Tina is currently preparing for her first ultramarathon, the Bryce Canyon 50 Miler, so we thought this was an appropriate time to reshare an episode from June 2018 with the amazing ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter.
A couple of weeks after this episode aired, Courtney won the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. Since then, she’s been named Ultra Runner of the Year by Ultra Runner magazine four times, and has received the George Mallory Award for pushing the boundaries of human achievement. Just a few of her accomplishments include setting the women’s course records at the 2018 Tahoe 200 (by over 18 hours), the 2021 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and the 2022 Hardrock 100. She ran the fastest known times for the 160-mile Collegiate Loop Trail in 2022 and the 128km Transgrancanaria this past February.
Listen to the Running for Real podcast here:
Apple (iTunes) Podcast | Sticher | Castbox | Overcast | Spotify | Google Play | iHeartradio |
At the time of this conversation, Courtney had run the inaugural Moab 240 the previous October and won it outright by over 10 hours. Despite her nearly unimaginable lead, she was never aware of just how far ahead she was. “I had just been battling my battle and trying to cover the distance and never trying to think about the actual finish line or what that would mean to finish, but just each section, each mile, just one foot in front of the other,” she says. “You can’t think of the finish line. It’s so far off, you know?”
The few times that she had allowed herself to think that she had captured a win, “Something has gone wrong at the end.” So now, she says, “I try not to jinx myself and just stay in the moment, stay present, deal with this mile right here, right now. But at Moab, you have like a mile left and you hit this road section. So you’re finally off of trails and, and then it’s like, ‘Okay, one mile of road running is all I have to do to get to the finish.’ And then it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re gonna make it there,’ and it was still daylight and my friends were at the finish line and some family. So then it was really exciting.”
She finished having slept only 21 minutes during the entire 57 hours, 55 minutes of the race. Really only one minute; her mind wouldn’t shut down during her 20 minute rest. But when she awoke after sleeping for one minute – literally only 60 seconds – she felt completely rejuvenated. Prior to her nap, she recalls, “I had been zombie-running; I had been falling asleep as I was running and zigzagging all over.” But afterwards, she and her pacer, who was also a good friend, “were just whooping and hollering down the trail.” She still cherishes the thought of it. “Just that feeling of awe of what our bodies and our brains are capable of and to be sharing that journey and that moment with a friend and to have sunrise around the corner, it’s one of my favorite running memories that I have. I mean, there were elk bugling up on the hills; there were stars. It could not have been more perfect.”
Other moments were not quite so perfect, including hallucinating that she saw a leopard in a hammock. It wasn’t her first hallucination while running. “I think one of the first ones was flying eels or pterodactyls, and I was ducking and covering as I was running. And there were giraffes and I was like, ‘What the heck, why are there giraffes in the Colorado Mountains?’ You know, like, really freaked out by it. But now that it’s happened a couple of times, in multiple races, it’s been fun to acknowledge that that’s what came to me tonight, and that’s what I saw. I’ve got a couple of friends who, after making sure I’m okay at the finish line, that’s their first question, ‘What did you see out there?’”
Just five weeks before Moab, during the final 12 miles of the 100-mile Run Rabbit Run, her answer would have been…nothing. “I was pushing pretty hard at that point and nutrition wasn’t going in very well, but I was going for it,” she says. “I wanted to hit a new time for myself.”
Her vision started getting blurry at the sides, but it was nighttime and she thought that maybe the batteries of her headlamp were dying. It was also cold, so she considered that her contacts might be freezing. It progressed until her entire vision was blurred, and she remembers, “By the time the sun had risen, it had turned pure white. I couldn’t see anything in front of my face. My hand in front of my face, I couldn’t see it. But I could see a tiny little bit in front of my feet. So I just stared straight down at my feet, but on trails like that, the rocks and roots are coming at you pretty quickly, where looking right in front of your toes isn’t gonna help you. So I was like Superman, diving all over the trail. Every rock was launching me. One of the times I tripped, I banged my head on a rock and felt liquid going down my face. But when I touched my face and looked at my hand, I couldn’t see that it was blood or not, you know. So I’m like, ‘Maybe it’s okay.’”
