Ultra running superstar Courtney Dauwalter was 497km into the 782km long Colorado Trail when her crew pulled her from her “Fastest Known Time” (FKT) attempt. The runner had been wheezing since day one and now could barely sleep.

“Early on, my breathing was off. I was wheezing. I was coughing up productive coughs,” Dauwalter, 35 said.

“I knew my lungs weren’t 100 per cent in the game. But I thought it was just part of it. I was running a long way, and so I didn't expect everything to feel wonderful the whole time. I wasn't paying it too much attention. But it all just started getting worse over the four and a half days of running.”

Her crew monitored her and when she tried to catch two hours of sleep the wheezing was so bad she was unable to rest. So, they told her it was time to go to the ER.

“I told them before, I knew my brain would go crazy during this, so I 100 per cent default to those guys and trust their choices. When they said that was the choice, so I said ‘OK, you guys know best’,” said Tailwind Nutrition athlete Dauwalter. 

“But even as we went to the ER, I thought there was a chance the doctors would say that it was fine and I could go back to the trail and keep running. Having a crew like that is so important and I'm so thankful they were aware and made the right call.”

It was lucky they did pull her. She had acute bronchitis and her blood oxygen level was so low, the doctor said if she had kept going she would have eventually passed out on the trail.

“I would have hated to put anyone running with me in that position, having to deal with me in that condition and having to get me out of the mountains. I'm so thankful. It was a good choice,” she said.

“For sure, in some 200-mile races I've done I started getting a cough towards the end, and that's just from breathing in too much dust for too many days. But nothing like this, where my wheezing was rattling and I definitely wasn’t taking in as much air as I needed.

“Maybe something was already in my lungs and it was just more dust and more altitude that triggered it, but I can't trace the exact reason.”

Despite the ultimate destination being to go to hospital, Dauwalter said she had an incredible time in the mountains. She had never attempted an FKT before, having always run in races. But when the Hardrock 100 was cancelled, she knew she would have time to try something different. And as she lives in Colorado, the trail seemed like a natural choice.

“It's the highlight of the summer for sure. It's a bit of a strange year to be able to do adventures like that,” Dauwalter said.

Is Courtney Dauwalter the greatest trail runner on earth?

“I was loving it. It was really cool to be travelling the Colorado mountains like that. I've only done small portions of the trail before, and the only ones I'd done were near Denver, which I hadn't reached yet. So everything I did on my FKT attempt was new. It was more beautiful than I expected, being out there alone feels really cool.”

Even without the usual atmosphere of a race, the run was not alien.

“I'm always trying to push myself anyway,” Dauwalter added. “It felt familiar and it felt like I was doing something normal.”