Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter has achieved success by adopting a simple approach to training, eschewing the use of fitness tracking devices and rigid training regimens. Dauwalter discovered her love for running at a young age, thanks to the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. She went on to join the cross-country team in high school, where she found that running had a social element that she loved.
However, Dauwalter believes that many runners get caught up in achieving personal records and tracking every metric, losing sight of the joy of running in the process. Although she acknowledges the value of tools like Strava for others, she herself does not use them.
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Despite being the top women’s ultrarunner in the world, Dauwalter has not worked with a running coach since her high school cross-country days. Her approach is centered around a flexible training plan that allows for rest days and spontaneous runs, with a focus on enjoying the movement of running. For Dauwalter, it is important to stay in touch with why she loves running.
Her approach may be unconventional, but it has paid off in impressive performances in ultra-marathons. However, Dauwalter’s success is not just measured in podiums and race times. Running is a way for her to connect with nature and other people who share her love for the sport.
As modern fitness culture becomes increasingly complex, we can perhaps learn something from Dauwalter’s approach. By simplifying our approach to training and embracing the childlike joy of running, we may find that the movement becomes more meaningful and enjoyable.
Dauwalter’s daily runs typically last between two and four hours, and she decides what her training will look like based on how she feels physically and mentally, with an eye toward upcoming races. Her general approach involves listening to her body and not following a predetermined plan, allowing her to focus on the experience rather than the results. For instance, if she’s training for a race with a lot of climbing, she’ll incorporate more mountain runs into her routine.
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Over the years, Dauwalter has become more adaptable to her body, staying in tune with her emotions and taking a playful approach to training that keeps her motivated and engaged. She doesn’t obsess over sleep metrics or biomarkers, nor does she overthink her diet. Instead, she eats what looks good, sounds good, or is most convenient. Some of her favorites include nachos, pancakes, gummy bears, and Snickers.
Dauwalter believes that sometimes our gadgets can get in the way of our enjoyment of running. She finds joy in leaving her watch at home and letting her feet be the tour guides. Without a predetermined plan, she’s learned to tune in to her body and react accordingly. This approach allows her to pay close attention to what her body tells her and avoid disregarding symptoms or signs that she should change course.
When things get challenging in races, Dauwalter relies on her mental “filing cabinet” and humor to overcome the obstacles of the mind and body she’s trained in. She also uses breathing and mindfulness exercises to focus on the calm of the trails. Focusing on the basics of enjoying the process is essential for Dauwalter. The flexibility of her training keeps things fresh and fun, helping her push through demanding times.