Hayden Hawks ran in pain for quite a long way, but still took third at the 2017 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. In the following interview, Hayden talks about how he, Tim Freriks, and Zach Miller accordioned along the trail for 30 miles, how cramping in his glute and hamstring muscles made the final 20 miles painful, what he’s learned from his first full year of ultrarunning, and how he wants to move up to the 100-mile distance in the next year or two.
For more on the race, check out our in-depth results article.
Hayden Hawks Post-2017 The North Face 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Hayden Hawks. He’s the third-place finisher at the 2017 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Two years, two podium places.
Hayden Hawks: Yeah. I feel very fortunate to be on the podium again. It was such a deep field this year, and to finish top three, I can’t complain.
iRunFar: To be totally honest, we had a very long, slow walk over here to do this interview. You’re kind of beat up at the moment.
Hawks: Yeah, I’m kind of beat up at the moment, way more beat up than I was after CCC, surprisingly. I had some cramping issues out there today. I don’t know if it was a lack of salt or drinking or I don’t know what it was. I’ll get it taken care of for the next race though. It was tough. There was a lot of pain in this race. I feel really proud of myself that I was able to fight through so much pain. It was definitely a learning race.
iRunFar: To be honest, ultrarunning in general comes with a fair bit of discomfort. While you’ve experienced it to your detriment in a couple races this year, this time you were able to feel the pain but work through it and still keep functioning.
Hawks: Luckily enough we had a big enough lead. Me, Zach [Miller], and Tim [Freriks] pushed pretty hard that first half of the course there and got a pretty big lead. I just kept looking back and asking people, “Where’s fourth? Where’s fourth?” I was in so much pain. Luckily we had a big enough lead that I was able to hold off and take third.
iRunFar: Let’s talk about the early part of the race. The course starts out steeper with this new start.
Hawks: Yeah, you’re right into a climb. Last year there was a little flat and then you get into the climb. This year it was straight into the climb.
iRunFar: No warm up.
Hawks: No warm up, straight into the climb, and Zach takes off like he always does like it’s a cross-country race. We were just kind of chasing him up the hill, finally caught him at the top, and then he pushed the downhill. Then we had to climb up and catch him on the next hill. It seemed like me and Tim had more on the uphills. We’d catch Zach every time on the uphills, but he was stronger on the downhills. That’s kind of how it went the whole time. It was like Zach would push the downhills and me and Tim would push the uphills. It just kind of went back and forth the whole time doing that.
iRunFar: Early in the race you guys had some other runners that were around you. You had Matt Daniels was around you. I think Tayte Pollmann was there early on. Who else was with you?
Hawks: I’m not sure. There was another Salomon athlete, but it wasn’t Max [King].
iRunFar: It might have been Mathieu Blanchard.
Hawks: I think so, yeah. Yeah, there were five of us for that first loop on the Bobcat area. Me and Tim kind of kept it conservative on the downhills. We’ve done this before. We know you have to save your legs the first part of the course there. Those guys blew past us like probably going sub-five minute pace per mile. Me and Tim kind of looked at each other like, “Let’s save our legs for the end of the race.” It was fun. It was a lot different than last year when it was just me and Zach. This year we had a group of us.
iRunFar: Three Stooges?
Hawks: With that deep of a field, I was expecting that.
iRunFar: By Muir Beach outbound, which was mile 18 this year, you and Zach and Tim had broken from the field by a couple minutes, and then created even more of a gap by the next time we saw you at Stinson Beach. At that point, were you guys still accordioning like you described? Were you starting to work together? How was that middle-race dynamic?
Hawks: We didn’t really talk the whole time. We are just all pushing one another. I pushed the uphill before the descent to Muir Beach. I pushed it and they followed me. When we hit the downhill to Muir Beach, Zach pushed it. Then the flat going over to the switchbacks to Cardiac, Tim pushed that. Then I pushed the switchbacks.
iRunFar: Somebody was always pushing.
Hawks: Exactly. It was just constantly one of us pushing. It stayed like that until probably Stinson Beach. Then the climb up the Dispea Trail from Stinson Beach, Tim took off. He took off really hard. I spent a little extra time at that aid station, and then I took off and caught Zach on the Dipsea climb.
iRunFar: Yeah, because you were in second place for a bit there, weren’t you?
Hawks: Yeah, I was in second place until Muir Woods. Then right in the middle of Muir Woods, Zach caught me on the downhill. That’s when I really started cramping really hard.
iRunFar: Was it your hamstrings?
Hawks: It was my glutes and my hamstrings. I’ve never had that before. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses.
iRunFar: You were still able to run.
Hawks: Yeah, but my stride wasn’t fluid like it should have been. I just felt like there was something holding me back. I couldn’t fully extend my hamstrings. So, they just started getting this pain, shearing pain in my hamstrings. I threw in some salt, extra salt, and it kind of went away. Then I was able to push and start catching Zach again, and then all the sudden—BOOM—it hit me again. It was just this constant struggle trying to find this balance. Maybe I pushed a workout too hard last week.
iRunFar: Who knows?
