In this interview, she talks about how she tried to race UTMB like it was the only race of her season, how she managed fatigue when it hit during the race, what it was like to finish her three-race goal, and what recovery will look like now.
For more on how the race played out, read our in-depth UTMB results article.
Courtney Dauwalter, 2023 UTMB Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Courtney Dauwalter. It’s the day after the 2023 UTMB. You’re the Women’s champion. Congratulations, Courtney.
Courtney Dauwalter: Thanks, Meghan.
iRunFar: Damn, you won this race.
Dauwalter: I, yeah, I mean for sure we haven’t processed any of it. I’m kind of, it’s definitely probably the consistency of like, pudding or applesauce in my brain right now, and my legs are completely destroyed.
iRunFar: This race came at the end of a long summer of racing for you. Did you go into the starting line of UTMB trying to put all that behind you, and just get as much out of your legs as you could, and see how far they would take you? Did ever Hardrock and Western States creep into your brain these last couple days?
Dauwalter: I wanted to race it like it was my only race of the summer. It’s sort of what my approach was with all three of them. Not have, you know, an excuse queued up, not be thinking of the fatigue that might still be there. But just give it everything I have. So, lining up for this one, that was the plan. And for sure I started the race with that intention. Like, my pace was not trying to be conservative or hold anything back because it was the third in a string of hundreds this summer. It’s like, let’s race it how we normally would, and then just see where that road leads us.
iRunFar: And the road led you exactly to, is it Grand Col Ferret?
Dauwalter: Yeah, at approximately Grand Col Ferret…
iRunFar: A little over halfway.
Dauwalter: The road ended abruptly. [laughs]
iRunFar: [laughs] What did we find when the road ended at Grand Col Ferret?
Dauwalter: Total body fatigue and like, my muscles were blown. I was deep in the pain cave, you know, before arriving there. But usually when I’m in the pain cave chiseling, it translates then to the physical motion I’m asking for. And this time, no matter how hard I was chiseling in there, the mental strength wasn’t translating. And so I topped out on Grand Col Ferret, which is a really big climb in the race. And then you get this luxurious downhill. And my legs immediately were just empty. And from there to the finish I had to do really short strides. And just hope like heck, like harder than I’ve ever hoped about anything before, that every time they landed, they would catch me. Because it felt uncertain.
iRunFar: It really, I mean, I guess this is more of a question. It really did feel uncertain at times, of whether you’d be able to continue and make it to the finish. Or was it like, I might have to stop and hike this in type of thing?
Dauwalter: Finishing was the number one goal.
Dauwalter: I wanted to complete this triple and tried to then learn from completing it, what can we take from this for recovery, or training, or just pieces of the ultrarunning puzzle. And so, I wanted to finish no matter what time of day, what day it happened. So, it did cross my mind like, would it be worth it to stop somewhere longer and try to triage this a little bit more, but it just felt like my muscles weren’t, like, there was nothing left. And it made sense there was nothing left. And so, I was like, prolonging this by stopping. I don’t think will change the game. So forward motion was the goal. And yeah, eventually we found our way to Chamonix.
iRunFar: You were in the lead of the race for much of it. You were in the lead the entire time that you were really suffering through this. Where did that factor in mentally? Was it like you just had to turn off the competition switch and be in survival? Or were you thinking to yourself, what happens if I, you know, need to respond to competition?
Dauwalter: I had a little information about maybe some gaps that were there in the later parts of the race. But I was doing everything I could, which is how I try to always race. This time the running motion was too much. Like I didn’t even have that left in my legs really, but it was still everything I could pour out on the trail. So, if someone had caught me, you know, I would hope we could exchange some, uh…
Dauwalter: Pleasantries. Maybe a joke, or a boost for each other, but I was giving it everything I had. It just took pretty long.
iRunFar: This is a very public 100-mile race. There just isn’t a lot of alone time on this trail. What is it like to suffer so publicly and with so many people around you?
Dauwalter: There were a couple times when I thought in my head, like, I just need a minute. Of like, I was really struggling, especially on some of the more technical downhills. I just wanted a minute to like, reset myself in silence, and by myself. And that wasn’t ever available.
iRunFar: There was no beat, was there?
