Training Smarter, Racing Harder: Interview with Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter

Courtney Dauwalter
Courtney Dauwalter a remporté l'UTMB de l'Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 2019 - Photo : Jordi Saragossa

34-year-old female professional ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter burst onto the ultrarunning scene in 2016 with her huge smile, her signature basketball shorts, and a win at her first 100-mile competition, Run Rabbit Run.

Without a doubt her greatest accomplishments are consecutive victories at Western States (2018) and UTMB (2019), although never to be overlooked is her first place finish at one of the longest ultramarathons in existence, the Moab 240 (that’s 386.24 kilometers!) in 57 hours and 59 minutes.

Courtney kindly agreed to interview with Distances+, sharing her hopes for 2020, her love for Colorado’s trails and training miles, and a return to the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, where she set the women’s record of 279.68 miles and 2nd overall in 2018.


This interview was published before the coronavirus crisis and the cancelation of many events.


In her own words, this amazing woman describes not only her love for nachos, but mainly how she recovers, her goals for this year, and some essential advice (and more on the unique format of the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra which allows for such incredibly high mileage). Not to mention, her return to defend her title at UTMB.

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Distances+ : What was your most meaningful moment of 2019, running or otherwise?

Courtney Dauwalter : Sharing miles and experiences with friends and family throughout the year is the most meaningful. Having memories created with other people always enriches the entire adventure.

What was your biggest disappointment in 2019, and how did you overcome this?

Getting [injured] during Western States 100 was a disappointment because I love to finish what I start and to miss out on the last 20 miles of that course was a real bummer. However, I am thankful to have had that injury happen as I have learned a bigger appreciation for body maintenance and strength training that will help me in growing as a runner.

Courtney Dauwalter
Courtney Dauwalter sur l’Ultra de l’île de Madère – Photo : Philipp Reiter

What are your biggest races, or your biggest race for 2020 and why?

This year I will have three ˝A˝ races and many other training races. The races I will be focusing on are Hardrock 100, UTMB and Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra. Hard Rock and UTMB are 100 mile races set in the mountains – learning how to move more efficiently through mountain terrain has me excited to compete at these. Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra is a ˝Last Person Standing˝ format race where there is no finish line and the race continues until only one person is able to keep going. This format excites me because it is the perfect style of race to find out what we are capable of. How far can we go and what strategies can we use to stay strong in both our bodies and our brains? I look forward to finding out.

Other than goal races, what is your biggest goal or challenge for 2020?

Train smarter so that I can race harder.

To what do you credit your incredible strength and resilience?

I feel lucky to have been raised by parents who never told me I was incapable of doing something, coaches who taught me how to work really hard and dig deep, and teammates who helped make the whole process fun. These influences definitely factor in to the person I am today.

What’s your favorite training run, trail or run type?

I live in Colorado where we have incredibly beautiful mountains that are covered in fantastic trails. Exploring these mountains and getting above the trees are my favorite types of runs.

Courtney Dauwalter
Courtney Dauwalter sur la Tahoe 200 – Photo : Max Romey

How do you shake off the feelings of monotony with daily or scheduled training leading up to a race?

Switching up the location, the type of terrain and the time of day you run can help break some of the monotony. In general, though, I love it all and don’t often need an extra push to get out the door.

What advice might you have for people getting into trail running or ultras for the first time?

Go for it! Using your own feet to move yourself over trails in nature is so satisfying. Start small and be patient, the fitness will grow if you are consistent.

You are clearly a role model for women who run trails and ultras. Does this speak to you in any way? Is there anything you are doing or building on to speak to this?

I am grateful to be part of this ultra running world right now in a time where women are really finding out what we are capable of. Thank you to all the women who paved the way for us before, and all the women who will keep pushing the limits after I’m finished with this sport.

What’s your favorite food and activity for recovery?

When I am recovering from a big race or hard effort, I like to go for walks. I wander around my neighbourhood without any purpose or distractions and just enjoy the fresh air.

What’s your favorite treat and/or comfort food?

I love candy and nachos. I don’t consider them a “treat” though, as I eat them all the time. I think we should eat and drink what we love because life is short. If something like candy brings us joy, we should indulge.

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