Leading Women of Leadville: Coco's Inspiring Journey to a Leadville Legend

I have always been a runner. Running is existential for me; it is where I feel most alive. By the same token, I have always enjoyed spending long days in nature. Growing up in Hawaii, I spent long days hiking and surfing. Since in Colorado, I have relished spending long days hiking in the mountains, especially at altitude above the tree line.

For most of my adult life, I have been a road runner. In my late 40s and early 50s, still primarily a road runner, I would jump in the Leadville Heavy Half for the pure joy of doing a 13er with aid stations. I had a blast – running it in road shoes. Then one day, Melody Fairchild asked me to be one of her Pacers for the LT100. Her attempt never came to fruition because she became pregnant. But it was during the build up for that project that I just fell in love with the town of Leadville, Colorado and the surrounding mountains and trails. So I decided to do the Silver Rush the next year (2017)... And that was the experience that opened this new chapter in my life.

First of all, I completely embraced the Ultra-distance training. And, the race was magical for me. I was just doing my thing, having fun and in the end, it turned out that I won my age group and got a coin to the LT100. I never looked back. I've been running ultra trail events ever since, with the Leadville Race Series as cornerstone – Marathon, Silver Rush and LT 100.

The LRS is an amalgam of what I love most – running all day, up high on beautiful mountain trails. You can have your Colorado ski resort towns. But for me, I have a deep connection for the authentic, rough around the edges town of Leadville, Colorado. The LRS, essentially being the love child of the bad-ass Ken and Merilee, has that authentic mountain roughness, so you have to bring your grit... And I love that too.

I basically started doing the LRS in my late 40s and mid 50s jumping in the Heavy Half for shear fun. During that time, placed in my age group a few times: 2nd place twice and 1st place once.

But, the race that changed my running trajectory, was my first trail ultra: Silver Rush in 2017: I won my age group and got a coin to the LT 100.

Other recent LRS Age Group Podiums:

  • Marathon 2023 AG 2nd place
  • Silver Rush AG 2023 AG 1st place.

Perhaps being a prisoner of the moment, I guess what I am most proud of is what I have done since turning 60 in December 2022. I have done well in the Leadville Race Series as mentioned above. But I have also had some crazy results elsewhere.

Highlights for me include:

  • Collegiate Peaks 50 mile 2023: third overall woman and age group course record
  • Dinosaur Valley 100 K 2023: second overall woman
  • Rocky Raccoon 100 miles: 2024 first age group and breaking the age group course record by almost 2 hours.

As for balancing this lifestyle - trying to balance family, work and training is always a work in progress. I think first it is a mindset: I am mindful of my priorities ( family, work, training – in that order) and I'll let everything else slide. I don't waste time on things that don't matter. Then, I just find a way to make it all work. No excuses, baby. Find a way.

- You can find joy doing hard things.

You want to know the nuts and bolts of how I make it work? In a few words – wake up early.

I've been a full-time Internist in Boulder for over 20 years. My practice is so incredibly important to me – much more so than running. My patients depend on me to be prepared, committed and available. I strive for that every day. My practice is an extended family. So, my work takes priority over running. There is a lot of work – seeing patients is only part of the story. There is a huge amount of "behind the scenes” work – hours every day, even weekends.

So wake up early.

I wake up at 4 AM or 5 AM and get running in before work... often on a treadmill with a cup of coffee. I looked to the weekends to get the big miles in. But honestly, my secret sauce is probably my marriage. Jim is my best friend, lover, favorite running partner and is incredibly encouraging and supportive. It is our relationship that powers everything I do.

Probably one of the most useful, beneficial and yet also absolutely joyful experiences in my life right now, is my work and connection with Boundless Coach, Kathy Pidcock.

To be a 61-year-old, working with a coach, who takes me seriously, helping me to be the best athlete I can be – I mean to seriously kick ass in my 60s – is life affirming! Together we are looking forward, striving for greatness. I simply love this chapter of my life. No "has been" here!

I have been self coached since high school – and quite successful at it too. But, I needed help with the 100 mile distance; my instincts were not enough. Kathy and I have been working together for five years now. Though she helped me a lot from the start, I feel over our tenure, we have gotten even better. I am understanding the training more and we are seeing what really works for me. We are hitting our stride now. I feel that an endured relationship with a coach is the best way to go; so much is learned over time. And Kathy has been an incredible masters athlete in her day and is a knowledgeable and attentive coach. I trust her. And the results speak for themself.

Overall - come with a prepared body. And be smart. Respect the conditions. Start measured. Have a nutrition, hydration and electrolyte plan. And then, adjust to the “surprises” a long the way.

But really: have fun and stay positive.

Attitude truly is everything. . . in Ultra and in life. - Coco Dughi