Golden ultra-runner outsteps the competition

Matt Miller
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 3/20/18

If Courtney Dauwalter wasn’t competing with other endurance athletes or her two brothers, she would still be out on the trail competing against herself. The 32-year old, former school teacher …

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Golden ultra-runner outsteps the competition

Posted

If Courtney Dauwalter wasn’t competing with other endurance athletes or her two brothers, she would still be out on the trail competing against herself. The 32-year old, former school teacher living near Golden’s trailheads has made her way through headlines and interviews after her recent accomplishments in endurance running.

She set a new womens American trail-running record last year at the Riverbank One Day Classic by covering 155.3 miles in 24 hours. The previous record was 153 miles.

In October of 2017 Dauwalter finished her longest run to date, a 238-mile route that gained 30,000 feet of elevation through Moab, Utah’s mountains and canyons. She finished first, roughly 10 hours ahead of the next competitor.

As she set out for the run last fall, she told herself to be mindful of two things.

“Don’t get overwhelmed by the distance and just keep moving,” she said. After 58 hours of pushing through hallucinations and mental and physical pain, she made it.

The Moab 240 presented some unique challenges. Aid stations were as far apart as 20-miles in some sections, which made it difficult to plan for water and food. The temperature fluctuated from below freezing, up into the 70s, making it hard to plan out gear.

“There’s less room for error if you miss something at an aid station,” said Kevin Schmidt, Dauwalter’s husband. Schmidt, an ultra-runner himself joined Dauwalter in Moab not only to support his wife, but because a support crew and pacer can be crucial in succeeding in endurance races.

“Most of the time it’s a mental boost,” says Schmidt. “Especially late in the race when you start to get physically fatigued, you also get mentally fatigued. Having someone there to chat with or tell you about their day can help reset you.”

Dauwalter, known for her modest and humble nature, garnered fans along the way. As she closed in on the finish line, locals and even a few Moab police officers stopped to cheer her on.

It took her time to build up to a 240-mile foot race. In her youth she ran cross-country and track in Minnesota, before she competed on the University of Denver’s Nordic ski team. After college she spent some time in Mississippi and returned to distance running. She signed up for a 50K road race, then a 50-mile and a 100-mile race. The progression and accomplishment kept her wanting more.

“[I’m] always wondering what else is possible. I conquered that, what else is there I can try?” she said.

She left Mississippi and landed in Texas for a year and signed up for her first long distance trail run, a 50K race that looped around a park in San Antonio. It wasn’t the great outdoors, but it hooked her on trail-running.

Things didn’t go quite as smooth on her first 100-mile trail race though. Dauwalter made it to 60 miles before her legs and her body locked up and she quit.

“I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I didn’t understand the power of our brains yet. It physically feels bad no matter what, but your brain can overpower all of that.”

When she moved back to Colorado, she lived in Capitol Hill and ran the parks and city streets. On the weekends, she made the drive down 6th avenue to run the trails in Golden, before moving permanently.

This past fall, she left her position as a science teacher to fully invest as a professional athlete. During the week she’ll go running for two to five hours at a time, connecting trails on Apex, Chimney Gulch or Centennial Cone. She says the steep trails are what pay off for her.

“Apex is really beneficial. The first climb punches you in the gut. Any of those where you have to grind it out helps mentally and physically,” she says.

Trail runners, as well as cyclists and hikers have a wide range of trails to choose from in Golden, like smoother networks such as North Table Mountain or steep and rocky, like Apex and White Ranch. The technical trails require more finesse and surefootedness, while smoother trails are a better place to start.

“North Table seems to be getting more and more popular,” said Ken Pliska. Pliska and his wife Deb Spence own Runner’s High, a running specialty store in the shadow of North Table Mountain that’s seen a 20 percent yearly growth in sales the past few years, according to them, while online business has dominated the market.

“Here people really want to develop this community and shop local,” said Spence. “I think people realize that if they shop online they don’t get that.”

During operating hours, they might give nutrition or shoe fit advice, or lead a group run and stretches from their store. Occasionally, Dauwalter and her husband stop by when they need to pick something up for a run.

“You wouldn’t even know she’s this crazy ultra-runner by talking to her,” says Pliska. “Courtney is just a normal person, who happens to be an amazing ultra-runner.”

Dauwalter most recently finished first in the Sean O’ Brien on Feb 3rd, 2018, earning her an entry into the Western States 100-mile endurance run in Squaw Valley, California. in June.

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