Sports, entertainers, and hobbies alike have several passionate supporters all naturally forming a sense of camaraderie, but nothing quite compares to that of the running community.
The sport entails a solo performer and yet, more often than not, there are a select few that stand behind a racer to help them reach the finish line. From pacing to filling water bottles, to cheering from the aid station, those people are what make putting one foot in front of the other a little bit easier. Although top performers in ultra running seem invincible at times, they rely on their crew just as much as anyone else. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Tanri athlete, Courtney Dauwalter, about her crew and thoughts on the running community.
As expected, Courtney jumped onto the zoom call smiling ear to ear, with infectiously vibrant energy to her. Unexpectedly for me, I became completely star-struck and forgot my name. Nerves aside, we discussed this refreshing sense of unity in the sport and she looked back to her first 50-mile race,
“It was in the Colorado mountains. It was hailing, awful weather, really windy, basically a scenario where we really should just be hating life, but everyone was making the best of it just hoopin’ and hollerin’ down the trail! One guy ran back for me after I had tripped and fallen in a mud puddle. He must have heard me squawk or something but he turned around and helped me, and then we kept running together. I thought to myself, in what sport does someone go out of their way to come backward to help you? This community is really what hooked me to the sport.”
A key difference between this space and others has a lot to do with empathy. There’s this level of respect that is naturally in the air, everyone can understand the mental and physical endurance that takes place when running long distances. We agreed that the whole experience feels similar to being at a summer camp or a family reunion. Whether you've raced previously or not it always feels like you're walking onto new territory. You're not really sure how it's all going to go, but you quickly realize you're engulfed within such a supportive community that will cheer you on no matter the circumstances.
“The finish line feel is always the same. Everyone is cheering for everyone no matter what place, or what time, or what obstacles they had to face to get to the finish, they’re being greeted by people who root for them. Then people share stories of their adventure out there. Sitting by the cooler, not really knowing each other at the start but leaving as friends for life.”
As if inspiriting was in short supply, crews make the entire experience even more special. Courtney’s crew includes her dad, husband, and two friends, and she gives them every bit of credit for helping her get to the finish. Although being a part of Courtney’s team must be every bit as normal as any other crew, how does someone possibly pace a record holder?! Well, having a pacer is just as much for motivation as it is for the time spent together for Courtney.
“For me, it’s all about shared moments with people, and so a pacer joining you for a race is this really cool opportunity to make this memory together. You have this really good friend who joins you to run 20 miles with you during a 100-mile race, and you’ll have those 20 miles together forever. That’s a huge part of it for me, to get these friends and family members to come out and run with me, and we can laugh about it afterward and have that memory together. It’s a whole team effort, and the people that join you are super important and so wonderful.”
This heartwarming sense of commonality in the trail/ultra/running space can ring true for the majority, but the reasoning behind racing is unique to the individual. Many have a single purpose or life-changing event that led them to run, but Courtney shared that her reasons for racing have a lot to do with curiosity. How much is the body able to take? How hard can one push? And the beauty of seeing just how much you’re capable of if you continue to raise the bar.
Having recently taken 1st place in France’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, it’s pretty clear that her bar isn’t going to stop climbing anytime soon.
Follow Courtney's racing journey on Facebook or Instagram @courtneydauwalter