The Woman Who Outruns the Men, 200 Miles at a Time


Courtney Dauwalter makes a speciality of extraordinarily lengthy races. However her success in profitable them has opened a debate about how males’s innate energy benefits apply to endurance sports activities.

By Rebecca Byerly

Images by Max Whittaker

Dec. 5, 2018

HOMEWOOD, Calif. — At 1:40 within the morning, operating by the woods close to Lake Tahoe, Courtney Dauwalter started hallucinating.

She noticed dwell puppets taking part in on a swing set on the facet of the path. Bushes and rocks became faces. She was on her second night time with out sleep, 165 miles right into a 205-mile race by the mountains, pushing her physique to ranges thought of bodily unimaginable not way back, and seeing very unusual issues within the night time.

Dauwalter had been on her ft for nearly 40 hours and was main the sphere of 215 runners as she set her sights on a course document for September’s Tahoe 200, one in a sequence of very, very lengthy ultramarathons, the most recent craze amongst distance operating’s lunatic set. Their hero is Dauwalter, a 33-year previous with a repute for outrunning males and shattering course data. She has gained 11 ultramarathons and completed second in seven different endurance races.

This weekend, she is going to attempt to break the ladies’s world document for essentially the most miles run in 24 hours, on the Desert Solstice competitors in Phoenix. She must run greater than 161.55 miles to take action. She already holds the American girls’s document, 159.32 miles. This fall, she ran 279.2 miles in what’s often called Huge’s Yard Extremely, a grueling race of attrition throughout which runners have to finish a four.16667-mile loop every hour. In the event that they need to put their ft up, eat, go to the lavatory or shut their eyes for a couple of minutes, they need to earn the time by operating sooner. The final individual standing wins.

By the third night time of that race, solely Dauwalter and Johan Steene remained. After going mile for mile with Steene for 67 hours, Dauwalter conceded. At that time, she and Steene had run 33 miles farther within the race than anybody had earlier than.

“The race is about up completely to check your limits,” stated Dauwalter, a former science trainer from Golden, Colo., who needs to attain 300 miles at Huge’s Yard Extremely subsequent 12 months. “You simply go till you attain your personal end line.”

The place precisely that’s is anybody’s guess. For now, elite ultrarunning is without doubt one of the few sports activities wherein girls seem in a position to maintain their very own with males. Dauwalter’s prowess has crystallized the talk about whether or not psychological fortitude can trump males’s innate energy benefits in endurance sports activities.

This a lot is evident: As the space lengthens, the organic benefits that males have develop smaller.

In 2017, Dauwalter gained the inaugural Moab 240, a 238-mile race that zigzags alongside the Colorado River. She accomplished the route in rather less than 58 hours and beat the subsequent competitor, a person, by 10 hours, or 20 miles. She stated a one-minute nap on the facet of the path the second night time of the race revived her and pushed her to the end.

“We all know that males are merely greater and have extra muscle mass and are extra highly effective and sooner,” stated Heather Heying, an evolutionary biologist. However, she added, “That is about stamina, and stamina is a few mixture of sure, energy, but additionally psychological will. It begs the query, is there one thing happening for girls maybe given our very lengthy evolutionary historical past as mammals who spent a very long time gestating after which giving start, that offers us a psychological edge in extraordinarily long-term endurance occasions?”

To the shock of many within the ultrarunning world, these ridiculously lengthy races are rising in recognition. In 2014, the ultrarunner Candice Burt created the Tahoe 200, the race wherein Dauwalter noticed the puppets on the swing set. It was the primary 200-mile-plus single-loop ultramarathon in america. Ninety-one folks signed up. The following 12 months, she began the Bigfoot 200, a 206-mile race that traverses the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. In 2017, she added the Moab 240, the race wherein Dauwalter obliterated the competitors. This 12 months, greater than 600 folks ran one of many three ultraraces Burt organized.

A faction of ultrarunning has argued that these occasions should not actually a “race.” They are saying that the 100-plus-hour cutoffs permit much less aggressive runners time for sleep, and extra time is spent mountaineering than operating. Dr. Martin Hoffman, a former researcher for the Western States 100-mile race, stated one motive Dauwalter was so profitable was there have been nonetheless so few folks competing at 200 miles. In line with Ultrarunning journal, greater than 100,000 folks worldwide accomplished a race longer than a marathon (26.2 miles) in 2017.

“In case you have the most effective skilled female and male ultrarunners competing towards one another, the boys will at all times win,” stated Hoffman, who ran his first 100-mile race in 1984. He has spent a long time researching ultrarunning, however his work doesn’t cowl something longer than 100 miles.

Heying, the evolutionary biologist, agrees that there’s nonetheless not sufficient knowledge to attract conclusions on 200-mile races, however she believes variables like climate, psychological energy and innate tolerance for ache assist degree the sphere.

