Morning group run w/ Courtney Dauwalter & SunGod, followed by a Q&A
SunGod Ultras, SunGod Classics, SunGod Tempests
Hop in a car from Denver and head west into the mountains for about two hours. The scene quickly changes from sagebrush and hills to Douglas Fir and mountain peaks. Tucked behind the standard slope cities of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and the like, is a quaint town with a lot of character.
Unless you’re really into mining culture, have read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, or happen to be one of those ultra trail weirdos (like me), there’s no reason you should know about this blip on the map. Sitting at the base of Colorado’s highest peaks, the town of Leadville lies at 10,158 feet. At nearly two miles higher than Believe in the Run headquarters, it’s the highest city in the US.
Built on booms– both gold and silver– this Victorian-era mining town has hardship written all over its past. It’s obvious from any direction you roll into town. Grit is a word that Leadville locals live by. It’s a necessary quality for living there. It’s only natural that the place has become the home of the undisputed female GOAT of trail running– Courtney Dauwalter, recent winner of both Western States and the Hardrock 100. It is the perfect place to live in an ongoing state of both paradise and discomfort.
Having the right mindset, adaptations, and gear is necessary for making residence in Leadville. Which is how I ended up tagging along with Courtney Dauwalter and her eyewear partner SunGod to host a small group of eager fans for a day. Goals for the clinic: eat, enjoy company, learn from the best, and test out some of SunGod’s eyewear options. Bliss.
SunGod may not be a familiar brand to many runners stateside, as they’re just starting to crack the market here. However, there’s a lot to say about the UK-based brand’s approach that makes their eyewear worthy of your consideration. We’ve reviewed them in the past and can confirm their quality is top-notch. I’ll cover more about the brand at the end of this post, but let it be known that both the male (Tom Evans) and female winners (Courtney) of the 2023 Western States Endurance Run are supported by the brand.
For the sake of time, I’ll give my quick take on the SunGod Ultra sunglasses: Some of the best pieces of gear are the ones you forget you have on. SunGod Ultras fall into that category. Their lightweight build, high-quality lenses, full coverage with 100% UV protection, literal zero bounce, and lifetime guarantee speaks for themselves. Now go read Thomas’ full review of the SunGod Ultras.
Back to our day… And I say “our” day because that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t just a Courtney fan club following her around. Nor was it a “sit and git” from the world’s best. It was a true community experience that had those elements and all the deeper stuff too.
SunGod was met with more than 1,000 applicants for this glorified get-together (makes sense, we’re living in peak-Courtney moment). Only 40, plus a couple of media partners, were able to join.
This was a close-knit, homey experience from the beginning. What I mean by that is Courtney has a way of making everyone around her feel like they are her homie! (Editor’s note: Taylor’s a dad twice over, the dad jokes write themselves). All of us gathered outside a sweet little refurbished train depot in the dry, crisp air of a Leadville morning. From behind me, the recognizable, warm, and slightly raspy voice of the Courtney Dauwalter welcomed everyone in for a light breakfast before hitting the trails. As we munched and chatted, it was apparent that this day was going to be wonderful.
Having a broken foot at the time allowed me to naturally step out of the scenario just enough to see how special this was for the folks invited. There was the giddiness of Christmas morning and the nervousness of a first date. As I sat at a table of unfamiliar faces, I appreciated the fact that nobody was questioning why they were there or had the desire to be anywhere else. People settled into this rare state of simply “being” for the day.
As we took to the trails, the vibe fell between vacation and classroom. Courtney’s idea was to run a bit, learn a bit, and repeat a handful of times. Even though she’s the world’s greatest trail runner, she minded all paces by stopping every 20 to 30 minutes to give a brief skill based clinic. The following segment of trail would be used to practice that skill.
Over the course of a couple hours, the group of runners surged in confidence having picked up very practical advice from their hero. Think back to childhood. Such an experience is a gift. I recall my first ollie on a skateboard coming fresh off the tips from Alex down the block. In my 8-year old eyes he was the best skater ever. His time and pointers meant just as much. There was certainly some symmetry here.
