months after breaking her back mountain biking. 

Since then, she has travelled the world competing in professional adventure races like the Red Bull Defiance, GOD Zone, the Wulong Adventure Race in China and the TV show Tracked while working part-time as an (overqualified) lifeguard at the local Wanaka swimming pool to support her competitions. 

She also runs A Level Up with T1D teammate Emily Wilson, which teaches self-confidence through learning adventure racing skills.  She is now also taking private triathlon coaching clients

Simone’s Training and De-Load

Simone’s typical week involves around 25 hours of training, split between cycling, running, and kayaking.   

Two weeks before the Coast-to-Coast, she scaled back her training to 13 hours and only five hours the week before the race to allow for recovery and travel from Wanaka to Kumara, on the western side of New Zealand’s south island, ready to start the race. 

The day before the race, her sponsors at Radix hooked her up with a Dexcom G7 continuous glucose monitor, which, as you’ll see, revealed fascinating insights into the metabolism of a unique athlete. 

Simone’s Pre-Race Fuelling

Many endurance athletes carb load before a race to ensure their liver and muscle glycogen stores are topped up.  

But Simone said, “I didn’t eat more carbs the day before the race.  I just ate my normal, standard food.  On Friday morning, I had a Radix Mango Breakfast meal.  Lunch was just white quinoa, broccoli, greens, scrambled eggs, and the same for dinner.”

Simone woke at 3 am on the day of the race to prepare for the 6 am start time, beginning the day with:

  • a glass of water with apple cider vinegar,
  • more water,
  • a Radix Mango Breakfast,
  • two scrambled eggs and
  • coffee. 

Before the race, she sipped on a bottle of Precision Hydration 500 for sugar and minerals, and 20 minutes before the race, she had a Precision Gel

Run off the Beach (2.2km)

What was to become a twelve-and-a-half-hour, nonstop event started at 6 a.m., before dawn, in the dark. 

  • Notice in the chart below how her blood glucose data is nice and low overnight.  Her muscles and liver have plenty of spare capacity to store fuel.  In contrast, a growing proportion of the population today have their onboard fat and glucose fuel tanks full at all times, so the energy backs up into their bloodstream.  Elevated blood glucose is usually a symptom of prediabetes or diabetes.  But as you’ll see, Simone and her glucose levels are far from normal.
  • Blood glucose rises after she wakes as the adrenaline starts to kick in. This rise in glucose in the early hours is also known as the dawn phenomenon, as the body releases glucose into the system so you’re ready to start the day. 
  • She had another glucose gel 20 minutes before the race.  Fuelled by the glucose gel and some pre-race nerves, her blood glucose jumped to 10 mmol/L at the start line.

Fascinatingly, there is a gap in the CGM data as soon after the starting gun during the first run off the beach and the initial part of the cycle leg.  It seems the CGM couldn’t believe what it was seeing. 

During this 2.2km uphill run, she held around 19 km/h, and her heart rate peaked at 174 BPM! 

Simone said, “The start was super-fast.  I probably did a PB in that first run.  I had a blood/metallic taste in my mouth.  Probably got some good lactic acid, but thankfully, the bike was not too hectic and could recover from it.”

While she didn’t test her ketones at that point, a “metallic taste” is often a sign of ketosis.  Her body was dumping all the available fuels – glucose, ketones, lactate, free fatty acids and ketones – into her bloodstream to fuel the intense start of the Coast-to-Coast.  

Lactate is produced at high intensities when the body breaks down glucose for fuel when oxygen levels are low. 

Lactate can be used as fuel, but most people with a lower level of aerobic fitness find it hard to keep going once they build up significant amounts of lactic acid in their muscles. 

However, through training, elite athletes develop a higher lactate threshold. Their muscles recycle lactate as fuel more efficiently, reducing the amount of lactic acid in their blood, meaning they can go harder for longer.

55km Cycle (Kumara to Arthurs Pass)

After the blistering eight-minute uphill sprint, Simon switched to her bike.

The snip below from Simone’s Training Peaks data (collected from her Gamin watch) from her first run and bike leg shows an overall elevation gain of 590 m with an average heart rate of 148 bpm.  For more details, you can dive into Simone’s data for this leg.

Blood Glucose in an Elite Athlete

The CGM came back online 25 minutes in, reading 19.5 mmol/L (350 mg/dL)!   As she continues to power up the hill, her glucose temporarily reads above the upper limit of the CGM (i.e. above 22 mmol/L or 400 mg/dL)! 

