What Superstar Ultrarunner Courtney Dawaulter Eats While Racing

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Ultrarunner extraordinaire Courtney Dauwalter has picked up in 2024 right where she left off last year. After famously winning three of ultrarunning’s most epic races  during the span of about nine weeks last summer—Western States 100, Hardrock 100, and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc—the 39-year-old athlete from Leadville, Colorado, defended her Transgrancanaria 126K title in a decisive wire-to-wire win in late February and won the Mount Fuji 100-miler for the second time on April 27, placing third overall. She’s now gearing up to go for a third straight win at the Hardrock 100 on July 12-13 in Silverton, Colorado. After Hardrock, she’ll be crewing and pacing her husband, Kevin Schmidt, at the Leadville 100 on August 17-18, and then tackling a yet-unannounced trail running project in September.

We caught up with Dauwalter to talk about her fueling and training in a virtual press conference, where she announced the May 20 release of her signature flavor of Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel—Dauwaltermelon with Lime—as a permanent part of the brand’s lineup. Since she’s emerged as one of the world’s top trail ultrarunners, she’s been known for having a sound approach to nutrition and fueling, never shying away from eating whatever she wants, admitting her soft spot for candy and pastries, or having a beer every now and then if she feels like it.

RUN: How did you develop such a sensible approach to nutrition and fueling, and what, if anything, have you changed?

DAUWALTER: I am still eating all of my favorite things whenever they sound good in quantities that sound good, and I am not intending to change that part of my life, because it just gives me a lot of joy to live that way. I guess it’s got to be partly my upbringing, and also with Kevin and I, our idea of how we want to live our lives is to enjoy it to its fullest while it’s here. We just want to enjoy food, enjoy meals out, enjoy the cravings that we have, and not worry about it. But I would say in the past couple of years I do more consistently do a recovery drink after a long run or after putting in big efforts, and that’s something that I was a little more lax with originally, so I feel like that’s a step in the right direction.

What was your fueling strategy when you first got into ultrarunning in 2011?

When I first got into ultrarunning, I had no nutrition plan. I didn’t know what I was doing. My first race was a 50K, and I remember not knowing that these aid stations would be buffets. My mind was blown when I got to them—all the options were overwhelming. I just started filling my pockets with jelly beans. In those first years, I did a lot of mimicking of what the people around me were doing. So if I came to an aid station and someone was grabbing pickles and drinking Mountain Dew, then that’s what I would do. If they were grabbing pretzels and cheese cubes, that’s what I would go for. It was just kind of roulette for me on what I would end up eating—if it would work, or if it wouldn’t work.

You have told stories about a few famous bonks early in your career. When did you start to dial-in your fueling strategy?

Initially, I never had a fueling plan at all. But then in 2017, I went to the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Tailwind was available on course at all of the aid stations. I had a buddy who had started using it that year, and I remember just loving it and suddenly not having all the stomach issues and energy dips that I often had. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this is what it’s like to have something reliable.’

Courtney Dauwalter loves watermelon. She and her husband, Kevin, were key taste-testing consultants in Tailwind Nutrition’s development of Dauwaltermelon with Lime Endurance Fuel. (Photo: Brian Metzler)

What is your current approach to race-day nutrition?

At this point we’ve gotten pretty dialed on the race nutrition plan for those 10-to 24-hour efforts or the events of 100 miles or below. I’m not a person who has my watch beeping at me ever to remind me to eat. I don’t get those kinds of reminders, and I don’t want to eat every 15 minutes or 30 minutes during a race. I’m going to just slow drip the calories I have as often as possible—basically it’s an eating contest on the move. Now I know my body functions pretty well with about 200 calories per hour during those efforts. So, depending on the distance between aid stations, I can rely solely on a bottle of Tailwind and then supplement with some chews or waffles or gels, because usually I get actually hungry feeling and having something solid helps with that. But mostly, I’m relying on Tailwind as my backbone to the whole plan and generally aiming for that 200-calorie-per-hour benchmark.

You had to overcome some stomach challenges in UTMB in 2022 and then at last year’s UTMB you seemed as physically challenged as you have ever been. How have you adjusted your fueling in those situations?

The past couple years (working with a nutritionist friend), we’ve been better at creating A, B, C and D plans—because sometimes the perfect nutrition plan that you have relied on isn’t going to work. Our approach is that’s fine, and here are some things you can start subbing in during a race that can cover your needs. I view race nutrition like a puzzle piece, and sometimes it fits into the puzzle right where we want it to, and sometimes we have to kind shift things around a little bit. I think one of the reasons a lot of us love ultrarunning is because, when things just aren’t going to plan, we have to problem-solve it.

You’ll be doing a lot of your pre-Hardrock training in and around Leadville between 11,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level once the spring snow subsides. How are you able to fuel at such high altitudes?

