Courtney Dauwalter Once Hallucinated Flying Eels and Giraffes in an Ultramarathon

The record-breaking ultra-runner’s keys to success: pizza, beer, and a sharp mental game.


2021 Ultra-Trail Cape Town winner and trail legend Courtney Dauwalter sets course records in baggy T-shirts and basketball shorts. She’s a fixture on the podium at extremely long races like the Javelina Jundred 100K and UTMB (107K), but she doesn’t live the kind of monastic, rigid life one might expect of a professional athlete of her calibre.

Instead, the 38-year-old American ultrarunner defies expectations with her penchant for long inseams and candy. Her go-to pre-race meal is pizza, and after competitions, she loves celebrating with nachos and beer.

In an interview with CNN, she said, “The best way for me to train right now is no coach, no plan, and really just tuning into those signals — physical, mental, emotional … Then every day I can assess myself and see where I’m at for the day.”

Besides her obvious natural talent — as a high schooler, she was a four-time state champion in Nordic skiing — and high mileage training, it’s her mental strength and fortitude that sets Dauwalter apart.

It’s not uncommon to experience hallucinations during ultramarathons, and Dauwalter says that she completely lost her vision during the last 16K of a 160km race in 2017. She’s seen flying eels and giraffes in the mountains, but she just rolls with it.

“Now that I know those things happen, and I might make some friends out there, I’ve just grown to appreciate it,” she says to CNN.

So the next time someone gives you a side eye for ordering a pre-race slice or questions the race kit you feel most confident in, tell them to take it from one of the greatest endurance athletes in the world — you can drink beer and still win, and you don’t have to wear briefs to run fast.

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