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This past Saturday, Courtney Dauwalter won Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a grueling 106-mile trail race that gains more than 30,000 feet of elevation through the Alps. My first thought upon reading the news: So what? Dauwalter, who lives and trains in Leadville, wins everything in which she competes. The 38-year-old ultrarunner had, in fact, already won UTMB twice before. But while this achievement may be nothing new for the longtime Coloradan, it was the final feather in a historic hat trick the trail running realm has never seen before.
With Dauwalter’s victory at the UTMB, the endurance athlete has won three of running’s most iconic 100-milers—Colorado’s Hardrock 100, California’s Western States Endurance Race, and UTMB—in one year. And, even more impressive, she won them all in the span of three months.
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Many people in the Centennial State are still unaware of her greatness, which is understandable considering the niche appeal of ultrarunning. So to help shine a light on Colorado’s (arguably) greatest athlete, we’ve decided to lean into an age-old sportswriter trope: We’re going to compare her to Michael Jordan. Although this conceit might not be fair, it’s actually quite interesting because, perhaps surprisingly, the two icons have a lot in common.
Jordan famously was cut from his varsity basketball team in high school. Dauwalter, on the other hand, was a highly successful prep athlete in Minnesota who attended the University of Denver on a cross-country skiing scholarship. After college, she became a teacher, failed to finish her first 100-miler (in 2012), and didn’t become a full-time ultrarunner until 2017.
Jordan wore baggy basketball shorts because, well, he played basketball. Dauwalter wears long, loose-fitting shorts because they’re more comfortable to her than the shorter, tighter versions you might see other runners wearing. And like Jordan’s shoes, Dauwalter’s shorts have become such a signature in her sport that earlier this year one of her sponsors, Salomon, debuted the Shortney—a lightweight short with a 10-plus-inch inseam named in her honor.
In 1997, Jordan scored 38 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals while suffering from severe flu-like symptoms, leading the Chicago Bulls to victory over the Utah Jazz in the process. Poor guy. Dauwalter temporarily lost her eyesight in a race! During the 2017 Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, the runner lost her vision with about 10 miles left to go, her only direction coming verbally from her husband, who was pacing her. She still won.
Just a quick refresher in case you forgot: M.J. won six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and five NBA MVP awards. There is no like-for-like season for ultrarunners, but C.D. wins just about everything she enters, including the 2017 Moab 240 (as in, miles) by 10 hours ahead of her closest competitor, man or woman. But her dominance was never better on display than this past summer, when she broke the course records at Hardrock and Western States and still managed to win UTMB. Dauwalter has been named the Ultrarunner of the Year by UltraRunning magazine every year since 2018, except for 2020, when she was defeated by COVID-19.