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Courtney Dauwalter’s FKT Attempt of the Colorado Trail

Courtney Dauwalter is no stranger to epic ideas and big accomplishments. This summer, she set her sights on the Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Colorado Trail—a 490 mile trail across the Rockies that features 90,000 feet of elevation gain. The previous record was 8 days and 30 minutes, set by Bryan Williams. We caught up with Courtney to hear about her high country run across Colorado.

Fill us in a little—what exactly was the run on the Colorado Trail, what led to the idea?

The Colorado Trail is a 486 mile singletrack trail from Durango to Denver. It travels through six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges, gaining 90,000ft of elevation. I have been eyeing the Colorado Trail for a few years now because it seemed like a really cool way to explore Colorado.  I was intrigued by the distance and how efficiently it could be done. With all the race cancellations this summer, it provided a perfect window of time to give it a try and see what was possible!

How do you prepare for such a grueling and complex endeavor?

Physically, I wasn’t doing anything differently than my normal training. Lots of miles, lots of climbing and consistent bodyweight exercises are the main ingredients of how I train and I kept this the same.

Mentally, I tried to keep the big picture in mind: we had almost 500 miles to cover. Patience was important. Not sweating it when things went wrong was important. Staying in the moment and not getting overwhelmed was important.

Logistically, this was a huge undertaking! I wanted to do this FKT attempt “supported” which meant I could have crew meet me at spots for aid stations, and pacers run with me on sections. This was important to me because sharing the adventure is one of the best parts of these long efforts. Gathering a group of friends and family to take on this challenge with me was a key step in the logistics. After that, my husband was the mastermind behind all the logistics. I feel very lucky to have people in my life who are willing to throw themselves into a weeklong project like this just to help me try to run a trail. Those memories we made out there are really special. The bonds created with that group of people will remain forever.

What about the simple stuff—food and sleep?

While on trail, I was relying primarily on Honey Stinger waffles and chews, and Tailwind. I also had a Salomon filter bottle along so I could always refill at streams – it got hot out there! When I got to aid stations, my crew would have some sort of real food option available: gnocchi, pancakes, perogies, ramen, quesadillas, and leftover pizza. As for sleep, I tried to do as little of it as possible. When I slept in the RV, I would reset with a nap anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours in length. When I slept on the trail, I would use it to get enough of a quick boost of anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes. In total, I think we estimated I slept less than 4 hours during my entire 309 mile run.

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At mile 223 of the northbound Colorado Trail, a choice must be made to go east or west. The Collegiate West route is 5 miles longer with 2000’ more climbing, and around 20 miles are spent above 12,000’ elevation. 🤔 Sounds fun! 😃⛰ ••• Court is currently working her way through one of the toughest sections of the Collegiate West, Tincup to Cottonwood Pass. She’s 258 miles into her CT attempt and looking strong! ••• #deweytoit #timetoplay #runonemotion #salomonWMN @salomonrunning #willsweatforbeer #suuntorun #redefiningrecovery #gotailwind #squirrelsnutbutter #sweetentheburn #toesocksornosocks #stepintosuperfeet

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300 miles is unfathomable. What did that feel like, and what did it teach you?

It was so cool! We are capable of so much more than we think and this run just reminded me of that. I can’t wait to try again and to, hopefully, see what the full 486 miles feels like.

You had to stop—tell us about that.

Starting earlier in the trail, I was having some issues with my lungs and breathing. I was wheezing and coughing a lot. My crew was paying attention to it but no alarm bells were sounding for anyone yet. It was just a problem we were trying to figure out and solve. When I stopped at Twin Lakes, at mile 309, my plan was to sleep in the RV for a few hours. My wheezing and coughing had gotten much worse and my crew made the tough call to take me to the hospital in nearby Leadville to get it checked out.

When I got to the ER, I thought it would still be possible that the doctors there would tell me nothing was wrong and I would be able to head back out on the trail. Instead, they found out my pulse oxygen was 70, dangerously low. I was admitted and diagnosed with acute bronchitis. It was a bummer but I am thankful my crew was able to think clearly enough to make a safe judgement call.

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Man, that was fun! Exploring 309 miles of the Colorado Trail has me itching to see the entire thing. It was so cool to be crossing the state on this beautiful single track! In the meantime, letting my lungs heal up and eating all the nachos & candy corn. 🎃 Thanks so much for all the support and following along during the attempt. 🙏 We aren’t done with that trail! 🤗 📷 @_cammcleod_ ••• #deweytoit #timetoplay #runonemotion #salomonWMN @salomonrunning #willsweatforbeer #suuntorun #redefiningrecovery #gotailwind #squirrelsnutbutter #sweetentheburn #toesocksornosocks #stepintosuperfeet @next_level_sppt

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As someone who pushes the envelope of what’s possible, you’re no stranger to setbacks. How do you process them?

This is part of ultra running. We knew going into this attempt that 500 miles is not guaranteed. Being able to problem-solve everything that came our way was the main goal. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a problem we could solve on the trail. I’m proud of my crew and how well they worked to help me get as far as we did.  I can’t wait to try again.

What’s next?

We’ll see! Letting my lungs heal up entirely is my main focus right now. After that, plenty of months left to adventure and see what we can get into!

Courtney’s go-to trail fuel

Honey Stinger Gingersnap Waffles 

Check out Courtney’s recap of her Quarantine Backyard Ultra earlier this summer here.