About a fortnight after securing her second 100-mile victory in just three weeks in 2023, Courtney Dauwalter embarked on a casual run. On a late July morning, she meandered along the trails near her Leadville, Colorado home. To her surprise, her legs felt cooperative, despite the lingering fatigue from two arduous trail races.
On June 24, she made an indelible mark at the Western States 100, shattering an 11-year-old course record by an astonishing hour. A mere three weeks later, she etched her name in history again by setting another course record at the grueling Hardrock race, conquering slightly over 100 miles with a daunting 33,197 feet of elevation gain.
The Unquenchable Thirst for Challenge
Even with her legs and mind still grappling with the hardships endured in the ‘pain cave’ during both races, Dauwalter couldn’t resist the allure of what lay beyond. Upon returning home, the 38-year-old Salomon athlete made an audacious decision: she set her sights on another victory at the prestigious Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) on September 1.
“I told Kevin, my husband, that we have to take a shot at it; if we don’t, we’ll always wonder,” she confided with Runner’s World. On September 2, Dauwalter, against all odds, emerged victorious at UTMB with a time of 23 hours, 29 minutes, and 14 seconds, despite grappling with stomach issues, an exhausted aerobic system, and overworked quadriceps.
Dauwalter’s remarkable feat was an anomaly in the ultrarunning world. Competing in three 100-mile races within just 10 weeks pushes athletes to the brink of exhaustion, sometimes leading to hallucinations. Dauwalter herself has encountered a giant cowboy, a lounging leopard, and even a giraffe during her past races.
The Joyful Journey
Known for her cheerful approach to racing and her instinctive mindset, Dauwalter has followed a distinctive path devoid of a coach or rigid training program. Instead, she embraces each day as a unique adventure, relying on her instincts and a morning ‘systems check’ to assess her body and mind.
In contrast to most athletes who meticulously plan their training, Dauwalter embraces spontaneity. She listens keenly to her body and allows her runs to develop organically, adapting to her daily emotions and instincts.
Nourishing the Body
Her approach to recovery between races is equally unconventional. Rather than adhering to a strict regimen, she tunes into her body’s cravings. Be it burgers, cake, or fresh salads, Dauwalter indulges her palate, firmly believing that her body will guide her toward the necessary nutrition.
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During the weeks sandwiched between races, Dauwalter places a premium on mental rejuvenation. To recharge her mind, she avoids discussions about running and immerses herself in unrelated activities, such as home improvement shows or novels.
Dauwalter’s unique approach to training and recovery bore fruit. After triumphing at Western States and Hardrock, she impulsively registered for UTMB, completing a rare triple crown of 100-mile races. Her journey, spanning a decade of fine-tuning her approach, stands as an inspiration to runners everywhere. She encourages others to trust their instincts and aim higher, firmly believing that everyone possesses untapped potential.
As Dauwalter looks forward to her next series of races and celebrates her accomplishments, she continues to raise the bar for herself, demonstrating that her unorthodox approach to ultrarunning is effective for her and could serve as a catalyst for others to chase their dreams with a similar mindset.