Courtney Dauwalter won the 2019 UTMB, adding another incredible performance to her ever-expanding running resume. In the following interview, Courtney talks about what it looked and felt like to race through the night, what happened in the middle of the race when she went from running in second to taking over the lead, how her legs started to give out with more than 50 kilometers yet to race, what the unique experience of racing UTMB with its crowds and cameras is like, and what it felt like to cross the finish line and win this race.
Be sure to read our in-depth results article to find out how the race played out.
Courtney Dauwalter, 2019 UTMB Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, I’m with Courtney Dauwalter, the 2019 UTMB Champion. Hey, good morning.
Courtney Dauwalter: Good morning.
iRunFar: It’s the morning after the race, how many coffees have you had?
Dauwalter: Not enough.
iRunFar: Today there will be never enough.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your incredible performance yesterday and the day before.
Dauwalter: Thank you. It was fun.
iRunFar: How are you feeling?
Dauwalter: Pretty wrecked, yeah.
iRunFar: You took the stairs that we just had to walk down like a champ though.
Dauwalter: I think I took them similar to how I did the scaffolding stairs to cross the road at the very end. I almost didn’t make it.
iRunFar: Yeah, so, and there’s throngs of people cheering for you as it takes you like a couple days to cross the final stairs. I mean this is not literal but it’s close.
Dauwalter: Close. If there had been one more curl of stairs to go up, I would be sleeping on it still. I wouldn’t make it.
iRunFar: Okay, so let’s start with the hardest part first. Just to be honest, it looked a little rough for you in the race’s final quarter, was it?
Dauwalter: It was super rough; I basically got destroyed climbing up the lake, Champex-Lac. There was a huge climb going into it, which on the elevation profile, which was all my course knowledge, it looked like this tiny little blip. So I was like, no big deal, there’s no hill. And then it just kept going and it was really hot so by the time I made it to that aid station, which took longer than I would have liked, I was pretty destroyed and spent a lot of time trying to regroup at the aid station.
iRunFar: At Champex-Lac?
Dauwalter: Yep. I lost my lunch a little bit and was just like, my legs were already toast. That’s only, I mean, there’s still a marathon.
iRunFar: 50k to go.
Dauwalter: Yeah. So from there it was just trying to land my feet under me and hope they caught me.
iRunFar: Okay you said lost your lunch, do you literally mean you lost your lunch there at Champex-Lac?
Dauwalter: Yeah, just a little bit.
iRunFar: Just a little bit, like a teaspoon, like half a cup?
Dauwalter: We don’t want to get too graphic.
iRunFar: Okay, this is PG. Sorry kids. That will be the after show. Rewinding a bit to the first part of the race, maybe let’s talk for a few minutes about the first 20k, when you came into the 20k point you were sharing second place with Mimmi Kotka but first place, Miao Yao, was way off the front.
Dauwalter: Way ahead, yeah. Mimmi and I had a great time running together for the first part and I wasn’t really thinking about place or anything I was just trying to gauge where my fitness even was after the past couple months of being really strange training or not as much training. I didn’t know where it was and so I was trying not to blow up too early. Still happened.
iRunFar: A blow-up happened anyway yet you won the race. But will get to that in a minute. For me the race is really interesting in that a 20k you go through a huge town, a big party, 30k in another huge party and then you kind of go off into the Italian wilderness for like four or five hours.
Dauwalter: It was so cool, yeah. I would love to see it in the daylight, but it was pretty awesome being out there it in the night. It is these huge pretty-exposed climbs so you could just see headlights leading up the mountainsides.
iRunFar: The few people in front of you and the many people behind you.
Dauwalter: It’s just fun to be sharing.
iRunFar: I had the privilege of being on the mountainside at 66k, which is sort of where you start coming out of the Italian wilderness and back into toward the civilization of Courmayeur. You were just kind of chilling in the night there, you looked very calm?
Dauwalter: Yeah, yeah. I was still enjoying it and I think at that point I was pretty excited to start to get some light so that I can actually see what I had been running in.
iRunFar: They say the race sort of starts in Courmayeur, which is the 80k point, and it seems like that’s really where things started to suss out for the women’s race. You found leader Miao Yao on the climb out of Courmayeur or where did you actually encounter her?
Dauwalter: So after that climb I think there was a roll-y section, like one of the flattest-looking parts on the elevation profile.
iRunFar: And was it?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I loved that section. It was a nice change where things were clicking then. I could open it up a little bit and then the peak after that [Grand Col Ferret], that was, I think, my favorite part of the race. That whole section really because it was the rolling and then this magic mountain and we had sunrise on it. Just super green and huge. And then after it you get the bomb down some cruiser singletrack, so that was a fun, yeah, three sections.
iRunFar: During that time you, I think at Courmayeur you were like 12 minutes back of the lead but then at Grand Col Ferret you were a half hour in front.
iRunFar: I mean you must’ve been feeling good, let’s just be honest.