That’s one thing I’m hoping to focus on a little bit more on in this buildup and this prep for Hardrock, because in the past couple times I’ve run it, I’ve struggled a little bit with taking stuff in. I would love to just try to intentionally train my stomach to be better at taking in those calories while pushing hard at 12,500 feet or 13,000 feet just to see if we can make some strides forward. So stay tuned on if that works or not.

RELATED: The Secrets of Courtney Dauwalter’s Success

Do you have any bucket list events you want to tackle in the coming years?

Not specific things. I think I want to just keep finding the challenges that intrigue me and fire me up to keep putting in the work, the training, the time, the effort to go after them. And so whatever that is, there’s not a list of things I want to check off necessarily, but, I’m continuing to pour myself into this sport and see what’s possible while every one of my systems [muscular, digestive, endocrine, cognitive, emotional, etc.] is allowing that to happen. The Leadville 100 is on my short list of races I would love to do as soon as I can, but as far as a bucket list in general or what intrigues me, I’m still very interested in exploring the longer stuff and how our brains and our bodies can work together to take us over 100 miles. What does that look like to move efficiently for 200 miles or 500 miles? So that’s where I am putting a lot of my attention into—just finding ways to test myself on stuff that’s really long.

Fans have embraced Courtney Dauwalter as a champion runner, but also for her unique interests. (Photo: Luke Webster)

You got into ultrarunning through running road races. Would you ever run another marathon?

I am interested in trying a road marathon again at some point because that was what led me to ultrarunning.. I didn’t think I could make that distance, but I finished without dying and then wondered, ‘What else is out there that sounds too hard that I could try?’ And then I stumbled into the ultrarunning world. In those first marathons, I was a casual runner. I ran every day before work because it made me feel better to start the day, but I wasn’t doing huge miles or running quickly.  So circling back to run a road marathon would be kind of fun.

You’ve talked a lot about your eagerness to enter the pain cave when you’re racing. How did that begin?

I definitely didn’t invent it, and I don’t know who did originally, but I know that for me that phrase just became this imagery that I really grabbed onto—as opposed to the struggle bus or the hurt locker or the many other terms. That one for me was visually something I could see, and it was something that I could work with to be productive. Back in high school, I had a cross country skiing coach who was big on the mental side of the sport and would always remind us and believe in our capacity to push past that moment when it feels like you have nothing left. He was huge on just the idea that there’s always one more gear. So I just crank the knob and believe that it can be cranked a little bit more. Having someone who believed in me so wholeheartedly that I could trust to keep pushing was important because it’s hard to do that when you’re any age, but for sure it’s hard to do when you’re a teenager. The idea that you feel like you’re about to die and yet you’re telling me there’s more to push past that? That’s hard to learn. So I feel really lucky that I had that coach and to learn about that mental side of sports and digging deeper than you think.

You ran the Javelina 100K in Arizona with your mom last October. What was that like? And what has been the lasting effect?

That was so special,  a highlight of my life for sure. We ran together through the desert in Arizona, side by side the whole time through all the highs and lows, and made it to that finish line. I’ll remember that forever, and that gift that she gave me of doing this thing with me and the sport I love and spending so much time preparing for it. She was training hard back home in Minnesota, trying to learn how to run trails, trying to power hike hills, and learning how to use all of the gear because she had never really run trails before. I think the domino effect is that you can start anything at any age. She was 66 when we ran this race together and 64 when she started this journey into trail running. I had told her my dream was to run an ultra with my mom, and now that she has completed a 100K, she has found a lot of joy in the trails. Even though we don’t have a race on the calendar together yet, she is still just finding that peace that the trails bring her, and it’s something she incorporates into her weekly life. I think that’s really cool, and it’s why I hope more people can find out about trail running—not necessarily even ultrarunning—but just getting out on the trails and exploring a little bit because that feeling of moving with your feet surrounded by nature and feeling so small in a big landscape is really, really cool.

RELATED: Courtney Dauwalter and Her Mom Are Tackling Ultras Together Now

What do you hope runners of any level take away from your success?

My hope is that people hearing about the stuff that I’m doing or that the ultrarunning community is doing helps them believe they could go after something that sounds too hard or something that sounds crazy. Whether that’s running 100 miles or 200 miles or not. We can all find that thing in our lives that we can go after with a little more gusto and raise the bar for ourselves on what we’re actually aiming for. I also hope I can be a small example that you can work really, really, really hard at something and have a lot of fun doing it. Those things can happen at the same time and there’s no reason to separate them. I never predicted this chapter in my life, but I feel grateful every day for it. I’m just trying to squeeze as much living out of this period of life as I can.

RELATED: How Did Courtney Dauwalter Get So Damn Fast?

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