The 2022 edition of the world-renowned UTMB kicks off tomorrow.
The host town of Chamonix is alive and there's a distinct buzz in the air in the build-up to this legendary race, as everyone asks: who will take the most sought-after crown in trail running?
And as the toughest trail runners on the planet congregate to take on the gruelling 171 km race (with a cool +10,040m of elevation), it's hard not to feel inspired. But how are the pros doing it? Is there a 'winning recipe' and if so, what is it? We couldn't think of anyone better to ask than the current UTMB course record holder and Team SunGod athlete, Courtney Dauwalter. For Courtney, the recipe isn't all geared around complex training plans and a PhD in nutrition. It's about having the correct mindset and listening to your body.
Read on to discover Courtney's tips to run further, get stronger, feel fitter, and race faster - and find out nailing an ultra isn't as complicated (or expensive) as you might think...
First up, training. How do you make it work with no coach and no set training regime?
"I was really fortunate to grow up with fantastic coaches in both cross-country running and cross-country skiing. They taught me a lot about how to train, how to show up ready to rumble on race day, and how to have a whole lot of fun while working hard.
When I got into ultrarunning, I took what I already knew about training and racing, and just tried to apply the same principles to these new distances and races. The training is part of the ultrarunning puzzle - I’m loving trying to put that together on my own."
"The training is part of the ultrarunning puzzle - I’m loving trying to put that together on my own."
- Courtney on success without a coach or a strict training regime
Without a training regime, what happens on the days when you just don’t feel like it?
"While days like this don’t happen very often, they are really important check-in days for me when I try to tune in to my body and my brain. I stop, listen, and try to respond to what they are asking for.
For example, if I wake up feeling really run down physically or mentally, I’ll do an internal check-in with myself about why I might be feeling that way. When was my last rest day? What have I been doing lately? How far off is my next race and should I keep pushing the gas pedal down through this tired feeling?
Depending on those answers, I’ll either decide to put on my running shoes to give it a shot, or put on my sweatpants and pick out some movies for the day."
"I'll either decide to put on my running shoes to give it a shot, or put on my sweatpants and pick out some movies for the day."
- Courtney on life without a strict training routine
How do you fit other types of training, like strength, into your day-to-day?
"I got injured a few years ago - it was tough. However, a perk from the recovery process was that my physio taught me all about the importance of simple strength and activation exercises. These help keep my body happy as I ask it to do more and more miles.
So now, I do a 30-45 minute strength routine every day before my first run. I focus primarily on my core, glutes and hips, and mostly rely on body weight exercises like planks and squats to keep my body for action."
What goes through your mind when you're deep in the pain cave?
"When I get to the entrance of the pain cave, I try to frame it as a celebration. One of the reasons I sign up for these really long races is so that I can find the pain cave, and try to come out the other side better off for the visit. So, by thinking of it as a place I want to get to, it makes it less daunting when it actually arrives. Once I'm inside, I imagine going into the back corners of the cave with a chisel and working to make the cave even bigger.
Mantras also help in those tough moments. Repeating something simple and positive can keep our heads in the game when it gets hard. I usually go with "You’re fine. This is fine. Everything is fine.""
"Once I'm inside [the pain cave], I imagine going into the back corners of the cave with a chisel and working to make the cave even bigger."
- Courtney's methods for coping with the pain of ultrarunning
We’ve heard rumours of your 1-minute mid-race nap. Is it true? Let’s talk all things sleep…
"[laughs] It’s true… I love sleep! I typically sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night. During the longer races that take more than two days, I’ll usually find myself needing to take some quick power-naps during the race itself. I've tried everything from 1 minute to 20 minute naps while on the trail.
I’m really intrigued by this aspect of long events - what sorts of naps work best to get you recharged and moving again. I definitely still have a lot to learn."
Now, the UTMB. How did it feel when you crossed the finish line last year, and realised you’d set a new course record?
"I was so excited to have made it around this gigantic loop in the Alps and to be greeted by all the people in town, and having my husband at the finish line made it very special. I didn’t know the actual record while I was running, so when I crossed the line I didn’t know if I had gotten it, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just trying to soak in the sights and the sounds of this big adventure.
I’m not racing the UTMB this year, mixing up the race schedule keeps it fun! There are so many other incredible races I would love to try. But I’m excited to watch everyone else. UTMB is such an incredible race in a beautiful place, I’m pumped for everyone taking on this challenge."
And finally, for the first-timers out there… what are your top 3 tips for people thinking about entering their first ultra?
"Go for it! This sport is so cool - you’re going to love it. A few top tips:
Be patient and consistent with your training.
Focus on a steady build up in distance.
Ask questions. Find out what people eat, what gear they recommend, how they prevent blisters or chaffing, any other tips.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. I have found the ultrarunning community to be SO helpful. And have fun!"