Courtney Dauwalter won the 2023 Western States 100 and set a new course record in doing so. Her 15:29:33 finish bests the prior course record set in 2012 by Ellie Greenwood of 16:47:19. In this interview, Courtney talks about competing with second place Katie Schide, taking a hot pace down the infamous Cal Street to see just how long it was possible to be in the pain cave, and how it feels to know that she did all she could to have her best day out.
For more on how the race played out, read our in-depth Western States 100 results article.
Courtney Dauwalter, 2023 Western States 100 Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Courtney Dauwalter. It’s the day after the 2023 Western States 100. You’re the Women’s Champion. You’re the new course record holder. Hi.
Courtney Dauwalter: Good morning. It’s good to see you.
iRunFar: It’s great to see you, too. Congratulations on your history-making run yesterday. How is that starting to sit inside your brain, or has it sat yet?
Dauwalter: It has not made a little seat yet. I’m definitely still in, kind of disbelief that we’re here, and that we made it to the finish, and that it went how it did. But it’s so fun to be here today watching golden hour and just celebrating running with the community today.
iRunFar: Did you have a feeling going into this race that you were ready for like, a really strong day? Just something about you seemed slightly more “eye of the tiger” in the week before the race.
Dauwalter: Whoa! We can take that offline. I need to know what you noticed.
Dauwalter: I never have that feeling. Like, I think always going into a race I wonder, Did I do enough? Did I do enough of the right things? And do I have what it takes to deal with any problems that come up? So, I’ve never stood on the start line being like, It’s today. This is it. But I was really excited. I knew finishing was my number one goal. And then I was just excited to get back out on the course again, and revisit spots I hadn’t seen since 2019.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about that for a second. It was a four-year break from you, but you had been on the course twice, and what did it feel like to be back? Like, was it all like, Oh, I kind of remember you. Or was it like a new course?
Dauwalter: A little bit of both. I think some spots I for sure remembered. Like I could picture the aid station and the trail going into it. And other parts were totally blank. So it was some good rediscovering of the trail, and revisiting trails I remembered. And a lot of stuff looked really different, like the high country was covered in snow. So, you didn’t see any ribbons of singletrack. You were just following flags. And then the burn area was really different looking.
iRunFar: The snow. Nice prep for Hardrock  in a couple of weeks. But no, really, how was the high country? There was all this talk before the race of how it was going to play out. What was it like up there?
Dauwalter: Yeah, maybe I had built it up in my head to be really bad, because I didn’t think it was that terrible. It, yeah, it was kind of fun. It was like starting the day with this mini adventure. I was running with Katie Schide for quite a bit of it, which was fun to catch up with her, and chat about stuff, and also spot flags together. Because it was constant, like, navigating for the flags. But I thought the snow ran okay. It was firm. You could glissade little bits. And then if you punched through, it wasn’t too bad.
iRunFar: Maybe there’s something about living at Leadville at 10,000 feet where it’s snowy like, six months of the year that made this easy.
Dauwalter: [laughs] It wasn’t easy. I’m not, I’m saying in my head, it was going to be postholing for 30 miles. And instead, it was staying on top for a lot of it.
iRunFar: I think in the end, you all arrived to Duncan Canyon, which is a quarter of the way through the race. I think you were all about 12 minutes under the course record pace. So, ultimately, that’s like a 30 minutes per mile slower than record pace through there. So,
Dauwalter: Thirty seconds.
iRunFar: Thank you. I’m so glad the champion is the smarter one.
Dauwalter: [laughs] That would be really impressive. Math.
iRunFar: We’re going a million miles per hour. Anyway. It slowed you down. It slowed the lead women down a bit, but not too much was what I was trying to say.
Dauwalter: Yeah, it didn’t feel like a game changer. And then we got out of that high country, out of the snow, and the temperatures just stayed so pleasant all day. So yeah, then it was like, let’s throw this gas pedal down and see what happens.
iRunFar: Let’s talk for a minute about the interplay between you and Katie. You two were quite close together for a long time. Did you spend time running together? Were you being chased for a while? What was that like?
Dauwalter: I think Katie’s so great. And so, I was psyched when we hit the escarpment together and could head out into the high country. And we were chatting quite a bit about all sorts of things, from food, to the Tour de France show, everything in between. And we just got a little separated at an aid station, where my bottles were full, so I started rolling. And I’m like, “Katie! Come catch me! Like, we’re going!” And she just took a beat longer, and then we separated.
Dauwalter: But she was right there for still many miles after that. And it just felt nice. Like, we were just sharing this adventure.
iRunFar: Did you feel the heat of her? I mean, she’s Katie Schide. She’s also a UTMB champion. Her CV is pretty incredible. Did that offer some heat, knowing she was right there?