With six miles to go, she reached an aid station. “I rolled into that aid station looking like a mess, blood on my face, my eyes had a white kind of cloud over the whole front of them. So I think they could tell something was out of place. And then I described it to them and one of the volunteers jumped in right away and was like, ‘I’m gonna run down next to you for this section and I’ll just describe the trail to you,’ because on the service road it’s wider, so there’s more room for error. But also, if you go off of an edge, you’re gonna be head over heels down a black diamond ski run, so not ideal.” Despite all of that, it never occurred to her to quit, and when she crossed the finish line, it was as first female and sixth overall.
Courtney is well known for her ability to push through difficult times. Her advice to other runners is to “acknowledge that it’s happening. You don’t have to pretend it feels good at that moment, but then to also acknowledge that if you just keep going, you’re gonna find the other side of that dark spot. It always happens, knock on wood, and it just might take a little bit longer some times than others. But we all have that next gear, that next reservoir of energy, and of spirit. And if we just give ourselves the credit to push through the dark spots, we’ll find it, I think. And for me, that mental piece is really important, and pushing through those dark moments is huge. I still have the dark moments; it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and runner’s high and feeling like I’m flying every mile. The dark moments come, the gray moments come, you know, the whole spectrum of feelings during these runs. It’s just riding the highs and when I feel good, to really enjoy those moments, and then when the lows hit, to know that a high is going to come again.”
Thank you to Athletic Greens, Becoming a Sustainable Runner, and Tracksmith for sponsoring this episode.
Athletic Greens has created a movement around simplifying our health routine. AG1 is an easy way to get 75 vitamins, minerals, and whole food source ingredients. It promotes gut health with prebiotics, probiotics, and naturally occurring enzymes; supports your immune system with Vitamin C, zinc, healing mushrooms, and more; provides magnesium to boost energy; and it’s packed with superfoods, adaptogens, and antioxidants to help recovery. It’s simple to make and it tastes good!
Just one scoop in a glass of water in the morning will ensure that even if your diet is less than ideal the rest of the day, you’ve gotten the nutrients you need. Go here to subscribe and you’ll get five free travel packs of AG1, and a free one year’s supply of vitamin D3+K2 with your subscription!
Are you a runner? Do you care about the planet you run on? Would you like to use running to change the world for the better?
Becoming a Sustainable Runner will show you how.
Becoming a Sustainable Runner, by Tina Muir and Zoë Rom, is a practical guide for runners of all abilities and backgrounds who want to take meaningful action to protect our planet through their love of the sport. It’s available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, Waterstones UK, Target, and many independent bookstores.
Tracksmith is an independent running brand inspired by a deep love of the sport. For years the brand has elevated running wear using best-in-class materials and timeless silhouettes that perform at the highest level and can be worn everyday, not just for running.
Tracksmith helps the environment by making comfortable, durable clothes that will last for years, rather than winding up in the landfill, but that’s not the only contribution they make. They supported Running for Real in creating our RED-S: Realize. Reflect. Recover program. They help athletes who are trying to make the Olympic trials, and they offer scholarships for creatives to work on their crafts. They also have lots of events – Tina will be hosting events with them at the Boston and London marathons.
If you’re a new customer, go here and use the code TINANEW at checkout to get $15 off your order of $75 or more. Returning customers can use the code TINAGIVE, and Tracksmith will give you free shipping and donate 5% of your order to TrackGirlz.
Thanks for listening!
Keep up with what’s going on at Running for Real by signing up for our weekly newsletter.
Join the newsletter
This is not your usual email newsletter. With Tina’s personal reflections and recommendations, suggestions of things to do, thoughts to contemplate, and some updates, this newsletter is one that you’ll WANT to read, not hit “delete” as soon as you see it.
Want to be a member of the Running for Real community? Join #Running4Real Superstars on Facebook!
Subscribe to our YouTube channel for additional content, including our RED-S: Realize. Reflect. Recover series of 50+ videos.
Thank you for your support – we appreciate each and every one of you!