As a community-led brand, we wouldn't be where we are today without the incredible people who make up SunGod. From our customers, to our athletes, and everyone in between, the SunGod Community brings our brand to life and encourages us to See Better every day.
So, last month, we brought our community together in person for a trail running clinic with Team SunGod athlete and ultra runner Courtney Dauwalter, and 40 members of the SunGod community in her hometown of Leadville, Colorado.
What follows is a snapshot of the lessons we've learned, the mistakes we've made and the experiences we've had on the trail, which we shared together on the day.
Table of Contents
We kicked off with a group trail run, allowing runners to test our trail running sunglasses as Courtney showed us her local stomping ground, sharing her tried and tested tips along the way. Afterwards, we embarked upon a roundtable discussion on all things trail running, from training strategy and tips for pacing, to advice for first time racers.
Not one to linger in the limelight, Courtney's aim was for the day to be a collective learning experience. "I definitely don't have all the answers," she said, "we're all runners here, today let's learn together!"
1. Is there a "right" way to train for an ultramarathon?
Our discussion began with a tale as old as time: HOW to train for an ultra, or any race for that matter. As a group we were mixed; some used coaches, others didn't. The conclusion was that there is no right approach to ultra running. It is entirely personal and what works for one person won't necessarily work for another.
"I just listen to my body," Courtney says, "and adapt my training depending on what I feel I need. This works best for me and the way my brain works, I need to feel free and flexible to adapt and react." Others in the group celebrated the stability that comes with having a coach. For people juggling a full-time job with training, having a coach removes all the decision-making.
2. Ultra running: it's all about community
One participant asked, "What can I get out of a 50-mile race that I can't experience on a 50-mile run at home?"
Courtney is quick to respond: "I race ultras for the community. The ultra running community is incredible and there's nothing like it." As Courtney says this, the group smiles and many nod knowingly. "From the incredible people in the aid stations to the dedication of the dot watchers and the fellow participants too. We've all got each other's backs - if you're puking in a bush, there's always someone there asking you what you need! I just love it. The community is what hooked me on this sport, on my first 50-mile race I faceplanted a mudpile in torrential rain and this guy running about 15 or 20 feet ahead of me heard me go down, turns around and pulls me up out of the puddle and simply says - "Let’s go!" What other sport does that happen in?!”
3. Managing pressure while racing ultramarathons
As a group we agreed that we all feel pressure, from lots of different sources. For most of us, it’s the pressure we put on ourselves to race the very best we can. “The races I do are really long, so everyone there is on their own rollercoaster! You may pass someone that’s doing really good and someone else who is doing badly but things can turn around so quickly. All you can do is do your best to manage the course, the day and yourself and make sure we’re getting everything out of it that we can in that moment,” Courtney says.
4. Dealing with setbacks and staying injury free
There was unanimous agreement that strength work has a huge part to play in our training regimes to reduce the chance of injury. "I've learned the hard way here", Courtney says. "When I was injured back in 2019 I wasn't doing a great deal of strength work to supplement my training and I realised that this needed to change. What are your injury stories?" She asks.
We all had a lot to share about the trials and tribulations of our own injuries. And from all the stories of misdiagnosis, woe and heartache we also shared the ways we've found to cope, from finding the right physios to focusing on what you can do during your convalescence, not the things you can't. “I think it comes down to figuring out what else you can do that makes you feel whole and productive”, Courtney says. "We’re all runners and we always need something, so it’s about nailing those action items from the PT to get yourself back on track.”
5. Is trail running inclusive enough? A few words on cut-offs…
Soon the talk turned to first-time racing, the subject of cut-offs, and whether improvements can be made here to welcome more first-time runners. Courtney weighs in: “It’s a tough subject, different races have different motivations behind cut-off times but I’ve never directed a race so would never pretend I know all these factors. Last fall I did a 50-mile race with my mom as her first ultra and we got cut off at an aid station, it was a huge bummer but it was also cool because that’s just part of the story. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting cut off, it’s motivated us to sign up for another race and keep pushing! Does anyone have any other experiences or pointers on this?”