Dick Dauwalter, Courtney’s father, who was a part of her crew throughout the Tahoe 200, stated she had at all times been a competitor. The “tiny little squirt” completed eighth in her house state, Minnesota, in cross-country when she was in seventh grade. Through the winter, she would stand up when it was nonetheless darkish to Nordic ski earlier than faculty, which helped flip her right into a state champion in cross-country snowboarding in highschool and earned her a scholarship to the College of Denver.

“We didn’t have so much cash, and it was quite a lot of work getting the youngsters to their sports activities,” Dick Dauwalter stated. He makes false enamel and jokes that he is not the athletic one within the household. “The deal was if Courtney or her brothers signed up for one thing, they needed to end the season even when they didn’t like the game.”

A lanky, ponytailed blonde who wears dishevelled shorts and shirts when she runs, Dauwalter laughs simply and is the other of a usually asocial ultrarunner. At Mile 140 of the Tahoe 200, she stopped to provide high-fives, signal autographs and speak with women who had gathered at an support station to cheer her on. Typically throughout races, she tells jokes to ensure her thoughts remains to be working.

She believes that as her threshold for ache will increase, so does her skill to run farther.

“I put myself in conditions the place struggling goes to be concerned and hope to have the ability to faucet into the psychological piece each time that bodily ache turns into an excessive amount of,” she stated. Overwhelmed by ache, she dropped out of her first 100-mile race in 2012. She tried once more the subsequent 12 months and completed.

When Dauwalter reached the help station at Mile 167 of the Tahoe 200, she thanked the volunteers for being up in the course of the night time in freezing temperatures to feed her. She doesn’t maintain monitor of her time when she races, so she requested the group what time it was to determine how lengthy she had been on her ft.

Even in the dead of night, fatigue confirmed on her sunburned face. Her blue eyes had been bloodshot from sleeplessness and the mud clouds that kicked up on the path. For a lot of the race, she struggled to carry down stable meals and used rewetting drops to struggle off swelling corneas, a situation that precipitated her to go blind in a earlier race.

The help stations, typically easy tents arrange between path heads within the woods, got here roughly each 20 miles. They provided burgers, cheese quesadillas, pancakes, pickles, espresso and blankets.

Dauwalter didn’t take away her sneakers or change her garments your entire race, however she did brush her enamel with a tiny toothbrush. She stuffed her water bottles, packed a half-eaten cheese quesadilla in a plastic baggie, after which headed into the night time along with her tempo runner.

Pacers and the runner’s crew play a vital position in these lengthy races. Dauwalter had three pacers within the Tahoe 200, together with her husband, Kevin Schmidt, who organizes logistics for her races and ultimately ran along with her the final 30 miles in Tahoe.

Ultrarunners typically put on coronary heart charge displays, keep on strict coaching schedules and cling to particular diets. Dauwalter runs about 100 miles per week, however doesn’t observe a plan or a selected coaching schedule. She stated she let her physique inform her what it wanted and felt like doing every day. She eats no matter she needs.

The night time earlier than the Tahoe 200, she ate sweet corn and pizza. After the race, she ate nachos loaded with cheese and barbecue rooster and drank quite a lot of beer. At Huge’s Yard Extremely, she ate honey stinger waffles, cheese quesadillas, pierogies and pancakes the primary thirty hours of the race, after which opted for McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with further pickles.

Along with dehydration, excessive fatigue and hyperthermia, Dauwalter and the opposite runners who tackle these multiday races face encounters with bears, mountain lions, snakes and scorpions. Burt and her crew mark the 200-mile programs with pink flags roughly each half-mile, however runners, together with Dauwalter, have turn out to be misplaced. For security, their positions are marked with a GPS spot monitoring system.

The coordinates additionally permit folks to observe runners in actual time. Lots of of individuals adopted Dauwalter’s races in Moab and in Tahoe.

“I believe greater than something, what we’re seeing with Courtney is psychological,” stated Steven Kotler, an writer and director of analysis on the Circulate Genome Venture. “Each time she runs one in every of these lengthy races, she believes she will be able to do the subsequent one sooner.”

She just isn’t invincible, although.

After monitoring Dauwalter for 2 days in Tahoe, Kyle Curtin handed her at Mile 182. Forty-nine hours 54 minutes after beginning the Tahoe 200, Dauwalter crossed the end line in second, twenty-seven minutes behind Curtin. The 2 set a brand new course document by virtually 10 hours.

“Courtney was undoubtedly the individual to beat,” Curtin stated. “I ran the time I did as a result of I used to be making an attempt to catch her your entire race.”

The third-place runner completed 10 hours behind them. A lot of the different runners completed a day or two later.

Dauwalter stated there was nothing she might do to keep at bay the puking and the fatigue and Curtin.

“Hopefully now simply having skilled these psychological and bodily elements will make it so subsequent time we’re just a bit bit stronger and may push by them somewhat bit simpler,” she stated.

Dauwalter plans to run the Tahoe 200 once more. She and Burt, the race director, consider that it’s doable to complete the race in 42 hours.

“That’s two, 21 hour 100s on 20,000 ft of climbing for every hundred,” Dauwalter stated. “That’s fairly stout, nevertheless it’s doable.”


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