We bebopped back to town on a hidden network of Leadville trails. The crew was primed for lunch. As with any day camp in the mountains, the group of 40 had already become best friends. Small talk bridged to laughter, and the exchange of socials led perfectly into the final activity of the day. Circle time.
In true humility and regard for the running community, Courtney wanted the last discussion to be an open conversation rather than a Q&A focused on her. Even though she kicked off the dialogue on many of the topics, the floor was open for anyone’s input. Discussion ranged from candy preferences to training methodology. Did I mention she’s the nicest human on earth? Because she is, and it deserves mentioning often.
Participants attempted to further pry open the box of what makes Courtney so different. How does she prepare for these once-in-a-lifetime performances? You can fill a digital library on this matter. We know her pain cave affinity, mostly unstructured madness, and contentedness with it all. Coaches, fans, and analysts have been looking into Courtney’s training for years and still can’t come up with a conclusive answer (at least not one that’s pleasing to most professionals).
I’m a coach and a trail runner of almost a decade and have an opinion on this, whether or not you asked for it. No doubt, genetics has an effect here. Set that fact aside because Courtney’s “superpower” is more than that. You see, training and life are multidimensional with a whole lot more gray area than there is black and white. Many athletes stick to the known portion of training (black and white). There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s limited in our day and age.
Courtney is a miner of her personal unknown. It’s the type of work that requires robust experience along with willingness to go to new places, and– here’s the kicker– the honesty to make some sort of sense of it all. Perhaps, her superpower is less physical and more meta. She knows herself more than most people dare to know themselves. Deep confidence can be drawn from such a stance in oneself. In this sense, her training methods don’t come from the deep abyss as it may appear, but she will gladly go the great beyond to learn something more about herself. That’s where her “magic” comes from.
At the end of the day, the Sungod x Courtney Trail Runner’s Clinic became a space for runners to get a little dusting of that magic. The bigger power comes from realizing that “magic” is something to discover in ourselves. It follows a similar vein as Eliud Kipchoge’s tagline: “no human is limited.” Dauwalter’s philosophy of getting out the shovel and being okay with digging is a rarity. Over time, we might find a similar awareness of where and when to flip on the proverbial headlamp and grip the metaphysical pickaxe. Only then can we head into the cave to start excavating ourselves.
Need some shade?
Sungod is a carbon-neutral brand, giving 1% of all revenue to sustainably-focused non-profits. They are committed to creating long-lasting products to reduce waste.
I cannot let this article conclude without proper acknowledgment of SunGod and their Head of Community, Ione Walker. Where do I start, though?!
I could begin with the fact that SunGod is a certified B-Corp company and Climate Partner, showing that they are not only committed to making carbon-neutral products but ensure that their company is a leader in best practices and social responsibilities for the earth moving forward. I could also remark on their commitment to high-performance products without cutting corners. Let’s not forget about lifetime guarantees that go with each of their products.
What speaks volumes about the company is the passion behind their staff. Ione so eloquently spoke to all of the previously mentioned characteristics of SunGod. Where her heart stands out among the masses, and I believe SunGod’s mission, too, is their dedication to the athletes and communities they represent.
Really, what monetary gain is there to provide 40 random runners a personal clinic with Courtney Dauwalter? None. I get the sense that this is kind of the point. There always has been more to running than money. Community is one of the priceless values that runners have! To invest in its future will reap so much more than the almighty dollar.
All that is to say that I am thankful it was SunGod putting on this event. Being outdoors at high altitude in one of the sunniest places in the northern hemisphere demands proper sun protection. Otherwise, you’re going to be fried like a pork rind in a back alley pretty quick.
I’ve learned over the years that doesn’t just mean lathering your skin up with the white stuff. Eye coverage is equally important. Here’s the thing, though. I am very particular with my eyewear for running and have said “nah” to many of the options out there because they don’t fit my standards. I wrote off any sort of sunglasses for trail running a long time ago.
After this event, plus more trial miles, I found one more option to add to the very short list of sunnies I will grab for trail runs. The SunGod Ultras are a trail running/running specific pair of sunglasses that have been checking all my fussy needs and more.
Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.More from Taylor