Courtney Dauwalter is an incredible athlete. She has run 159.32 miles in 24 hours, breaking the American women’s world record, and won last year’s 238-mile Moab 240 race in 58 hours, beating the second place competitor, a man, by 10 hours.
She is one the nation’s top ultramarathoners, participating in a sport that relies on stamina, endurance, and mental toughness. It’s one of the few sports in which women routinely go head-to-head with men and in which the odds of women beating men increases with the length, and therefore the toughness, of the race. Dauwalter, as one of the sport’s top female athletes, is helping push the limits of how experts regard men’s physical advantages in endurance sports.
Even as a former (extremely mediocre) collegiate long-distance runner and on-and-off again marathon runner, one who is used to my toenails falling off, the dull ache of stress fractures, numerous sprained ankles, pinched nerves, and a particularly painful injury called osteitis pubis, I cannot fathom the exhaustion and mental toughness it takes to do what any ultramarathoner does. For context, an ultramarathon is a race that spans anywhere from 42 kilometers to 200 miles; Dauwalter does the latter. Along the way, you will shit yourself, nearly go blind, encounter all sorts of wildlife, hallucinate, and suffer from extreme dehydration or fatigue. Oh also, you’re running for hours and hours on end without sleep.
The New York Times profiled Dauwalter, chronicling a race that sounds more like a lucid nightmare. She ran through hallucinations in the middle of the night:
She saw live puppets playing on a swing set on the side of the trail. Trees and rocks turned into faces. She was on her second night without sleep, 165 miles into a 205-mile race through the mountains, pushing her body to levels considered physically impossible not long ago, and seeing very strange things in the night.
She was temporarily blinded by dryness:
Even in the dark, fatigue showed on her sunburned face. Her blue eyes were bloodshot from sleeplessness and the dust clouds that kicked up on the trail. For most of the race, she struggled to hold down solid food and used rewetting drops to fight off swelling corneas, a condition that caused her to go blind in a previous race.
She has likely encountered mountain lions, snakes, or scorpions during her races:
In addition to dehydration, extreme fatigue and hyperthermia, Dauwalter and the other runners who take on these multiday races face encounters with bears, mountain lions, snakes and scorpions. Burt and her team mark the 200-mile courses with pink flags roughly every half-mile, but runners, including Dauwalter, have become lost. For safety, their positions are marked with a GPS spot tracking system.
And she eats up pain like it’s fucking breakfast:
“I put myself in situations where suffering is going to be involved and hope to be able to tap into the mental piece every time that physical pain becomes too much,” she said.
This weekend, Dauwalter will tackle her next goal: break the world record for the most miles run in 24 hours. She will have to run more than 161.55 miles to do so.
Read more about her badassery here.