Most of us are both familiar with, and intimidated by, the idea of running a marathon. Running a couple of miles a week doesn’t’ seem too bad, but 26.2 on a single morning is more than most people even think possible.
As daunting as this distance may seem, some don’t think it’s quite enough. Therefore, race organizers have put together ‘ultra’ marathons (42 miles) and even 100 mile races to challenge the truly deranged. Races of this distance are more a feat of personal fortitude than athletic capacity alone. Last week, a very special group of runners challenged themselves to one of the most extreme endurance running races ever conceived – the Moab 240.
As you may have guessed, this is a 240 mile footrace through desert, 2 mountain ranges, slick rock, canyons, and some of the most legendary terrain and trails in the world around Moab, Utah. It seems impossible, but nearly 100 people finished this race and their ages spanned 4 decades.
So, who was the incredible athlete who won this race - by nearly 10 hours? That would be 32-year-old Courtney Dauwalter, a high school teacher from Colorado. Of course, a high school teacher is just one of the things that Courtney is; it does not define her, but does hint at the otherwise surprisingly normal life she lives for someone who accomplished inarguably one of the most amazing feats of physical and mental strength that I have ever witnessed.
Surely, she must be an Olympic caliber athlete who has dedicated her life to sport – nope, she ran high school track and cross country, but that was about it as far as organized sports goes. Surely, she must have a team of trainers and dieticians calculating every calorie for maximal efficiency – nope, nachos and beer are some of her favorite foods that compliment an otherwise conventionally ‘healthy’ diet which she manages independently. Supplements then, must have played an outsized role in helping her do something most would consider impossible – again, nope, she takes a single off-the -shelf woman’s multi-vitamin and that’s about it.
So, what then explains her capacity for the extraordinary?
She would answer that question, I think, by simply and humbly reminding all of us that we are all capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for, and she simply has an insatiable desire to truly test her limits in a way that most wouldn’t dream.
During this race, which she completed in just under 58 hours, she slept for only 21 minutes, sustained multiple injuries and was constantly in fear of losing her vision as had happened to her in previous endurance races. Yet, she kept pushing, as long as she could and by the end the only failure she experienced was that she had not yet answered the one question she set out to, that of what her own limits were…..but only because the race ended before her will to push on did.