Hayden Hawks – C’min’ at ya, fast!
On February 18th, Hayden Hawks will toe the line of Moab’s Red Hot 50k. If I was a betting man, I’d be having a punt and naming Hawks as the victor. Yes, this guy is on fire – he proved it in December when he pushed Zach Miller all the way to the line at San Francisco 50. Zach took the day and the $10.000 prize purse but the duo both went under the old course record, as Hawks says, “I broke the course record by over 10 minutes and did everything that I possibly could today but Zach just had a little more than me.”
But who is this 25-year old from Utah? In 2016 he burst on the scene with victory at Speedgoat 50K, sponsorship with Hoka One One followed and victory at Capstone 50K in November laid the foundations for that very memorable head-to-head with Miller.
Hayden grew up in St. George, Utah. For those who don’t know where that’s at, it’s right next to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Just 15-20 minutes from Zion it’s a beautiful area, where there are many places to run trails. For example, he had United Trails right in his backyard where he can get a quick 20-mile run in.
Ironically, growing up he never took advantage of those trails. He played baseball, played football, played basketball, but then going into junior year of high school Hayden started to think about cross-country, track, and field.
It was a catalyst – he would just go out and run on trails close to his house. “I would run off a mountain, you know there’s a big mountain by my house, and I would just be like, hey I’m going to run to the top of that thing. So, I’d go and run to the top of that thing, because that’s the only thing I knew that would probably get me better at running.”
Hayden joined the cross-country team and guess what? He found out that he had a talent for running.
“By the end of my senior year, I was a state champion in cross-country. I went on and got a scholarship to run for a local university here. It’s a Division One University but kind of a smaller school, Southern Utah University (SUU). I started running there and tried to just get better each year. So, by the time I graduated at SUU, I ended in a Division One All-American in cross country, and I ran a 28-minute 10km and 13:51 for the 5km.”
A picture starts to build; the outline is now being coloured in and we start to get a little bit of a glimpse of the final painting – a painting of speed!
Ultra-running is changing, we’ve been saying it for the past few years with Sage Canaday, Rob Krar and Max King but now Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller and now Hawks are taking the sport to a whole new level. It’s an exciting time but also a frightening time. Godfather of the sport, Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer recently said, “The sports just going to a whole new level, these fast-track guys are coming in and the pace is getting quicker and quicker.”
But I wondered, what is that makes these fast guys and girls miss out the progression through the ranks of 10km, half-marathon, and marathon and jump in at ultras?
“By the end of track season, my senior year, seven-eight months ago. I was kind of burned out with track and field, to be honest with you. I was trying hard to hit an Olympic trials qualifier on the track, and I was just putting in the miles and putting in workouts. After college, I was kind of questioning a little bit if I was going to continue to try to do this track and field, road running thing, or if I was just going to go to a medical school… that’s when I started running a lot of trails again.”
Cedar City is a town close to Hawks home and they have a lot of trails and mountains up there. Hawks started back to his basics and started running the trails and started climbing the mountains. “I’d pick one mountain in that area and be like, Okay, I’m going to run to the top. I just fell in love, and found a passion for running again.”
Hawks signed up for the US championship for mountain running and signed up for the Siskiyou Race because he and his wife were going to go on a road trip to the Redwood Forest.
“I qualified for the US national team for mountain running, and I just loved it. I loved the people, I loved being up there in the mountains, I loved climbing; it was so much fun. And that, as I said, that passion came back. And I decided, I think I’m going to try to give this one more go. I’m going to try to make it as a professional runner, but I think I’m going to change my focus here, and I’m going to go more into trail running and mountain running!”
Going straight to ultra had me wondering why? Maybe Hawks thought he could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In marathon terms these days, unless you’re running 2:04, 2:05, you’re not in the ballpark!
“Yes, that’s maybe true? I still run roads, I still run track workouts. I pride myself on keeping that leg speed and being fast. I think it’s an advantage I can have in this sport and I still do some of that stuff but you know what, I run faster on trail runs. I think it’s just because I love being on the trail so much.”
Running is less hard when on the trail, it becomes fun. It becomes just this beautiful thing; we can all go out there and just explore. We all do sport for our own individual reasons but certainly getting out in the open space and the fantastic landscape is what it’s all about.
In 2016, Hawks, a complete unknown and rookie ultra-runner turned up at the tough and competitive Speedgoat 50km race and won it.
“I signed up the night before the race. I wasn’t planning on running, I wasn’t even planning on moving up to 50k anytime soon,” Hawks tells the tale. “I had a buddy that was running it. I contacted him he talked to Karl (the race director), Karl got me into the race the night before and I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t even know what the course looked like or anything. All I knew is that it was a tough course but I sometimes I get myself in trouble being maybe a little too overconfident. I thought a tough course, I can handle that, I think I can do that and I went out and ran that race and had a blast doing it and was lucky enough to come out with that victory there.”
It was the catalyst, the transformation process where Hawks looked at himself and the ultra-community looked at him and thought, this guy could be good? In future years, and it might be two or three years’ time, but Hawks himself will look back and say that was the moment. That was the moment when it all changed.
It’s all well and good winning Speedgoat 50km but stepping up to San Francisco 50 in December 2016 was a big and bold move. San Fran has the reputation as the big showdown to close the year, especially with the $10.000 price money at stake for the winner. There’s a big gap though between 50km and 50-miles, how did Hawks prepare?