“A good tip I’ve found is entering a shorter race where the organisers have put on longer races simultaneously. You’ll often find the cut-offs to be more generous at these races,” says one participant. “As an example, a lot of races will run a 50k race and a 100k race at the same time, with the cut-off for the 50k being the same as the 100k.” Another member of the group adds, “on my first 100-miler I told myself that it doesn’t matter if we get cut off, we’re gonna learn from this! Cut-off stories can be devastating but there is always another race and another moment you will have.”
Courtney rounds things off: “And when the race is said and done, even though you were on your own out there for most of it, regardless of what time you finished, you've shared something unique with everyone who was out there that day and that's truly special."
6. Tried and tested tips for your first 100-mile race
Off the back of a vibrant discussion, Courtney asks: “Who’s doing their first race this year?”. Hands fly up and a couple of people mention they’re lining up their first 100-mile races, to lots of whoops and cheers from the group. "Come on then team, what tips do we have for these people?" Courtney asks. The tips flow in...
Eat little and often. “Start early and eat and drink as much as possible for the whole race!” says one member of the group. "Yeah I do agree with that," Courtney says, "it’s all about the slow drip from the start. Sometimes as early as 15 minutes into the race, I'll start by eating something small like a bar or chew. Just to let my stomach know what it's doing today - we're eating and running today stomach, get it straight!”
When it came to the 'what', we unanimously agreed that nutrition is personal and something to be experimented with. "When I first started racing ultras, I had no idea what I was doing", Courtney says. "I would go into aid stations and try a bit of everything! Now I've got it more dialled but only due to experience, knowing what works and what doesn't. Experiment and remember: GI issues don't necessarily spell the end of your race!"
Embrace the experience. "I never know if I'm truly 'ready' when I am on the start line and that's the beauty and excitement of it all - the intrigue of not knowing quite how the race is going to go!", Courtney says. We also discussed the importance of humility during racing, smiling, remembering to look around you and be humble - "race with gratitude - you can never say thank you enough when racing, you're there ultimately because you have chosen to be there." One participant adds, "don't lose sight of that - it usually keeps the energy positive and the smile on your face!"
Nail the training mileage. "Again training load is such a personal thing and you definitely don't need to run 100 miles a week to nail an ultra. Your high mileage weeks will definitely not look the same as your friends and that's totally OK," Courtney says. "I know of people training at 40 miles a week and others 140 miles. That's what's cool about ultra running; it's not a super dialled system or set recipe for success. It’s all personal and we’re all still trying to figure it all out.”
Just keep going. "If you feel like you wanna drop, just do another mile and ask yourself again. Like this, often you'll usually come out the other side and keep going!" says one participant. Another person says: "You can do anything for 1 minute! Just break it down and attack bit by bit." We all agreed that running ultras comes as much down to mental stamina as physical.
7. Final thoughts from Courtney
“The human body is incredible, I am constantly intrigued by the limits we can push it to. But when I’m planning anything, it’s important that running stays fun. It’s something I want to do my whole life. Days like this, or even just a loop around town, are something I want to be doing when I’m 100 years old! So it’s important that this is at the forefront of the decisions I make and the attitude I have. Running is fun and we’re so lucky that we get to do so.”
Lifting a snapshot from this incredibly insightful and uplifting day was a challenge in itself. Topics spanned from mountain lion encounters while running, to Courtney’s love of dad jokes, and everything in between, but one thing remained constant: the clear passion and dedication trail runners have to their sport.
Thanks to all who came along, it was a truly special day. From giving design feedback on our trail running sunglasses to sharing your tips and experiences, we were so humbled and inspired by your enthusiasm, and eagerness to learn and get involved - we could have all sat and talked long into the evening! Here's to more days like this with the SunGod community.