Trail Runner of The Year 2023: First

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Headshot of Corrine Malcolm, Editor-in-Chief at Freetrail

By: Corrine Malcolm

Freetrail Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Trail Society Podcast.

In the words of DJ Khaled, “All I do is win, win, win, no matter what (what)…” but seriously the two runners who made their way to the top of the TROY ranking this year found unprecedented podiums throughout their race victories in 2023. They both won every major event they entered, setting course records, and breaking more than a few barriers in the process. While they are both gifted, “once in a generation” type athletes, who they are off the trail endears them to us even more. You get it, they’re really fast, and it’s a bonus to us (the fans) that they happen to also be funny and incredibly kind. Here’s one final hoorah to their 2023 seasons – may they live as legends!

If you missed out on any of this year’s TROY coverage you can find it all here: second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, & tenth.

In first position this year we have Salomon’s Courtney Dauwalter and Hoka’s Jim Walmsley.

Courtney Dauwalter on her way to win the Hardrock 100-mile in a course record time. PC: Ryan Thrower
Courtney Dauwalter on her way to win the Hardrock 100-mile in a course record time. PC: Ryan Thrower

Where do we even begin? We are living in our Courtney Era and we’re not mad about it. (Trust me I hear you chanting “The Triple! The Triple!”) I thought we could start with how Courtney ran the Javelina 100km with her mom, finishing in 17 hours and 38 minutes, okay fine, we’ll save that story for another day. For at least seven years we’ve been asking ourselves, “How is Courtney going to top this?” and after 2023 this has to be it, right? We’ve reached peak Courtney? Before this year she had already won WSER (in 2018), Hardrock (in 2021), and UTMB (in 2019 and 2022) – but what turned into her triple crown of 100-miles came together almost by accident.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, before the triple even came into picture Courtney’s 2023 was off to a blazing start. She kicked off what would become a historic season by running, winning, and setting course records at the Bandera 100km and the Transgrancanaria 128km classic. From there all eyes turned towards WSER, where despite the snowy conditions in the high country portion of the course, a record watch was on from the gun. Courtney not only took the win but broke the long standing Ellie Greenwood course record by 77 minutes, finishing in an unprecedented 15 hours and 29 minutes. And until she got sick at the finish line she made the entire day look easy. When she got back on the start line for Hardrock only three weeks later many of us doubted she’d have the legs to pull it off, “It would be normal to be tired.” While Anne-Lise Rousset led the initial part of the loop, it was Courtney who came across the line in first for another win, and yes, another course record. We were blown away. When the news broke that she would be going back to UTMB, attempting the triple, we collectively lost our minds and because we learned to never doubt Courtney Dauwalter again it seemed like she had it in the bag. While she would go on to convincingly win her third world-class 100-mile of the season, completing a triple that will likely never happen ever again, she would also show us she was human gritting through the final 50km of the course… Leaving us absolutely speechless in the process.

Jim Walmsley on his final descent to victory at the 2023 UTMB. PC: Ryan Thrower
Jim Walmsley on his final descent to victory at the 2023 UTMB. PC: Ryan Thrower

Jim Walmsley is immensely talented. No one is going to argue with that, but raw talent only gets an athlete so far. Nearly a decade into his ultrarunning career, it feels safe to say that the growth Jim has experienced (chipping away at the sport) since first missing that famous left turn during the 2016 WSER has served him well. After three consecutive wins at WSER (2018, 2019, 2021), Jim moved to Arêches, France to go all in on UTMB. He wanted to spend his time in the mountains, learning from the best, like his neighbor and four-time UTMB Champion Francois D’Haene. While the move did not net him the win during the 2022 UTMB, where he would finish 4th, he was starting to put together the valuable pieces he was looking for.

By staying in the small Beaufortain Valley through the 2022-2023 winter, where Jim and his wife Jess have made their French home, meant a winter on skis. If he wanted full immersion into mountain life, this was going to be it. Just like for many of his mountain colleagues, that would also mean coming into the first spring race of the season off of largely ski fitness. To qualify for the UTMB Finals Jim ran, won, and set the course record at the Istria by UTMB 100-mile race – in the process winning his first 100-mile race that wasn’t WSER. Unfortunately an ankle injury sustained during the race would take him off of any other big summer start line we had hoped to see him at ahead of UTMB in September. There were moments as we rounded the corner into August that we even had doubts if Jim would be on the start line September 1st. But nearly under the radar Jim took the win at Trail La Frison Roche (a trail marathon with over 9,000 feet of climbing) the first weekend of August. It was game on. While there were moments in the first half of UTMB where it wasn’t clear Jim was going to have his day, a switch flipped at Champex Lac (where runners have a little over a marathon left), it was going to happen. A win, well under the twenty hour mark at UTMB, had finally happened for Jim and we couldn’t be happier about it. No one would have faulted him if he had kicked his feet up at this point, an accomplishment to rest on for a little bit… but he had one more item to tick off the list, a golden ticket to be back at WSER for 2024. Just four weeks after winning UTMB, Jim took the win and course record at Nice Côte d’Azur by UTMB 100km – golden ticket secured. We can feel the anticipation in Olympic Valley already growing.

Year after year we are blown away by the incredible trail talents of Courtney Dauwalter and Jim Walmsley. While we can’t even begin to predict what is coming down the pipeline for them (and us) in 2024 we have to imagine we will be endlessly entertained. Congratulations to you both!

The Final Standings 

Women: (1) Courtney Dauwalter, (2) Katie Schide, (3) Sophia Laukli, (4) Toni McCann, (5) Grayson Murphy, (6) Judith Wyder, (7) Claire Bannwarth, (8) Leah Yingling, (9) Ruth Croft and (10) Blandine L’hirondel.

Men: (1) Jim Walmsley, (2) Rémi Bonnet , (3) Zach Miller, (4) Tom Evans, (5) Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz, (6) Jonathan Albon , (7) Germain Grangier, (8) Stian Angermund, (9) Tyler Green and (10) Anthony Costales.

Trail Runner of The Year 2023 is brought to you with support from our friends over at Ketone IQ

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Trail Runner of The Year 2023: Second

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