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Running with Courtney Dauwalter: “Never Meet Your Hero” isn’t Good Advice

Running with Courtney Dauwalter: “Never Meet Your Hero” isn’t Good Advice

Nov 21, 2023

“What’s it like trail running with Courtney Dauwalter?”

That was the question I got more than a few times after we wrapped up what was an epic Run the Alps season.

I had the good fortune to join Courtney’s trip for a wonderful few days in the Italian Dolomites that featured upbeat, fun guests, great weather, and one of the most beautiful trail running areas I have ever experienced. (If you haven’t trail run in the Dolomites, well, find a way to make it happen if life allows. You won’t be disappointed. And yes— shameless plug— we can help get you there.)

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

We’ve been lucky in recent years to be hosting trips with a variety of special guest runners: Mimmi Kotka, Mirna “The Mirnavator” Valerio, Meg Mackenzie, author and runner Elyse Kopecky, Hillary Gerardi, Krissy Moehl, and others. Next year will feature many of these same guests, plus a few wonderful additions, Tim Tollefson and Max King. (We’ll also be sharing the trails with some stars from outside of trail running, too— but more on that, later this season.)

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

As I answer the “What’s it like trail running with…” question more and more, I’ve started to notice something interesting. My response is always: “Great!” That’s not to say everyone is the same. We’re in a sport with a wide range of colorful characters, after all. 

But here’s the thing: Everyone has been wonderful. 

What’s going on? 

Here’s what I think. 

I think trail running lures certain personalities to our shared single track. We’re adventurous. We’re willing to suffer. We laugh when we Superman down the trail, then dust ourselves off and proudly point out the trickle of blood. We support each other when the climb seems just a bit too long, and at the end of the day, we celebrate the grit it took to get us through.

Our top stars are, I think, in it for very much the same reasons as the rest of us. 

That is something that makes our sport– and these trips– so special. Are Courtney Dauwalter and Tim Tollefson different from the rest of us? Absolutely. But in many other ways, we also have a lot in common. 

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

What did we talk about while running and hanging out with Courtney and her partner Kevin on our Dolomites trip? Save a few minutes here or there, it wasn’t splits or race strategies or millimeters of drop in the latest trail running shoes. We talked about… life. Just like all of our other trips with special guests. And it slowly has dawned on me that, despite some differences, the super-speedy trail runners we follow and admire are in so many ways just like us. And that brought us closer. Elite or mid-pack, we share a lot of the same insecurities, hopes, niggling injuries, and curiosity about what goals are just around the corner. 

There’s a saying that has stuck in my head for some years now: “Never meet your heroes.” The idea, if not the direct quote, dates back at least as far as French writer Marcel Proust’s Madame Bovary. In 1856, Proust wrote, “Il ne faut pas toucher aux idoles: la dorure en reste aux mains.” Which roughly translates as, “Don’t meet your idols: some of their gilding will come off in your hands.” The idea, of course, is that in person you will see the blemishes, the quirks, the big and small idiosyncrasies that add up to disappointment when they don’t measure up to your dreams. 

Not only is that wrong in my experience, but when you do meet your heroes, they’re often even better up close. Seeing them as complex, real people can give us a greater appreciation for them and what they have accomplished. 

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)
(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

For Steph Lefferts, Run the Alps Tour Manager, one of those moments came when running with Courtney. “She often ran at the back of the pack, and I never felt self-conscious about my speed,” Steph says. “I just felt like I was out for a run, chatting with a friend. There was no pressure!”

Then, of course, there was Courtney’s not-so-uptight diet, which was right in line with the rest of us. She’d share in the local South Tyrolean Kaiserschmarrn dessert or a plate of fries at the refuge stops. “And at the end of the day, we’d all have beers and hang out. It was great.”

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

Courtney’s relatability even inspired one of our guides on the trip. Talking to Bruno Yates about crewing her mom in the upcoming Javelina 100 km race got Bruno thinking about running a trail race with his wife, Floriane. After starting a family– Bruno and Floriane now have three kids– Floriane had been tightly scheduled between work and family, and hadn’t had a chance to return to trail running. “Courtney inspired me to run a trail race with Floriane next year,” said Bruno. With a family there will be an added bonus, too. “Now that the kids are getting a bit older, we can get them out cheering us on and welcoming us at the finish line! “ (As for Courtney and her mom, be sure not to miss how that story ended.)

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

For me, one of those moments was when Courtney was talking about whether to run UTMB Mont-Blanc this past summer. She had set a blazing-fast course record at Western States, and three weeks later won Hardrock 100, setting another course record in the process. Winning the race in Chamonix, France at the end of August would make for a jaw-dropping season– truly, one for the record books. 

At first, she told us, she didn’t want to think about it. She came around to the possibility slowly. You don’t need to be thinking about winning three of the world’s biggest 100-mile races in one season to relate to that mental progression, the swirling emotional mix of possibility, hope, fear, and uncertainty. Any one of us who has stepped forward to try something we find hard– something really, really hard– gets it. 

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

Of course, there are differences between Courtney and, well, your average trail runner. We were trail running with the woman who was ticking off course records around the world, after all.  “She was up before sunrise,” Steph remembers, “Quietly running up mountains before the rest of us were even at breakfast.” 

But because it was Courtney Dauwalter, those weren’t solo runs. “She always inspired others to run with her for those extra miles,” Steph added. “She has an infectious enthusiasm!”

Here’s hoping you get to meet your heroes some day— and if they are a trail runner, my hunch is you won’t be disappointed. 

(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)
(Photo: Martina Valmassoi)

Do meet your heroes

Each year we offer trips with some incredible special guests. Maybe the chance to run with one of your heroes is right here. Check out who’s running with us this year and see who’s run on previous trips: Guest Runners.


And if you’ve always wanted to run in the Dolomites, here are a few ways we can help you do that.

Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.