Glucose values this high are usually only seen in people with uncontrolled diabetes (either type 1 or type 2).  However, little is known (yet) about the glucose response of elite athletes in extreme performance events. Abbot has been working with Elliot Kipchoge, the greatest marathon runner in history, and his team since 2021 to help them optimise their fueling, but the results are still hush-hush.

For reference, a 2019 study using CGMs in healthy, non-diabetic participants found that the average glucose was 5.5 mmol/L (99 mg/dL), with few people reaching 10 mmol/L (180 mg/dL).  

With training, endurance athletes like Simone build a higher capacity to store glycogen in their muscles and liver.  Training also builds the muscles’ ability to uptake glucose from the blood, facilitated by increased glucose transporters on the muscle cell membranes (non-insulin mediated glucose uptake). 

But in Simone’s case, in addition to the training, the adrenaline (aka “fight or flight hormone”) and cortisol kicked in BIG TIME, stimulating a MASSIVE release of fuel from her liver to enable her to achieve what was about to become a superhuman feat.   

Supersapiens have been doing fascinating work recently using CGMs for athletes to guide their fuelling before, during and after events.  Supersapiens CEO Phil Sutherland, who is a Type 1 Diabetic athlete himself, says he struggles to perform on the bike when his glucose is below 110 mg/dL (6.1 mmol/L) and feels best when his glucose is between 140 and 180 mg/dL (7.7 and 10 mmol/L). 

Supersapiens recently released a study detailing an analysis of their users’ data.  They found that only 10% of the glucose readings were above 7.8 mg/dL (140 mg/dL).   While Supersapiens users are likely not just weekend warriors, they are not necessarily all elite athletes at Simone’s level. 

This fascinating article details that elite athletes often run at much higher glucose levels during competition.  Because the Abbot Libre Sense Sport Glucose Biosensor only reads up to (11.1 mmol/L) 200 mg/dL, elite athletes are often ‘flatlining’ on their CGM, with glucose levels above 200 mg/dL.

Pushing Through the Pain

Tim Noakes’ “central governor” theory proposes that the central nervous system (CNS) is critical in regulating physical performance and fatigue.  According to this theory, the brain acts as a central governor that dynamically and subconsciously controls the number of active motor units in the muscles to ensure that the body does not reach a state of catastrophic failure during exercise.

Normally, to guarantee homeostasis and protect our bodies, the entire motor neural capacity is not fully activated; therefore, the muscle’s total capacity during performances outside of an emergency remains inaccessible.  However, the central governor limits can be removed or modified in life-threatening situations.

You might look at David Goggins and wonder how he can push through pain and ignore his limits. 

Like Goggins, Simone has seen more than her share of pain and has learned to push through.

Mindset Matters

In addition to spending time in a home recovering from eating disorders, suicidal tendencies and self-harm triggered by memories of sexual abuse as a toddler, she has also worked with a Neurolinguistic Programming Coach to overcome her limiting beliefs and self-doubt, turning down the negative voices in her head that told her she didn’t deserve it or couldn’t do it. 

You may have heard of people achieving superhuman displays of physical strength in an emergency or when possessed.  Most medical professionals would likely call a blood glucose of 22 mmol/L (400 mg/dL) pathological, but it might also be a symptom of an elite athlete able to manage their mind and body to do what most humans can’t.  When it comes time to put the hammer down in a race, her conscious mind gets out of her way, and her body can do exactly what she wants. 

While most of us live lives of comfort, addicted to cheap dopamine hits, through years of training and performing under extreme conditions, Simone has learned to thrive in situations that most people would find intensely stressful.  Her mental toughness enables her to tap into physical reserves that most of us would save for life-threatening situations.    

Fuel Usage: Fat vs Glucose

With such a high level of training and lean muscle mass, her insulin levels are (most likely) extremely low, meaning when the adrenaline kicks in, she can pour very high amounts of fuel into her mitochondria to do precisely what she wants them to do. 

The chart below shows that the body uses mostly glucose at very high intensities.  After years of training, Simone’s liver dumps stored glucose from her liver (glycogen) extremely fast to produce maximal power in her muscles. 

She did consume two more glucose gels (60 g carbs) and Precision Fuel (sugar and electrolytes) during the bike leg.  But to be clear.  This extreme glucose level is not due to her 130 g of carbs that morning. 

