Courtney Dauwalter’s Running Form: Do Trail Runners run differently?

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form Analysis

Courtney Dauwalter – even among the top Ultra-Trail-Runners, she is unique. In races she often leaves a large part of the men’s field behind her – and sometimes all of the men. In the video below we will analyse Courtney Dauwalter’s running form.

We will also compare her form versus world class track, cross country and road runner Letesenbet Gidey. If you prefer to read then simply keep scrolling for the transcript!

Who is Courtney Dauwalter?

Courtney competed in high school in Nordic Skiing, Track and Cross Country Running. She soaked up knowledge from her coaches. Immensely in tune with her body she now coaches herself and prefers to train by feel.

In 2023 Courtney won 3 of the most iconic 100 mile races within less than 3 months – a first. In late June she broke the course record at the Western States 100 Mile race, in July she broke the Hardrock 100 course record and at the beginning of the September she won the UTMB Chamonix race.

Courtney is known for being one of the nicest runners in a sport already known for its approachable athletes. She also stands out with her love for nachos, beer and loose shorts.

Courtney’s achievements over very long distances would indicate superior grit and running economy.

Trail running vs. Road Running

Today we will look at her running form and will compare it to that of the world record holder over 10K and the half marathon, Letesenbet Gidey. Gidey also recently finished second at the 2023 NYC marathon, beaten only by seconds by Hellen Obiri.

Marathons of course are a sprint compared to ultra distance races. While the Marathon world record by Tigist Aseffa in Berlin corresponds to a speed of nearly 12 miles or 20 km/h, Courtney conquered the 100 km course in Banderas and 6500 feet of elevation at an average speed of 7 miles or 11 km/h.

Ultra trail races are not just longer than marathons, they also feature more elevation and uneven ground.

DistanceElevation Gain / LossTimeMPH / KMH
BERLIN42.1km73/792:11:5311.92 mph / 19.2 kmh
UTMB CHAMONIX170 km1018023:29:144.5 mph / 7.24 kmh
BANDERAS100km~200008:59:346.91 mph / 11.2 kmh

Courtney Dauwalter’s Running Form

We analyze Courtney Dauwalter’s Running Form with a segment of footage from the 2023 Hoka Banderas Trail race. See the reference section at the bottom for a link to the full video from this race.

Cadence

Here, in this flat section, Courtney runs with a cadence of 181 steps per minute which is surprisingly high for an ultra endurance race. A high cadence helps to minimize impact forces but creates higher demands on your cardiovascular system.

Foot Strike

Repetitive use injuries are a real concern when putting in high mileage, Courtney’s midfoot strike avoids excessive loads on her hips and knees from a pronounced heel strike or issues caused from a pronounced forefoot strike such as achilles and calf injuries.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Footstrike

Shank Angle and Sweep

Courtney has an efficient stride, achieving maximum shank angles of about 15 degrees and touching down with a shank angle of 2 degrees, giving her a sweep of 13 degrees.

Her low shank angle at touch down also means that she lands close to her center of mass, again helping with efficiency and injury prevention.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Shank Angles & Sweep

Courtney Douwalter’s Running Form: Ground Contact Time, Lean and Hip Drop

Courtney’s ground contact time here is about .2 seconds, which for a race of that distance is outstanding.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Ground Contact Time

Courtney runs at a workable 3-4 degrees of lean, which is slightly more upright than what we typically see in marathon leadpacks.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Lean

Looking at Courtney from behind we can see that she has virtually no hip drop. This indicates a strong lumbar pelvic hip complex which helps to avoid injuries to other muscles that would have to compensate for unstable hips.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Hip Drop


Arms

Courtney carries her arms at 72 degrees, this tight angle helps with keeping cadence high.
She also controls her arms very well, her wrist and elbow travel to and from the torso’s centerline without going excessively beyond that line.

Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Arm Angle
Courtney Dauwalter Running Form - Arm Movement

Courtney Dauwalter’s Running Form vs. Letesenbet Gidey

Now let’s compare Courtneys form over a 100K ultra distance with that of Ethiopian long distance runner Letesenbet Gidey. Gidey, as mentioned, holds the world record over 10K and the half marathon and is known for her beautiful running form. Given the differences in the races they are competing in, it is surprising how similar Courtney Douwalter’s running form is with Letesenbet’s.

DAUWALTERGIDEY
Step Rate182184
Foot Angle Right2.30-3.9
Lean Right36
Posture6.30-0.7
MSA Right1416.65
Strike Angle Right21.55
Sweep Right1215.1
Arm Angle72.4165.72
Back Swing-1.10-1.05
Forward Swing0.81.53

The main differences we can see here are a stronger lean and a greater extension of the leg moving forward, which leads to a bigger sweep for Gidey. Gidey also features an even tighter arm angle. Many of these are of course related to the much higher speeds and power generated during the shorter marathon, with both athletes optimizing for the demands of their race. Courtney Dauwalter runs with great form for the demands of trail running.

I hope you enjoyed this analysis. If you’d like an analysis of your own running form then check out the video guidelines at Movaia.com, and upload a video of your running.

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References:

Link to the full “Battle at Bandera” video of the Hoka Bandera 2023 Trail race by The Juniper Lab.