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Courtney Dauwalter: Ultra running and candy identifying champion

Courtney Dauwalter’s exploits on the trail and ultra racing circuit are well established. Dauwalter won nine of the 12 ultras she entered last year, ran the second-fastest Western States for women and took first overall at the 2017 Moab 240-mile run by more than 10 hours.

But ask her about her point of pride and you get a surprising answer: Identifying every single Jelly Belly flavor by color.

So I decided to test her. The challenge: identify, from lightest to darkest, the three Jelly Belly candies that have the word strawberry as part of their name.

“Oh, man,” she says, before quickly identifying cheesecake as the lightest, then daiquiri and then jam as the darkest.

“You got it. You know your Jelly Bellys,” I confirm.

“Yeah, I'm not kidding. It's very important to me,” she says.

The mindset of a champion

So, too, is setting goals for herself at some of the sport’s most prestigious and grueling races. It’s a mindset she developed as a girl who pushed herself at various athletic endeavors. Her first memories of sports are playing soccer and running the mile at school.

“I have always been really excited to compete and to try my very best,” Dauwalter says. “In elementary school we would run the mile every year. I remember those races and that feeling of like pushing really hard.”

She credits her family and coaches with her development as an athlete at an early age. “It's always been like a value I guess to try your best at what you do and to not quit what you start, so that kind of instilled in me a lifelong value of that.”

In high school, Dauwalter was a competitive skier. But the lure of the trails brought her to the sport of running.

“I've always loved it,” she says. “I loved it as a way to do my best thinking and a way to socialize with people and a way to get out in the middle of nowhere or explore a new place, a new city, so I've grown up loving it and I did it all through middle school, high school, college as a cross training for Nordic skiing, and then post-college, I was living in a place with no snow anymore, so running was my only option then for those endurance sports that I loved.”

‘That really lit a fire for me’

As an elite, Dauwalter has learned to overcome the physical and mental hurdles during tests of endurance. That’s a lesson she learned when she dropped out of her first 100-miler, Run Rabbit Run.

“That really lit a fire for me,” she says. “I decided that I wanted to figure out the 100-mile distance and that I needed to invest myself more in the whole process and respect the training that would go into it. And figure out nutrition and gear and all those pieces that are important.”

Her drop at Mile 60 was “totally mental,” she recalls. “I mean physically, it hurt really bad. It was new territory for me and I didn't really understand that that hurt is normal and that's when the mental side kicks in. So when it physically started hurting I really quickly spiraled into doubting myself, thinking I wasn't cut out for this — that the 100-mile distance wasn't something I could do”

When others hit dark patches during long races, Dauwalter reminds them that it is all in the mind.

“You've gotta stay mentally in it and you've gotta keep believing in yourself and just keep moving,” she says. “There’s highs and lows during these races that can make you feel and think a lot of different things, and you gotta work through those lows to get back to those high moments.”

Mantras help, too.

“My mantra usually becomes something along the lines of, ‘You're fine. This is fine. Everything's fine. You're fine,” she says. “Even if I'm bent over puking in a bush, I'll just be saying that to myself and reassuring myself that this is fine, whatever's happening right now is just fine and we're going to keep moving, everything's good.”

A fluid 2019 race calendar

After being named Ultra Running Magazine’s top woman of the year in 2018, Dauwalter started this year off with a win at the Tarawera 100K in New Zealand. She took December off from running and used January to rebuild her mileage.

“I wasn't really sure how ready I would be for Tarawera, but was excited to kick off the season in a new place, new trails, meeting another part of the ultra running community,” she says. “It was really cool to be over there, and the views and the whole thing was better than I expected. The trails were amazing, the people there are so friendly and chill, so it was really cool, really special to be there.”

And a new place comes with special perks, like trying out new candy. “Tried it all,” she says with her infectious laugh.

Dauwalter’s 2019 race calendar is packed with options. Western States 100. Hardrock. TDS. IAU 24-Hour World Championships. She hasn’t formally committed to any at the time we chatted. But this year’s Hardrock is etched on her list with permanent marker.

“Yeah, it’s so hard to get into Hardrock, I have to do it while I have the opportunity,” she says. “I haven't officially decided on any race schedule, so there's some wiggle room in figuring out where to invest my time and energy and training to get the results that I want. We'll see which combination of races I end up doing, but it will definitely be Hardrock and definitely the 24-Hour World Championships.”

Up next, however, is the Madeira Island Ultra Trail, a 115K-race held off the coast of Portugal at the end of April. Just like other runners, she is like a kid in a candy store — all of the races look tempting.

“Every race has its own unique thing that makes it really special,” she says. “Over the course of my ultra running and the past eight years of figuring it out, Run Rabbit Run has been pretty pivotal. It's where I did my first 50-mile race, it's where I dropped out of that 100-mile race that kind of lit the fire, and it's where I eventually circled back and just started to figure it out a little more efficiently and get some stronger results. So that one is pretty special.

Dauwalter says she is intrigued by FKTs. “I don't have anything concrete set up for this year, but I am intrigued by the really long ones. Like the Colorado Trail, for instance, is 500 miles across the state of Colorado. Things like that are just awesome ways to explore new areas, which would be really fun.”

She prefers to start with something “shorter” — like the Colorado Trail — but in time could make an attempt on the Pacific Coast Trail or the Appalachian Trail. Enjoying the ride

As she progressed as an ultra runner, Dauwalter left her job as an eighth-grade science teacher. She calls it her first retirement and is leaving her options open for when she will no longer be a full-time professional trail runner.

“I'll end up back working a normal day job again soon probably but just want to enjoy this ride and see what we can do with it while it's here. It’s been really fun.”

She has fun during her races, too. Around Mile 140 of the 2017 Tahoe race, she exchanged high-fives, signed autographs and talked with girls who had come out to cheer her.

Perhaps she will get back to teaching, or mentoring children in some way. After all, it’s how she developed her love for sports.

“There are so many benefits to running,” she says. “For young girls, if you give it a shot and are patient with it, it can take you a lot of places, both physically and mentally, and for some people spiritually. It's a really cool pure form of movement that allows you to explore a lot of aspects of yourself and of the world around you.”

Speed drill

Name: Courtney Dauwalter

Hometown: Hopkins, Minn., now living in Golden, Colo.

Number of years running: I guess total, about 20? Have been running ultra marathons for 8 years.

How many miles a week do you typically run: 100

Point of pride: Identifying every single Jelly Belly flavor by color.

Favorite race distance: 100+ miles

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Coffee with some French Vanilla creamer

Favorite piece of gear: Salomon Ultra Pro and Injinji socks and Squirrel's Nut Butter combination keeps my feet blister free, no matter the race distance!

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Michael Jackson, Prince, country music, Disney hits

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: You're fine. Keep moving. Everything is fine.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

• Instagram: @courtneydauwalter

• Twitter: @courtdauwalter

• Facebook: Courtney Dauwalter

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