Courtney Dauwalter won the 2018 Western States 100 in the second-fastest women’s time ever. In the following interview, Courtney talks about how she tried to take the first 30 miles as easy as she could, how she tested herself in the race’s middle miles, her visit to the pain cave at the race’s end, and what the rest of her 2018 looks like.
Courtney Dauwalter, 2018 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Courtney Dauwalter after her win at the 2018 Western States 100. Congratulations, Courtney.
Courtney Dauwalter: Thank you.
iRunFar: You had a ridiculously good race out there.
Dauwalter: Thank you.
iRunFar: I was here for Ellie Greenwood’s run a number of years ago, in 2012, which is still the course record.
Dauwalter: And a stout record!
iRunFar: A stout record on a perfect day, weather-wise. I mean, it was super cool.
Dauwalter: She’s incredible, I’d love to meet here.
iRunFar: This was on par with that. Wouldn’t you agree it was a hot day out there?
Dauwalter: [Nods] It was pretty hot!
iRunFar: How did that feel, the heat?
Dauwalter: It was just a part of it. I was actually kind of happy it was hot. It was like the true Western States experience: to have a hot day and everyone is suffering together. It wasn’t a surprise. I mean, two weeks ago the forecast looked pretty sweet.
iRunFar: Low 80s [Fahrenheit] I would have enjoyed that more.
Dauwalter: The forecast ratcheted up pretty quick.
iRunFar: Yeah, that escalated pretty quickly for sure. So, were you holding yourself back early as other women were going really fast?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I tried to put it in cruise control for those first 30 miles, and then see where that landed me. I’d never raced with these women, so I didn’t really know where my cruise control is in comparison to theirs. I tried not to worry about it and to remember it’s a long day. Then, once I ran through 30 miles, it was like, “Well, what can we do through these canyons? How are you feeling?” It was about staying cool and being as efficient as possible over those last 40 miles.
iRunFar: So at mile 30, you’re already thinking, “What can I do?”
Dauwalter: Well, yeah–you’re always thinking that, right?
iRunFar: You weren’t just turning the switch on, like, it’s time to hammer.
Dauwalter: No, for sure not. I don’t even have a hammer mode [laughs].
iRunFar: If you don’t even have a hammer mode… are you more of a rolling pin, where you just crush? You are very consistent.
Dauwalter: Thank you. It was cool. The course is awesome, the volunteers and the aid stations were like beacons of joy. I feel really grateful.
iRunFar: Did you end up spending any time with any of the women you were catching up to after mile 30?
Dauwalter: Not tons. I was kind of running solo the whole time, which I like. It has its benefits, for sure. But I’d definitely chat with the other runners for a little bit – check in with what’s going on for other people and just saying “hey.” It’s a lonely day out there otherwise.
iRunFar: By Foresthill were you getting any reports, say from your crew, that you were building a decent lead?
Dauwalter: It didn’t feel decent. It felt like it was still on the brink. I think at Foresthill, Lucy Bartholomew was only maybe 13 minutes back. That’s the split I had there. We didn’t get another split until mile 95. So we had no idea, and then with the entourage of women back there–all crushers, all super-strong, some past finishers–you never know. I was running under the assumption that every mile I was doing, they were doing faster.
iRunFar: Were you running scared or were you running confident, knowing that there were fast women behind you? Because I think there’s a difference.
Dauwalter: Yeah, I wasn’t scared, but I was running with intention–if they were going to catch me, that would be what it was, but I was going to try to make them work for it.
iRunFar: They would have had to work for it. Did you have any splits or anything to let you know that you were building to a really fast overall time?
Dauwalter: No, I had no idea. On cruise mode and then in the last 20 miles, it went beyond cruise mode. It was not comfortable anymore. I was really hurting and I was trying to run everything I could run, with the assumption that people were right around the last switchback, you know?
iRunFar: So you were hurting, but you were the one making yourself hurt. Nothing was going wrong.
Dauwalter: No, it was all self-imposed!
iRunFar: You were in the pain cave, it was suffering by choice.
Dauwalter: Yeah, it’s a cool place to be, in that pain cave.
iRunFar: You enjoy that?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I love it.
iRunFar: Because there are some people who try to run happy.