Dauwalter: Yeah, that was a good couple sections.
iRunFar: “I just don’t care.” [laughs]
Dauwalter: No, I just didn’t know, thanks for the details. [laughs]
iRunFar: So after Grand Col Ferret you make the descent into La Fouly and then there was, what you said was the death of things between La Fouly and Champex-Lac?
Dauwalter: Yeah. Yeah, it was a disaster.
iRunFar: But you kept your shit together because you gained an hour on the field. You are now an hour ahead and it stayed that way.
Dauwalter: I mean, there were parts I wasn’t sure I was moving forward still. Yeah I was struggling a lot, but just tried to keep moving forward it was kind of an okay section to be struggling in because the climbs are so steep that a person could only do them so fast anyways. Maybe.
iRunFar: So even though you felt like you are going slow, you were still making okay progress?
Dauwalter: I mean, I was moving. It wasn’t pretty.
iRunFar: So as you well know a TV camera followed you for most of that way.
Dauwalter: Yeah, I tripped so many times I probably look like I’ve never run before in my life. I was like, I hope he turns that off sometimes.
iRunFar: I actually felt slightly bad for you during that time, because the Courtney Dauwalter smile kind of turned into a straight face.
Dauwalter: It was gone.
iRunFar: It just looked really hard for you. Mentally and physically.
Dauwalter: Yeah, it was super hard. I was in a pretty dark place for the whole last part but then getting back to town finally and getting to enjoy all the people here in Chamonix made it worth it.
iRunFar: It’s like a 1.5-kilometer parade once you come off the trail and into town.
Dauwalter: It was insane.
iRunFar: And you had to part the seas to get through.
Dauwalter: Yeah, and I was pretty weak so there’s like high fives coming at me and I’m like, please don’t be too strong.
iRunFar: “You might blow me over.” Amazing. That would actually have been great.
Dauwalter: Just flat on my back.
iRunFar: One of the most culturally amazing moments of this race, a man with a camera on roller blades.
Dauwalter: So cool.
iRunFar: Brought you into town.
Dauwalter: Yeah, which I feel circles it back to Minnesota where rollerblading is a major pastime.
iRunFar: A major pastime. You felt a little bit of the hometown familiarity there?
Dauwalter: Yeah, thank you for that, roller blades.
iRunFar: You cross the line, you are the winner, you are the champion of this year’s UTMB, you looked shocked, were you?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I would never have guessed it.
iRunFar: How’s your hip?
Dauwalter: It’s okay. Yeah.
iRunFar: A little tight, a little tired?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I’ll go see my team that’s been helping me and see if we can right any wrongs that might’ve happened but I made it, it’s still a hip.
iRunFar: “I believe it’s there.”
Dauwalter: Yeah, yeah, no it was fine, there were some moments when I was feeling it but I was also feeling a lot of things so.
iRunFar: Bigger-picture question for you, humor and smiles seem to be a part of how you race and how you deal with the experience of so many people looking at you.
iRunFar: I rest my case, next question. I mean, what’s it like to have 10,000 people looking at you and cheering for you at one moment?
Dauwalter: I’m still kind of absorbing the whole thing I think. It was such a special day and to experience a course like this for the first time and I have the people here supporting me that I have. Yeah, the whole thing is really cool.
iRunFar: I may have admittedly been crying when you crossed the finish line. I don’t know what you are doing, but you got me.
Dauwalter: Wait, like one glistening tear? Sobbing?
iRunFar: It wasn’t. But it was a good, there was a volume of, yeah, little tears coming down. Like in my heart I felt your happiness.
Dauwalter: Thank you.
iRunFar: What emotion was there?
Dauwalter: Yeah. A lot of joy and a lot of disbelief and then just trying to, I don’t know, there’s so much happening so trying to just soak in the whole thing and not forget it.
iRunFar: Last big-picture question for you, this did a 180 on your summer, you know Western States 100 was going so incredible for you until it wasn’t and then it’s been sort of, as you said, the summer of uncertainty trying to put your body back together. Things must feel really different now than two months ago?
Dauwalter: Yeah, I never would’ve guessed that it would’ve gone like that yesterday. So I’m very thankful and yeah, feeling pretty excited.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you.
Dauwalter: Thank you.
iRunFar: On your win of the 2019 UTMB.
Dauwalter: Thanks for your coverage.
iRunFar: What a champion.
Dauwalter: Thanks for being out in the middle of nowhere.
iRunFar: That’s my favorite part of this race. When there’s not 5,000 people around.
Dauwalter: Thank you.