Have you been bitten by the ultrarunning bug? Maybe you're just curious about what it takes to run more than 26.2 miles. Maybe you've already run a 50- or 100-miler, and the idea of a 200-mile race is intriguing but intimidating. Or maybe you're an ultra-junkie, obsessed with pushing your limits and the longer the race, the better. If any of those apply, read on for tips from the top runner at the 200+ distance: Courtney Dauwalter, the 33 year-old from Golden, Colorado, who loves going long and leaves just about everyone in the dust.
Dauwalter started running ultras in 2011 and since has won or placed second in nearly 20 races. In the past few years, she's been competing in longer and longer races and has established herself as a standout at the 200+ mile discipline. She has won a handful of races outright, besting all other racers—including the men. In a 238-mile race in 2017, she even finished 10 hours ahead of the second-place finisher.
Who better to ask for ultra-training and racing tips? Her laid-back approach to training and nutrition are counterbalanced by an effervescent enthusiasm for what she does.
ACTIVE: We have to start with the obvious, why do you run races over 200 miles long?
Courtney Dauwalter: The places you get to travel with your feet are pretty special and remote. A lot of them, you're not able to access with a car. You have to work for it, and that makes it a little more special. It's also great to get out there and do something that initially sounds crazy or maybe even impossible. And, the ultra-running community is so wonderful. They're happy to share stories and tips, and help you out with anything you need.
ACTIVE: What's it like to run 200-plus miles?
CD: It's so cool! You stand at the start line, and the scale of what's in front of you—how many miles you have to string together—feels so huge, but it's also like, "How lucky is it that this is the only thing I'm going to be trying to do over the next couple of days?" Sharing that with the community of ultrarunners and family and friends there to support me is so great. And we're all capable of doing them; it could take four or five days, but that's awesome!
ACTIVE: A lot has been made of the fact that you've won a few big races outright, beating the men as well as the women. Do you feel like distance might be a gender equalizer in endurance sports?
CD: Distance weighs into it a lot, and as distance increases, muscle mass and brute strength don't play in as much. It becomes about the mental aspect and how stubborn you are, and that doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. Two-hundred-mile races are different than 100-mile races. At this point for many people it's not a race, it's an adventure—not that many people are racing at these distances. It will be exciting to see how it progresses as more and more people start really competing.
ACTIVE: How do you recommend someone who's new to ultrarunning get started and progress mileage-wise?
CD: It depends a lot on whether you're starting from actual zero, or if you've been running a little, have active your whole life and now you want to try an ultra. Either way, you have to be pretty patient with yourself in building up your mileage over time. Try to get out there more times a week, maybe from three times a week to five times, and eventually to every day or almost every day. You've got to build up the muscles in your legs.
ACTIVE: And what kinds of paces are we talking about here? Is speed work important in your training or is just building mileage the main focus?
CD: Depending on who you talk to, some people will still do classic track workouts, hill repeats and also build in the mileage. Others will just do long, slow, distance runs. Personally, I don't do any track workouts, but I sometimes do hill repeats on certain sections of trails I know and love. I do a lot of big days and a lot of climbing. Ultimately, speed in this sort of race is about how to put together an efficient mile 200 times in a row.
ACTIVE: How much walking do you do in a race?
CD: Hopefully not tons of it! But a lot of times on the uphills you can be more efficient walking than gassing yourself running. As the race distances get longer, the percentage of uphill walking increases.
ACTIVE: How do you tap into your mental strength to keep going for so long?
CD: I just ignore it. I don't give the pain any value. I talk to myself and tell myself I'm fine even though everything might not be fine.
ACTIVE: Are you afraid you might be injuring yourself? Have you ever sustained a long-term injury from training or racing?
CD: I guess I've been lucky; I never really have gotten injured. You have to know yourself and your body and trust yourself. Are you someone who's going to grab onto any excuse that presents itself, or are you pretty good at pushing aside the pain and not making excuses? Then, if you're getting those red flags of pain, maybe you need to pay attention.
ACTIVE: What does a typical training week look like for you?
CD: I usually run every day, some days multiple times a day, sometimes all in one go. I don't follow a plan, but I'm typically getting 100 or 110 miles per week. I just go out and run however my body feels that day.
ACTIVE: Do you plan to keep training that way, or do you ever wonder if you could be even faster with a more precise training regimen?
CD: I'm going to keep doing it that way because I love that I'm not attached to any certain workout or distance on a given day. I'm not forcing a long run on a day when my body is telling me to take it easy. Every day is a blank slate, so I can just make it whatever feels good. It's stress-free, because I never need to worry about missing a certain workout on my plan because there is no plan! It works for me because I'm very disciplined to get out there every day.
ACTIVE: How about nutrition? Is it true that you don't follow any specific plan there?
CD: It's pretty un-regimented. I basically eat whatever I want and don't get hung up on planning or counting calories or grams or anything. I'm not interested in eliminating things from my diet. I just eat whatever my body is craving.
ACTIVE: What type of gear do you carry on your training runs and for races?
CD: It just depends on the run or the race. On a training run I might just leave the house with nothing and see what happens. I know where all the water fountains are within a 10-mile radius of my house, so I'll just use those. Sometimes I go out wearing a pack with water, food and a phone for emergencies. Depending on the race, I might bring trekking poles if it's really steep, technical terrain, but I don't use them on training runs.
ACTIVE: What's on your race calendar for this year, and how can our readers connect with you?
CD: In 2019 I'm already registered for the Madeira Island Ultra in Portugal—that's a 115k race—and the Hard Rock 100 [miles] in Colorado. The world championship 24-hour race is in France in October. Depending on the race—the ones that have GPS tracking_anyone can look up my name or bib number and track my progress in real time. And I love connecting with people! Follow me on Instagram @courtneydauwalter ; on Facebook and on Twitter @courtdauwalter .
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