Courtney Dauwalter focuses on extraordinarily lengthy races. However her success in successful them has opened a debate about how males’s innate energy benefits apply to endurance sports activities.
By Rebecca Byerly
Pictures by Max Whittaker
HOMEWOOD, Calif. — At 1:40 within the morning, operating by way of the woods close to Lake Tahoe, Courtney Dauwalter started hallucinating.
She noticed reside puppets enjoying on a swing set on the facet of the path. Bushes and rocks become faces. She was on her second night time with out sleep, 165 miles right into a 205-mile race by way of the mountains, pushing her physique to ranges thought of bodily inconceivable not way back, and seeing very unusual issues within the night time.
Dauwalter had been on her toes for nearly 40 hours and was main the sector of 215 runners as she set her sights on a course file for September’s Tahoe 200, one in a collection of very, very lengthy ultramarathons, the newest craze amongst distance operating’s lunatic set. Their hero is Dauwalter, a 33-year outdated with a repute for outrunning males and shattering course data. She has received 11 ultramarathons and completed second in seven different endurance races.
This weekend, she is going to attempt to break the ladies’s world file for probably the most miles run in 24 hours, on the Desert Solstice competitors in Phoenix. She should run greater than 161.55 miles to take action. She already holds the American girls’s file, 159.32 miles. This fall, she ran 279.2 miles in what’s often known as Large’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 wish to put their toes up, eat, go to the lavatory or shut their eyes for a couple of minutes, they need to earn the time by operating quicker. The final particular person 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 ready up completely to check your limits,” mentioned Dauwalter, a former science instructor from Golden, Colo., who desires to realize 300 miles at Large’s Yard Extremely subsequent yr. “You simply go till you attain your individual end line.”
The place precisely that’s is anybody’s guess. For now, elite ultrarunning is among the few sports activities during which girls seem in a position to maintain their very own with males. Dauwalter’s prowess has crystallized the controversy about whether or not psychological fortitude can trump males’s innate energy benefits in endurance sports activities.
This a lot is evident: As the gap lengthens, the organic benefits that males have develop smaller.
In 2017, Dauwalter received 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 following competitor, a person, by 10 hours, or 20 miles. She mentioned 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 larger and have extra muscle mass and are extra highly effective and quicker,” mentioned 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 beginning, 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 during which Dauwalter noticed the puppets on the swing set. It was the primary 200-mile-plus single-loop ultramarathon in the US. Ninety-one folks signed up. The subsequent yr, 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 during which Dauwalter obliterated the competitors. This yr, 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 enable much less aggressive runners time for sleep, and extra time is spent mountain climbing than operating. Dr. Martin Hoffman, a former researcher for the Western States 100-mile race, mentioned one purpose Dauwalter was so profitable was there have been nonetheless so few folks competing at 200 miles. Based on Ultrarunning journal, greater than 100,000 folks worldwide accomplished a race longer than a marathon (26.2 miles) in 2017.
“When you’ve got the very best skilled female and male ultrarunners competing in opposition to one another, the boys will all the time win,” mentioned Hoffman, who ran his first 100-mile race in 1984. He has spent many years researching ultrarunning, however his work doesn’t cowl something longer than 100 miles.
Heying, the evolutionary biologist, agrees that there’s nonetheless not sufficient information to attract conclusions on 200-mile races, however she believes variables like climate, psychological energy and innate tolerance for ache assist degree the sector.
Dick Dauwalter, Courtney’s father, who was a part of her crew throughout the Tahoe 200, mentioned she had all the time been a competitor. The “tiny little squirt” completed eighth in her residence state, Minnesota, in cross-country when she was in seventh grade. Throughout the winter, she would rise up when it was nonetheless darkish to Nordic ski earlier than college, 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 lots cash, and it was numerous work getting the children to their sports activities,” Dick Dauwalter mentioned. He makes false tooth and jokes that he isn’t 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 saggy 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 offer high-fives, signal autographs and discuss with ladies who had gathered at an help station to cheer her on. Generally throughout races, she tells jokes to verify her thoughts remains to be working.
She believes that as her threshold for ache will increase, so does her means 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 mentioned. Overwhelmed by ache, she dropped out of her first 100-mile race in 2012. She tried once more the following yr and completed.
When Dauwalter reached the help station at Mile 167 of the Tahoe 200, she thanked the volunteers for being up in the midst of the night time in freezing temperatures to feed her. She doesn’t maintain observe of her time when she races, so she requested the group what time it was to determine how lengthy she had been on her toes.
Even at nighttime, fatigue confirmed on her sunburned face. Her blue eyes have 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 combat off swelling corneas, a situation that induced her to go blind in a earlier race.
The help stations, usually 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 footwear or change her garments your complete race, however she did brush her tooth 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 together with her tempo runner.
Pacers and the runner’s crew play a crucial 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 together with her the final 30 miles in Tahoe.
Ultrarunners usually put on coronary heart fee screens, keep on strict coaching schedules and cling to particular diets. Dauwalter runs about 100 miles every week, however doesn’t observe a plan or a selected coaching schedule. She mentioned she let her physique inform her what it wanted and felt like doing every day. She eats no matter she desires.
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 hen and drank numerous beer. At Large’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 change into misplaced. For security, their positions are marked with a GPS spot monitoring system.
The coordinates additionally enable 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,” mentioned Steven Kotler, an creator and director of analysis on the Circulate Genome Undertaking. “Each time she runs one among these lengthy races, she believes she will be able to do the following one quicker.”
She is just not 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 file by nearly 10 hours.
“Courtney was undoubtedly the particular person to beat,” Curtin mentioned. “I ran the time I did as a result of I used to be attempting to catch her your complete race.”
The third-place runner completed 10 hours behind them. Many of the different runners completed a day or two later.
Dauwalter mentioned there was nothing she may do to push back 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 might push by way of them a bit bit simpler,” she mentioned.
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 toes of climbing for every hundred,” Dauwalter mentioned. “That’s fairly stout, but it surely’s doable.”