“I average 120, 130-miles a week and I was doing that as a track athlete. Our program here at SUU was high mileage and so I was doing that. The workouts though have been different, I’ve been doing a lot more climbing, for example, going up mountains and doing mile repeats.”
“Today, I am going to do a workout where I will do a 15-mile run at a pretty decent pace on the trails. It will be under seven-minute pace for 15-miles and then I will do three by one-mile hill repeats and the hill repeats will have about 5-600 feet of elevation gain for each mile and I’m going at about 80 to 90% of my threshold up these hills. It will end up being about 21, 22-miles – quality stuff.”
Ouch! Now that’s a workout! Trail and ultra-runners have been renowned for just heading out the door, putting the hours in and then coming home to repeat the next day. But here, we see the track background and structure falling into place. It’s an ethos, a work ethic that will change the front end of the sport – the sport is going to get quicker – much quicker!
“Some days I run once a day, like today, this will be a single day, a 22-mile day single. The other days I am doubling. I’d say about half and half – I double and single. I think singles are important too because of getting in the required distance, I need to get used to being able to go for three or four-hour runs and teach my body how to do that especially if I plan on moving up to 100-mile distance in the future.”
I wondered what a long run is for Hawks?
“Pretty much on a regular basis, I’m doing 20 to 25 miles a day. But I do go out and I do five, six-hour runs. I call them adventure runs where I’ll just find a mountain and run to the top of it and then run around and try to just explore areas but just make sure I am out there for five to six hours on my feet. Sometimes, I do them without water or without food. Just trying to teach my body to use its fat metabolism and just learn how to fight through bonks and different things.”
Hawks always has an expectation to win. He is very competitive. “I am a very competitive person,” he confirms. Confidence can be perceived as arrogance though, especially when toeing the line at San Francisco 50 amongst a stellar line-up. “I knew the field. Not to say that I didn’t respect the field. I respect the field with guys like Sage Canaday and Zach Miller and stuff. I was like, this is going to be a tough race. I was hoping that I could be top five. That was the goal, but to win it was the ‘real’ goal and I knew that I could win it. I knew that I had done all the training. I knew that I was prepared, I was ready to go, I was healthy. That’s why at the beginning of that race, I went out hard and I wasn’t afraid to lead because I was confident in myself.”
That’s brave. It’s brave, certainly within the context of the people that Hawks was racing against. Looking at the race, we knew that Zach Miller was going to go off hard because he only races one way. We love his attitude and we love his give-it-everything or die trying approach because that is the only way he runs. But for Hawks, it was his first 50-mile race, how could he have so much confidence?
“Talking about it here, it brings chills to me. It brings it back to me, how fun and how exciting that was. I look up to guys like Zach. I look up to guys like Jim Walmsley, these guys that have been doing it for a few years now. They have been my idols. They have been some of my influencers, my big influences to how I should race, how I should be. When I had the opportunity to race guys like that, it was amazing. I wanted to go out and beat them. They want to beat me just as bad as I want to beat them, but I want to race like these guy’s race. I want to make this sport exciting so that people can look at it and be like, man, these ultra-marathons, they are exciting.”
I hear an imaginary applause and cheering as ultra-running fans throughout the world get excited and whet their appetites of the showdowns that are to come in 2017, 2018 and in the future. This attitude may well make ultra a spectator sport, something that Hawks feels passionate about.
“If that means going out and racing as hard as I can from the front and maybe blowing up at the end, if that is what is going to bring people to watch the sport and see how amazing it is, then I am willing to do that and that is the only way I want to race too, just like Zach!”
There are so many others that are going to bring that too. I can’t help but think the next time that these guys are all on the same start line, it’s just going to be one of the most exciting races to watch.
Despite matching Miller stride-for-stride at San Fran 50, Hawks in the latter stages faded and placed 2nd. It was a great result, echoed by his time. He was 10-minutes under the old course record. Was he disappointed?
“It would have been nice to get that money but I was so caught up in the moment and I was happy that I had accomplished what I had done. When I saw that we had both broken the old course record I thought about it and I was like, man, what else could I have done? I broke the course record by over 10-minutes but I did everything that I possibly could today but Zach just had a little more than me.”
It’s a mature head on this 25-year old body and with a new year, new challenges are waiting. I can hear the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come within Hawks voice.
“The target race, the big one is CCC (part of UTMB weekend in France) because that will be my first 100K and I’m going to do that in August and everything is going to be geared towards that and I’m definitely going for the victory there, hopefully, a course record.”
That confidence shows its head again; boy it must be great to be young and talented?
“I am doing a couple of 50km races, the first is in February and as I said, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to break course records, I’m going to try and run as fast as I possibly can!”
The excitement and anticipation is infectious, I feel my pulse increase as Hawks voice starts to run away with him, he is talking like he races – fast! Finally, what parting shot does he have for us
“I am excited to get going this year. To be honest with you, right now, I’m ready to race and I’m just getting anxious, I want to race so bad and I want to travel so bad but for now I need to get a good base in training and then I’m going to go out there and be ready to go…!”
Watch this space.
Photo Credit(s): Derrick Lytle & Josue Fernandez