Dauwalter: I think it’s fun to acknowledge, like, “Right now, I’m sitting in the pain cave.”
iRunFar: I try to avoid the pain cave.
Dauwalter: No, go in! Dive right in, set up a lawn chair.
iRunFar: So what do you love about it? I remember that Timothy Olson, after he set the course record in 2012, he said he enjoyed being in the pain cave, that dark place. What makes that experience special for you?
Dauwalter: Oh, I think it’s just so cool what we’re capable of. I think that has me continuing to dive back into the pain cave. What you can overcome mentally and physically, it’s pretty cool.
iRunFar: So you’ve had a lot of great performances, but I think the depth of competition here was probably the strongest field you’ve raced. Does it feel kind of awesome to win against that field? It’s different from kind of soloing a great performance.
Dauwalter: I don’t know. It’s still sinking in. It’s so cool. Like, we’re at Western States right now. It’s awesome.
iRunFar: Is it the kind of thing where you’d want to come back next year?
Dauwalter: Oh yeah. For sure.
iRunFar: Maybe you can have one of those 80-degree [Fahrentheit] days?
Dauwalter: [Laughs] I’ll never count on that. The way I’m feeling out here today, it’s like, “Does this place ever cool down?”
iRunFar: No. Unless maybe in December. So, what else do you have coming up?
Dauwalter: The next one I’m going to be aiming for is in September. It’s the Tahoe 200. So I have some shorter stuff before then. For the month of July, I’ll probably be sitting by a pool, drinking.
iRunFar: Having some Colorado water?
Dauwalter: Yeah [laughs]. I’m definitely going to relax until my body and my brain are ready to rock again.
iRunFar: Did you have a pretty steady and consistent lead-up to this race that makes you want to take a break?
Dauwalter: Yeah. I don’t want to run myself into the ground. I like taking breaks throughout the year and not just one.
iRunFar: It’s good to hear you say that because you do race some long and really long races. Someone could look at you and think, “Oh, she’s got to race long all the time.” But no, you like to take a break, too.
Dauwalter: Yeah. When your body needs it, then you should absolutely take one. The mind, too–for sure the mental piece can be exhausted.
iRunFar: So what are you jumping into on the short side before Tahoe?
Dauwalter: The Squamish 50 Mile is one of the races I’ll do. I’m excited to get up to one of Gary Robbins’s races.
iRunFar: You’re not going to do the 50/50 are you? Race the 50-mile one day, and 50k the next?
Dauwalter: No. I’m like, “I’ll run the 50 mile on Saturday, then drink beers on Saturday night.” I don’t want to wake up the next day and do it again.
iRunFar: Fair enough. You said you were suffering late in the race yesterday. Did you have any low points, physically or mentally, before that?
Dauwalter: I didn’t have any catastrophically low points. It was all just like continuing to trudge on and be efficient. I’ve had a lot of low points in a lot of races, and I wouldn’t classify any of the moments I had yesterday as true low points. It was just normal suffering, normal pain-cave moments. It was never like, “I can’t do this.” I was never sitting on a rock, having a moment. It was like, “Just keep moving, just keep moving, and the finish line will be here soon.”
iRunFar: So you actually have had “sit on a rock” moments?
Dauwalter: Oh yeah. Wallowing. Sometimes it’s not even on a rock, it’s like straight in a mud puddle and I’ll be like splashing pity on myself.
iRunFar: I love it. Is there any favorite memory or moment you’re going to take away from this weekend?
Dauwalter: I was blown away by all the aid stations. It felt so cool to roll into aid stations–even the small ones in the middle of nowhere, where the volunteers have been camping out, I think. Everyone was so friendly and cheery. It’s so encouraging, you know. And then with their sponge baths… psh!
iRunFar: Can we get that set up out here today?
Dauwalter: Oh, we need it out here.
iRunFar: Well, Courtney, congratulations.
Dauwalter: Thank you so much for being out there. My parents thank you for your coverage. They were following along all day.
iRunFar: Hi Courtney’s parents! [Waves into the camera]
Dauwalter: Hi Mom and Dad!