After a couple rough races this spring, Hayden Hawks bounced back fully to win the CCC, his longest race to date. In the following interview, Hayden talks about what his approach to the race was, how he battled with last year’s UTMB champ Ludovic Pommeret, how he ended up running in with an American flag, what he’s figured out his optimal training to be, and what he’s thinking while heading toward the TNF 50 in November.
Read our 2017 CCC results article to learn what else happened at the race.
Hayden Hawks, 2017 CCC Champ, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with Hayden Hawks. He’s the 2017 CCC Champion. Congratulations, Hayden. You won CCC!
Hayden Hawks: Yeah, it was just an amazing day out there.
iRunFar: It’s Sunday morning now, and you won CCC Friday night. Has it sunk in that you’re the CCC Champion?
Hawks: A little bit. There are still people finishing the UTMB though. The race is still going on. I went out last night at 3 a.m. to support Magda [Boulet] and Kaci [Lickteig] coming in. This whole weekend has just been amazing.
iRunFar: You went into this race saying that you felt pretty fit and you’d done a fitness test a couple weeks out. I guess your fitness manifested itself just fine the last couple days?
Hawks: Yeah, for sure. I knew I was in good shape. I think it showed out there a couple days ago. I just felt strong the whole time. I tried to keep it pretty calm and as much of a training run as possible and keep that mindset that, Hey, I’m out here on a training run. Stay calm. Do the best you can. I felt comfortable almost the entire time.
iRunFar: Can you talk a little bit about what the early part of the race felt like? It looked like a literal sprint through town before you guys hit the trails. Some guys took it out kind of hot.
Hawks: Yeah, there were some guys who kind of went out pretty hard. Me and a couple other guys, Jorge [Maravilla] and Paddy [O’Leary] and some of my friends, we just kind of sat back. They’ll probably come back. We’ll see.
iRunFar: Not probably… they were sprinting!
Hawks: Yeah, that’s true. It was more like a track and field or cross-country race. I took that first climb pretty calm actually. A lot of people think I went out really hard, but I didn’t go that hard on the first climb. I went out really conservatively and almost hiked the whole first climb out of Courmayeur. I was in 15th (maybe) place. I was pretty far from the lead pack. Once we hit the Refuge Bertone, I was like, Okay, time to run.
iRunFar: Let’s run.
Hawks: I started running and was able to catch the pack and took the lead about maybe mile 15 or so.
iRunFar: Then the rest is basically history? You and Ludovic Pommeret, the eventual third-place finisher spent a lot of miles together or at least in very close vicinity to each other.
Hawks: Yeah, I respect Ludo so much. He’s an amazing runner and winner of UTMB last year. Once I took the lead, I was like, I’m going to keep it calm and under control. Ludo decided to come with me, and once he came with me I was like, Let’s do this and try to pull away from the guys. We didn’t necessarily plan to work together, but it just kind of happened.
iRunFar: Did you guys talk about it as it was happening or just kind of feel it out?
Hawks: Just kind of felt it out. On the downhills, Ludo is an amazing downhill runner.
iRunFar: He’s super strong.
Hawks: He’s super strong on the downhills. I felt like I had a little bit on him on the climbs, so I was like… I would push the climbs and he would push the downhill. I was just trying to hold on on some of the downhills. We were pushing on each other kind of how me and Zach [Miller] did last year at The North Face [Endurance Challenge 50 Mile], I felt like, just back and forth and back and forth for a little bit there. Finally, I felt like it was the right time where I could go. That was on the climb going up to Champex-Lac. I was like, I’m going to run this whole climb and see if he can hang on. We’re friends, but we are also competitors. We want to win. So I pushed that whole climb and ran all the way up to Champex-Lac and was able to gain some time there.
iRunFar: So just to back up a teensy bit—we’re Americans here in slightly unfamiliar territory, but you had come out and recced the course earlier this summer. So you kind of knew what you were getting into and where you could do things like that and make a move.
Hawks: Yeah, I came out in June and did a week or so, a little over a week, of training, so I knew the course really well. They did have to make a couple changes because of the weather especially at the end, so I didn’t really know that section of the course. But I was comfortable with it; I knew where I was. I knew where the climbs and the descents were. I was able to execute my game plan perfectly.
iRunFar: The second half of the race, you were basically off the front, on your own, making your own way, navigating your own way, making your way through these Euro aid stations. How was that to kind of be in this unfamiliar place by yourself at that point basically running in your own head?
Hawks: Yeah, I’ve never seen so much cheese at an aid station.
iRunFar: Did you eat it?
Hawks: No, I was a little nervous because I’ve never tried cheese during a race.
iRunFar: How did Hayden lose the CCC? By eating cheese… and spending the rest of the race in the bushes.
Hawks: Exactly. Yes. I don’t want to spend the race in the bushes. I didn’t eat a lot of the stuff. I saw couple of dried apricots in there. Hey, those look familiar. I’ll try some of those. Yeah, I’ve raced in Europe before, so I was a little familiar with the vibe and excitement that comes with European racing, so it was… it felt familiar—a lot of friends and supporters out there supporting me the whole way, but at the same time, it was exciting because this is the biggest stage, one of the biggest stages in the world. To be on the big stage, it was incredible. That’s what I train for and what I dream of.
iRunFar: Friday night in Chamonix, France, it was quite a party here. You have a kilometer or two running in town and sort of weaving your way through the narrow stone streets and through the people who are out imbibing and otherwise enjoying themselves. Did the fact that you were winning this race sink in as you were doing that?
Hawks: Yeah, it really did. The cool thing, too, is I had an American flag. I wasn’t planning on having that. I was running down the last descent and I was maybe two miles from the finish. These random people jump out from the trees waving this America Flag, “Go, USA! Go, USA!”
iRunFar: Were they Americans?
