A resume that reads like ultra runner Courtney Dauwalter’s shows an athlete at their peak. But Dauwalter believes she can get even better.

“I hope I’m not getting close to my potential. I hope there's plenty more to discover. I keep plugging away at it and just show up on every start line and giving it my best,” Dauwalter, 35, said.

The American’s list of wins is incredible, but what makes it more impressive still is the range of distances, terrains and climates. Last August, she won the 171km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, beating the next woman by an hour, adding another prestigious win alongside her 2018 Western States victory. She has taken first place in “short” races like the 50km Continental Divide Trail Run in 2018, where she won outright. In 2017, Dauwalter won the MOAB 240km outright, beating the next closest competitor by a mind blowing 10 hours.

“I just find running to be so simple,” Dauwalter said. “The whole process of getting out the door is so simple, then the action is so simple. I just love that all you have to do is throw on some shoes and get outside and see what happens. Compared with other endurance sports it’s easy to choose running.”

“I like that you get more out of it, if you put more in. The more work you put in, the better you will feel doing it,” she said. “It’s such a cool mode of transport that takes you out into the middle of nowhere, and that’s what makes it so special.”

But more specifically, it is very long distances that capture Dauwalter’s imagination. The 50km races are good fun, she said, and it is good training for the long races, but she comes into her own from 100 miles (161km) up.

“I don’t think humans have worked out what we're capable of in those longer distances, how far we can go, how we can navigate sleep and the other troubleshooting that has to happen as the trail gets longer,” she said.

Dauwalter is learning a lot about sleep – she tends to have microsleeps on long races. During the MOAB 240 victory, which took 57 hours, at one point she slept for one minute and felt completely refreshed. During the Lake Tahoe 200 mile (320km) race in 2018, where she came second overall, first woman, she repeated her microsleep tactics.

That is not to say she does not suffer from her lack of sleep. During the Lake Tahoe race she began to hallucinate and struggle. But whenever she is battling lows on a race, she uses self-talk.

Is Courtney Dauwalter the greatest trail runner on earth?

“When things are going downhill or when I’m slipping into a negative place I try and back peddle as quickly as I can,” Dauwalter said. “Staying positive in my mind, trying to repeat to myself that I'm fine and that whatever thing is going wrong is fine, it’s not the end of the race and that helps me get back to a positive place.”

Pulling herself out a funk is a lesson that did not come cheap. During her first 100-miler, she did not finish (DNF).

“I’d talked myself into believing I couldn’t do 100 miles,” she said. “It was a big learning curve for me, and I’m definitely still learning. Doing more races is helpful in creating a little more evidence of all the things that can go wrong and how I can deal with it.”

Following her DNF, it motivated her to take on another 100-miler and finish at all costs. However, she is not always motivated.

“Sometimes that’s good,” she said. “For me to take an easy day, and take a chilled out day on the couch instead of pushing myself is good. As the norm is pushing myself, if I don’t feel motivated I take heed.”

But those unmotivated days are rare, which is just as well, given the race calendar has been decimated by the coronavirus. She has signed up for Hardrock in July, the UTMB in August and Big’s Backyard Ultra in October, but who knows what will go ahead.

“It’s been fine and pretty easy to keep training because I love running,” Dauwalter said. “I’d be running like this whether I’m racing or not racing. That’s becoming clear to me because there’s no races and it’s as exciting for me to get up and run anyway.”

When the coronavirus crisis has passed, we will see her back on a start line. But whether that is the day she finds her potential or not, who knows.

“Standing on the start line, I’ve never thought today’s going to be my day,” Dauwalter added. “That’s a crazy thing to think when a race might take 24 or 50 hours. You just never know what’s going to happen out there.”