Dauwalter: Not early on, but later for sure. I was like, Katie can close. Katie’s got wheels. Katie’s got like, 100-mile experience. Like, she can crush this last half of the race and so, I was just trying to keep my forward momentum going.
iRunFar: Starting about a third of the way into the race, and then just incrementally and fairly evenly, you started ticking off minutes on the course record. Did you have any awareness of that? Are you entirely running to Courtney feel?
Dauwalter: I was definitely going by feel. And would sometimes get some updates about the course record, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. Like it felt like, Okay, that’s a neat fact about right now.
Dauwalter: But there’s still 40 miles. There’s still 20 miles. Like, anything can happen. And so, I was not banking on a finish line, let alone a certain finish time.
iRunFar: You really let it rip on Cal Street. Like, most of your splits picked up a couple minutes on the course record here and there but the Cal Street section from Foresthill to the river, you just dug into that course record time by a lot. What was going on on Cal street?
Dauwalter: Was it a mistake? I don’t know.
iRunFar: Well, here we are. It was not a mistake.
Dauwalter: [laughs] Yeah. I don’t know. I got to Foresthill and basically thought like, Let’s go all in on this, and really make sure that if we get to the finish line, there’s no doubt that we gave it everything we had. I think I’ve also just been like, thinking of my pain cave and chiseling it out as equating to being able to sustain suffering for longer. So, I was like, well, let’s try 40 miles…
iRunFar: Of pain.
Dauwalter: Of like, full gas. Like, see what’s left, see if we can hold it. But Cal Street was fun. I didn’t get to really run it properly in 2019, and it’s a fun section of trail. So, yeah. It was just getting towards that river crossing and then seeing what happened after that.
iRunFar: Actually, that’s really fun to hear you say that. Cal Street was where your hip undid itself in 2019 and to get there and be able to properly run it in a way that felt good to you.
Dauwalter: Yeah, yeah. I was not taking it for granted. The whole time I was like, thinking of like, form and like, Don’t get sloppy. Don’t trigger an injury. You know, like, Keep it together.
iRunFar: Speaking of keep it together, how do, I mean, okay, let’s like, take us to mile 80. Green Gate. We know you were in a world of hurt there. How did you keep it together in the mind?
Dauwalter: After Green Gate, I was pretty wrecked. My legs felt like maybe I had pushed too hard on Cal Street. But, I just, for the next 20 miles kept asking them to do one more mile for me, and they kept responding. So, I was very thankful for that. It was definitely, though, deep in the pain cave, and really focused on every single step, every single second.
iRunFar: Side note, is that literally like, “Dear legs, please help?” Is this talking to them out loud? Is this visualizing internally? How does that dialogue go?
Dauwalter: A little bit of both, but sometimes I would say it out loud, like, “One more. Please one more.” [laughs]
iRunFar: I love it. Did your crew stay calm the entire time? Because I think it grew into a bit of a, like a panic of them trying to chase you around and get where they needed to be in time. Could you see what was happening on their faces at all?
Dauwalter: No. I mean they’re…
iRunFar: So cool and collected.
Dauwalter: Total pros. And just the most wonderful people we had out here helping. So, I haven’t actually gotten all the stories yet, from the day. Hopefully today over a beer we can get the full download on crew life.
iRunFar: Look, if that is just one beer’s worth of stories, they need to have more fun.
Dauwalter: You’re right.
Dauwalter: You rounded the track and the stadium, came down from Robie Point. I think you really ripped the last mile into town. What was going on in your mind and your heart when you landed on the track and got to make the last 300 meters of this race?
Dauwalter: I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe when the track suddenly showed up, and you make that turn. I was like, “We did it! We’re here!” Because that was the moment where I let myself actually believe that we had finished. And that we were about to be able to stop moving. [laughs]
iRunFar: It is nearly over. You cross the finish line. You become the new course record holder by something like an hour and 20 minutes, a mark that had been set by the iconic Ellie Greenwood now 11 years ago. I’m thinking that this is a time that is going to be a very hard one to beat for a very long time.
Dauwalter: I hope not. I hope that plenty of women can come out and crush that time. I would love to see it keep moving down. And I’m so thankful for Ellie’s time, and for, you know, how it elevated all of us for the past 11 years to believe that it was possible, and if we kept pushing ourselves and working hard, maybe we could, you know, get near her very impressive time. Thank you, Ellie.
iRunFar: Thank you, Ellie. There is this certain thing looming on the horizon just under three weeks away now. That Hardrock 100. [laughs] Hi, Hardrock.
Dauwalter: Oh my gosh, I’m so pumped.
Dauwalter: Yeah. I mean, when I signed up to do this double, I wanted to leave myself all the way on the Western States course, and then figure out how to leave myself all the way on the Hardrock course. So, we did step one. That was all I had for yesterday. And now we get to play around with three weeks of, like, I don’t know. And see how I can get myself ready to tromp around the San Juans.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your history-making day here at the Western States Endurance Run, and I look forward to seeing you make that next lap around the Hardrock course in just a short time.
Dauwalter: Thank you.