Hawks: I’m pretty sure. I was just like, “Hey, could I borrow that? Could I borrow that flag?” “Yeah, sure. Give it to the Sweeneys.” “Oh, okay. There’s a lot of people here.”
iRunFar: Okay, I’ll look for the Sweeneys.
Hawks: So, Sweeneys, if you’re out there, I still have your flag. Yeah, I grabbed it and ran into town, and that’s when it kind of set in that Hey, I’m going to win this thing. This is what I’ve been working for. This is what I dreamed of. I set a goal to win this race last year. It was amazing. Coming in, they literally make a tunnel. You’re running through a tunnel of people.
iRunFar: Excuse me. Excuse me. I’m kind of going somewhere. Excuse me.
Hawks: Exactly, Yeah, there are hands everywhere, so you’re hitting hands, and little kids running next to you and cheering you on. This is why people come to this race. This is awesome. That’s when it set in. Then I ran through that finish line and just everything was just, YEAHHHHHHH, and just so, so, so stoked.
iRunFar: Of the last few years, Americans have been doing quite well in the UTMB and CCC races. Do you think we’re getting the hang of this?
Hawks: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I came out in June to preview the course. I think a lot of Americans are starting to do that and preview months before and really come out and see what these trails are about. Plus, just coming out here so often and racing these amazing races, you get used to the atmosphere, the trails, and the aid station stuff. We’re able to run better that way. It’s just awesome. Clare Gallagher won CCC. Jim Walmsley and I actually scored UTMB like a cross country race last night and we won. The USA would have won.
iRunFar: Team USA men would have won with four men in the top 10.
Hawks: It’s cool. It’s amazing. I think we still have more, though. I think that first American to win UTMB is right around the corner.
iRunFar: First American MAN. Man. Man.
Hawks: Man, that’s what I should have said. Sorry.
iRunFar: Sorry, Krissy [Moehl].
Hawks: Yes, Krissy, you’re amazing.
iRunFar: Sorry, Rory [Bosio].
iRunFar: Nikki [Kimball].
iRunFar: Krissy times two.
Hawks: More Amazing.
iRunFar: Rory times two. Just having our moment of silence for the ladies.
iRunFar: Hayden, you made quite an entrance into trail and ultrarunning last year, some great results, and then you had a little bit of a bobble with maybe too much racing, took some rest, and clearly you’re back.
Hawks: Yeah, I was talking a bit with my coach last night about it.
iRunFar: Who’s your coach?
Hawks: His name is Nate Houle. He’s the head coach at Idaho State University and a friend of mine for years. We were talking about it and it was like, now we know what to do. We know how much I can handle. We know I need training blocks leading up to races. When you look at the sport this days, you have to be on your “A” game every race if you want to win. There are too many fast guys and women out there. It’s amazing how this sport is just transforming and becoming so fast. Yeah, I’m seeing what I can handle now and what I can do, what type of training I need to do going into stuff. My vert has been higher than it’s ever been, and I think that helped. Yeah, I raced too much this spring. I got excited. I’m only a year into this sport. It’s a common mistake I think. I learned from it.
iRunFar: I literally think everybody who does trail and ultrarunning goes through what you’ve done whether you’re top of the sport or the back of the pack. It’s an exciting thing to do to spend your days on the trails. The cumulative fatigue does build up eventually.
Hawks: I love the mountains. I love being the mountains. I spend hours every day in the mountains. It’s something me and my wife and my family love to do. It’s nice and exciting when you can go race in the mountains, but you have to be careful with how many races you actually do.
iRunFar: I know there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of people who are talking about whether you’ll go back to The North Face this fall. I hate to create excitement if you’re trying to meter out your efforts, but are you going back to The North Face?
Hawks: I am. I’m signed up right now, so that’s the plan. I’ll see how I recover after this though, too, because I want to be ready for it. I think we’re ten weeks out or so, so I should be ready to go.
iRunFar: A couple weeks of recovery?
Hawks: Yeah, a couple weeks of recovery and then get a short training block. Luckily this training block went perfectly, so I think a lot of the fitness I had coming into this will transition over into North Face.
iRunFar: It’s going to be a little more of a runner’s race. I don’t think we know the full course yet, but it’s finishing with a road run, isn’t it?
Hawks: Yeah, but I’m kind of known as a runner though. I think I was the only guy out there without poles. People were like swinging them around almost hitting me. I was just going. Yeah, I think that will suit me. Plus, my training, I try to make it diverse as possible. I do some track work. I do some road work. I do some very technical trails, and then I do some nice runnable trail. I think that helps me be able to go on any type of terrain or any type of trail.
iRunFar: We haven’t seen the final course for The North Face yet, but the way that it’s going to have some of the steep climbing but some of the really runnable descents and sections and then finishing with a road run is really good for someone like you who has that leg speed.
Hawks: Yeah, I think it will help, definitely. There are going to be amazing runners out there, so I’m definitely going to have to be on my “A” game. It’s a very special race to me. It was my first 50 mile. It kind of set the stage for a lot of what’s happening now. I’m excited to get back. I was excited for second place, but I want to win that thing. That’s always been a goal of mine. This was my first 100k, so this is going to be a special race for me, too. I’m excited.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you on your win of the 2017 CCC. I guess we’ll see you next in San Francisco. We’ll see you out there.
Hawks: Thank you.
iRunFar: It’s funny. We don’t live that far apart in Utah, but we only hang out in Chamonix… Italy… California…
Hawks: I was just talking to Meghan, and we need to come out and explore your part of Utah.
iRunFar: Come to the land of red rocks and big, tall mountains. Congrats.
Hawks: Thank you so much.