It’s primarily a response to the adrenaline, which causes her body to dump abnormal glucose levels from the stored glycogen in her liver into her bloodstream.  If she had gone out of her way to carb load in the hours before the event, Simone’s insulin levels would have been higher, possibly suppressing the release of glucose when the adrenaline kicked in.

An analogous situation occurs in people on a very low-carbohydrate diet who consume a large bolus of carbohydrates and see their glucose rise rapidly. Similarly, in Type 1 diabetes management, when people eat with a negative bolus on board, glucose shoots up rapidly due to very low insulin levels.

But in Simone’s case, this glucose rise is not pathological – it’s a feature, not a bug. After the spike to above 22 mmol/L (400 mg/dL), insulin rises just enough to enable her body to bring her glucose back down into a more normal range with enough fuel to keep going.

You don’t want to go into a major event under-fuelled or fasted. However, giving your body time to adsorb the food, store it, and return to homeostasis is important. Carb loading too close to a race will activate the parasympathetic rest and digestion mode instead of the sympathetic fight or flight mode you want on the start line for a race you intend to win.

Based on their experience with their CGM users, Supersapiens suggests avoiding eating in the window between 4 hours and 20 minutes before exercise. A recent study, Association between pre-exercise food ingestion timing and reactive hypoglycemia: Insights from a large database of continuous glucose monitoring data (Zisser et al., 2023) from the Supersapiens team, showed that it’s wise to avoid fueling in the 30-90 minutes before exercise to avoid rebound hypoglycemia.

Eating a big bolus of carbs an hour before you start will maximise your chance that your glucose will be falling when you put your foot on the floor. The combination of higher insulin levels due to the recent meal, falling glucose and sudden higher fuel use leads to a shortage of fuel in the muscles to fuel maximum performance.

Mountain Run (33 km)

After the first bike leg, Simone transitioned to the mountain run, which involved climbing 1064 m up to Goat Pass and along a riverbed for 3 hours and 51 minutes.   

The mountain run is like a marathon, but hopping along a rushing, freezing stream.  Making it through requires teamwork with your competitors. 

Not only is it important to keep well fuelled to run, but to keep warm.  Simone’s temperature dropped to 12o C.  She consumed eight gels with caffeine and more electrolytes.  

Simone’s heart maintained an average of 154 BPM during this phase.  Again, you can dive into Simone’s Training Peaks data for this leg here.

Simone’s glucose hit another peak at 15.8 mmol/L (284 mg/dL) at 9:50 a.m. as she approached the top of the peak at Goat Pass. Her glucose started to decline again as she descended from the mountain. 

Middle Cycle (15 km)

Simone then transitioned to a short 15 km cycle, averaging 30 km/h with a maximum of 73 km down some of the steep descents, holding an average heart rate of 144 BPM (see Training Peaks data here).

During this phase, she consumed a 500 mL Coke, some baby food mash and a long black coffee, all lovingly prepared and coordinated by her partner Marcel.  This was followed by a ‘short’ 1km run to the kayak.

Kayak Leg (70 km Paddle)

As she boarded her kayak, she was four minutes behind the race leader; she knew she had to make up some time!

Most people who exercise for less than an hour or two will have plenty of fuel stored in the liver and muscles, so they don’t need to worry about fuelling during their activity.  Eating before you train can be helpful if you’re hungry and your glucose is low. 

Otherwise, eating soon after you get home to refuel is fine.  But six hours into an intense event like this, it becomes a game of mental strength, determination, and fuelling to ensure blood glucose doesn’t drop too low. 

The figure below shows muscle glycogen depletes without constant fuelling.  At this point, a steady stream of glucose becomes critical to prevent ‘bonking’. 

Two years ago, after previously winning the Coast-to-Coast race three times, she became hypothermic in the kayak leg and had to pull out. She knew she needed to keep fueling to keep herself warm and power herself down the river to catch Deb. 

Stuck to the boat in the photo below, you can see 4 x Precision Chews, which provide a concentrated 30 g of carbs.  She only ate one of the cubes and consumed two cans of Red Bull and a litre of Precision Fuel (glucose, fructose and minerals).  During a race, it’s all about fuel, not nutrients, so easily digestible carbs is a priority.

During the kayak leg, her glucose dropped to a race low of 7.2 mmol/L (130 mg/dL), but she ate enough to raise it to 10 mg/L (180 mmol/L) at the end as she exited the water. 