Dauwalter: No. There was no minute. But it’s also just really cool that that trail can be sent out to the entire world to see and experience this sport. And so it’s, I mean, pros and cons, for sure.
Dauwalter: And sometimes that’s why I’ll put in music, is because it helps me feel like I have this bubble to give myself those moments.
iRunFar: And I guess ultimately it’s what you sign up for when you come to a race like UTMB. You’re signing up for having this very public 100-mile experience, however it turns out.
Dauwalter: Absolutely. I mean, it was so cool out there yesterday. The number of people out on course cheering was insane. And the coverage that people got to see back home was so cool. So, being part of it is really fun. And I think we just have to find ways to have our moments. Internally, you know.
iRunFar: Yeah, I don’t know who said it, so I can’t credit them properly. But somebody said yesterday, it looks like she’s leading a group run.
Dauwalter: [laughs] It was pretty cool. The last little downhill into town.
iRunFar: So many people.
Dauwalter: Yeah. People were just jumping in and joining.
iRunFar: Courtney’s UTMB group run.
Dauwalter: [laughs] Thank you for coming out. No, it was it was really special. It is what it’s about. And you’re right, you come to a race like this because that’s part of it. And it just feels like this contagious energy surrounding the sport we love in this place we love, the mountains, and doing hard things with our feet. And so, sharing that with all of these people is really special.
iRunFar: You are now a three-time champion of UTMB. You’re the course record holder. You’ve gotten around this in a number of different fashions over the years. Do you feel like, I don’t know what the right way to say it is, like you’ve done UTMB? You’ve accomplished what you set out to do in this space?
iRunFar: Oh, no. The answer’s no. [laughs]
Dauwalter: [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s a need to put an end to things.
iRunFar: Options open.
Dauwalter: Options are always open. Right now I’m in no mental space to make any future plans. But after some relaxation, we’ll start scheming for sure. You know, what other ideas we have. This project that summer was, it was just so fun in a lot of ways. It was really, really hard. And I knew it would be, but it was also just made everything kind of feel new. Like, adding these new elements to this distance that I’ve now done quite a few times.
iRunFar: Looking back on the 300 miles of very different running, like, each race is so unique. Are you going to take away, are there some concrete moments from each of them that when you think of Western States, this is the moment that occurs to you. When you think of Hardrock, this is what you’ll remember.
Dauwalter: I hope in the next weeks to have more time to really process. Like, zoom out, you know, and see everything. But also zoom in to each race, and really appreciate what went on there. For me, it’s always the moments shared. The memories made with people. And my crew for all three races are some of my favorite humans. Kevin [Schmidt], you know, I had working overtime this summer, crewing three big ones. So.
iRunFar: Kevin’s done some hard work this year.
Dauwalter: He, yeah, he has worked a lot for this challenge. So those, I mean right off the bat, are instantly, you know, some of my favorites.
iRunFar: You are going to take some recovery, maybe?
Dauwalter: Yeah. I mean like…
iRunFar: Like a day or two?
Dauwalter: Yeah, maybe today.
iRunFar: Oh, today.
Dauwalter: [laughs] No, I’m taking big time recovery. I am, for sure, that of everything. And the focus now moving forward will be take as long as it needs to make sure all the reserves are filled back up, mentally, physically, emotionally, so that whatever we come up with for next year, I’m ready to go again.
iRunFar: You come from the high country of Colorado, which is moving into its finest season, fall in Colorado. Are you looking forward to anything particular at home now that this whole package is said and done?
Dauwalter: I love fall in Colorado, so all of it. I’m hoping to maybe do some bike rides looking for the leaves to be changing. Halloween candy will be out. [laughs]
iRunFar: Of course. Like, tomorrow.
Dauwalter: And it just, I love that time of year for the crispness of the air. You know, having your coffee outside in the morning, or sitting around a fire pit in the evening. It’s just the best.
iRunFar: So, the next month is sorted, let’s just say.
Dauwalter: The next month sounds pretty busy.
iRunFar: Really busy recovering.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your win of the 2023 UTMB. Congratulations to you on your hat trick of victories. This has been quite an adventure to follow. So, yeah, it must have been a great adventure to live.
Dauwalter: Well. Thank you. Thanks for being everywhere all the time.