Hawks: You never know what it could have been. I’ve kind of been dealing with a little bit of hamstring tightness for about two weeks now. I thought it was gone. Maybe that’s the reason. You never know. I just want to say congrats to Tim and Zach. They just were better than me today. That’s all it is. Who cares about the hamstring pain. None of that stuff matters. It’s ultrarunning. It’s 50 miles. It’s a long way.
iRunFar: Literally anything can happen.
Hawks: You never know. It was Tim’s and Zach’s day today. That’s all it is.
iRunFar: A lot was said before the race about how the last five or six miles were going to go with the new descent and the crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then the stairs—there are a couple nasty stairs to get down over here. How did that go?
Hawks: It wasn’t too bad. I kind of shouldered a lady on the bridge.
iRunFar: “Sorry about that, lady.”
Hawks: Sorry. I yelled, “Oh your left! On your left!” She went left. I kind of clipped her with my shoulder. I think she might have gotten mad a little bit. I said, “Sorry.” I’m sorry, again. Other than that, it was great. It was actually really scenic and cool. There were lots of people cheering us in.
iRunFar: If you haven’t run on the Golden Gate Bridge before, it’s a slightly mean grinding uphill to the center of it, and then you get to roll a little bit on the other side.
Hawks: I didn’t realize that. Man, we’re still going uphill.
iRunFar: “This is so mean. I thought there was going to be some flat.”
Hawks: Exactly. I was in so much pain, and I was just like, Oh, come on, I need a downhill. Then we got to the middle and it started gradually going down, and I was like, Okay, that’s good.
iRunFar: You were talking earlier in the interview about being worried about fourth place and looking back. Were you getting any feedback from your crew or anybody out there? Did you know that you had some space?
Hawks: I just kept asking people along the course, “Where is he? Where is he? Can you see anybody back there?” Everybody was like, “No, we can’t see anybody. We can’t see anybody.” By the time I hit the bridge and still couldn’t see anybody, I knew I’d be okay because I knew it was going to be flat and a downhill. I knew I’d be okay. Still, I was just wanting to hold on for third and get that podium spot and bring a little money home.
iRunFar: Pay for some of the expenses a little bit.
iRunFar: This brings to a close your 2017 ultrarunning season. Body of work, 2017, are you happy?
Hawks: Yeah, this is my first full year of ultrarunning. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some mistakes and done some good things. I know how to train. I know what type of races I like to do. I’m young. I’m only 26 years old. I still have a long ways to go, a lot of things to learn, a lot of races to do over the years. I’m happy with the amount of knowledge I gained this year. I came out with some good victories and some good podium spots. Yeah, I couldn’t be happier. I’m predicting a good 2019 with all the stuff I learned.
iRunFar: Things are going to be good.
Hawks: 2018… and 2019.
iRunFar: “I have a feeling about 2019 as well.” Any plans for next year taking shape? What do you want to do next year?
Hawks: I like the fast stuff. I have the leg speed. But I really enjoy the mountain races, and I seem to do well at those. Speedgoat went really well when I first started… CCC. A lot of those mountain-type races I really enjoy and love to do. I just love being in the mountains. If I can train more in the mountains and do that kind of specific training, it makes me happier. I’m going to do quite a bit of mountain-type races next year. I’m going to China in March to do a mountain race there.
iRunFar: Where’s that?
Hawks: It’s called the Gaoligong 125k. It’s put on by UTMB. It will be the longest race I’ve ever done. It probably will help me get ready for… I don’t know… maybe UTMB. We’ll see.
iRunFar: Maybe probably?
Hawks: Maybe probably, but I need to make sure the training goes well. I want to, if not UTMB, a good mountain fall race.
iRunFar: One hundred miles or something else?
Hawks: We’ll see. I’m not going to spill the beans yet. I just want to make sure I’m prepared and ready to go. I learned a lot this year, and I need to make sure I do those things that I learned. I definitely will move up to the 100 miler in the next couple years.
iRunFar: Congrats to you. Go home and get a couple massages.
Hawks: Thank you. That will help a lot.
iRunFar: Put your legs up and stretch.
Hawks: Yeah, I’m going to take a couple weeks off now which will be nice.
iRunFar: Become friends with your foam roller.
Hawks: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: Congrats on your third-place finish.
Hawks: Thanks for being out here, too. We really enjoy you guys being out here. It was great.
iRunFar: It was a fun show today. It always is.
Hawks: I’ll be back, too. I like this one. I’ve got to win still. Second, third, and I need first.
iRunFar: You must occupy all podium places. That’s the Megan Kimmel approach to The North Face. Now she’s achieved all the podium positions. There ya’ go. Congrats.
Hawks: Thank you again.