Simone’s GPS tracker went offline for two and a half hours during the kayak leg, which caused some stress for everyone watching her progress online, particularly given that she had previously pulled out due to experiencing hypothermia. Thankfully, she emerged in the lead after four and a half hours on the water well!

The other bummer is that the CGM came off during the quick clothing change from the kayak gear to the cycling gear, so the CGM data ended an hour before the race finished. 

But in addition to the fact that Simone’s body can dump a massive amount of glucose into her bloodstream to perform superhuman events, she also seems to know exactly when to fuel to keep her glucose above 7.2 mmol/L (130 mg/d) to perform at her best.  After years of racing, she knows precisely what her body needs without the CGM. 

Particularly during the kayak leg, we can see that every time her glucose reaches this point, she senses that she needs more fuel to bring her glucose back up to around 10 mmol/L (180 mg/dL) to keep the power output high. 

The constant fuelling also allowed her to keep her temperature above 17o C with an average heart rate of 122 BPM for the kayak leg (see Training Peaks data here). 

Final Cycle Leg (70km)

Simone came out of the water well-fuelled and ready to cycle to the finish line in Christchurch. 

With an average heart rate of 128 BPM, she powered along at an average speed of 37 km/h, producing an average of 186 watts on the bike (see data here).

Last year, she started cramping in the final stretch, so she took on plenty of electrolytes in her drink and a 600 mL bottle of Coke, which has a blend of sodium, glucose and fructose to fuel her.

Most people don’t think of Coke as a health food, but combining glucose (25 g) and fructose (27 g) increases the carbohydrates an athlete can absorb. Fructose uses a different transport mechanism, allowing for higher total carbohydrate intake without triggering the gut distress that can occur with a very high rate of glucose intake.

Simone hopped off the bike and ran the final stretch to claim her fifth 243 km Coast-to-Coast victory!

Fuelling Summary

The Cronometer snip below shows Simone’s race day fuelling, with a total of 4433 calories, with the majority (87%) coming from 950 g of carbs.  During the race, she topped up with 70 g of carbs per hour to keep her glucose from dropping too low to perform.    

Across the day, she consumed 3.4 g of sodium, 482 mg of magnesium and 1.6 grams of potassium to stay hydrated and prevent muscle cramps.  She also got plenty of vitamins B3, B5 and B6 from Red Bull, which helps with energy production and 3.4 g of caffeine to keep her alert and focused.   

According to her Garmin watch, Simone used 6419 calories of energy during the event at an average of 513 calories per hour.  

Simone’s peak energy burn was during the first run and cycle leg, when her blood sugars were way above the normal range at 742 calories per hour. By comparison, the kayak burn was a gentler 203 calories per hour, during which she could refuel while paddling downstream.

Post Race Refuelling

If the CGM hadn’t fallen off, she could have used the glucose data as a fuel gauge (e.g. eat more every time her glucose dropped below 5.0 mmol/L or 90 mg/dL) to ensure she’s ready to train again sooner rather than later.  

But after decades of racing, Simone knows how to listen to her appetite to eat to recover. 

She said, “Saturday after the race, I had a burger, and at night, I had pizza.  My stomach felt weird with all the gels and sports drinks, and I was running on sweet stuff like Coke and Red Bull. Sunday and Monday after the race, I felt hungry all day.  I ate more often, but more small portions.  I’m 99% vegetarian, but at the finish line, I needed to eat, so I didn’t care if there was meat in the burger.  I’m usually very selective with what I eat.  Interestingly, I have been craving sushi with tuna since Sunday.”

What Did We Learn? 

  • Beyond the training, achieving at the elite level is a game of mental toughness, believing you can do it and pushing past most people’s barriers.  Simone has done the training and the hard work to overcome the mental barriers most people encounter that limit their performance. 
  • Simone values nutrient-dense food to ensure fuel and recovery in everyday life.  However, keeping glucose levels up throughout the race and a constant supply of carbohydrates and electrolytes to maintain power and hydration is critical. 
  • Modern CGM technology can ensure that the athlete fuels appropriately to keep glucose levels high enough to maintain high power outputs.  Although Simone could not see her CGM data during the race, after years of training, she seems to understand that she needs to keep her glucose above 7.2 mmol/L (130 mg/dL) to continue to perform during race conditions.  Outside race conditions, her glucose is much lower. 
  • After you prepare, the human body is an amazing machine that can do things you won’t necessarily read about in textbooks. 

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