At this year’s Western States 100, Hayden Hawks will make his second attempt at the 100-mile distance after a DNF at UTMB in 2019. In the following interview, Hayden talks about how his training and racing approach will differ from his 2019 UTMB attempt, what special meaning Western States has for him, what went right for him in setting a course record at the JFK 50 in 2019, and how he’s looking forward to suffering on Saturday.
Hayden Hawks Pre-2021 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Hayden Hawks before the 2021 Western States 100. How are you doing, Hayden?
Hayden Hawks: Well, man. Excited to be here. Really hungry to start this race.
iRunFar: Yeah. What’s got you excited for Western States?
Hawks: I think you know, it’s only my second 100 mile that I’ve ever actually started. You know, I started UTMB two years ago, I dropped out at mile 50 and so I’m just really excited to go out there and run 100 miles again and to get the finish this time. You know, I’m really focused on just finishing this race, and also, you know, it’s been a while since we’ve had a really big event like this, and I’m just excited to get out there and race with really top competition, and I feel very prepared. I feel humble, but I feel very prepared at the same time.
iRunFar: Yeah, how would that, prepared and humble, you know, wanting to perform and wanting to finish like, how does that mix play out in your head on Saturday?
Hawks: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of hard because, you know, I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself, I’ve always believed, you know, that I can win. And I do believe that I can win Western States, but I’ve learned kind of over the years, especially like last year I learned a lot with JFK [50 Mile] and some other races that I did, is that is I focus on myself. I focus on running my own race first. The wins, the course record, stuff like that just kind of comes with it. And so I’m being humble in that I’m like okay I’m focusing on the finish. I’m focusing on just getting that 100-mile distance down, but I also have confidence because my training has gone so well, and I do believe that I can win if I do what I know I need to do.
iRunFar: So what does that training block look like coming into Western States? Does it look different than your training for UTMB a couple years ago or what?
Hawks: Yeah, I tried something new a little bit before UTMB a couple years ago. I kind of dropped my volume, which people might think you know that’s kind of dumb like why would you drop your volume right before a race like UTMB, but I was kind of focusing on like maybe I’m doing a little too much volume, you know, and since then, I’ve realized that I respond really well to volume. I respond really well to vert training, and so I’ve put a lot of volume, a lot of vert into this training block. I’ve done all the little things, too. I’ve had issues with putting too much sodium into my system. And so I’ve done four sweat tests leading into Western States. I’ve done strength training, cross training. I’ve done all just the little things really focusing on meeting the demands of this race.
iRunFar: Maybe in the past you’ve let those little things slide just focused on the big pieces of the pie?
Hawks: Yeah, I feel like with UTMB like my training was a little bit purposeless. I wasn’t really focusing on the demands of the UTMB, I was just kind of like training just to get fit, but now I’m realizing that yeah fitness is an element of running these ultramarathons, but there’s more to it. Meeting the demands of each thing like heat, I had to prepare for the heat here. I have to prepare for the downhill and make sure my quads are trained for the downhill. Nutrition, hydration, all those little details. I think, like the biggest thing is I’m all in now. You know, in the past I kind of got away with talent, and I got away with just training with no purpose.
Hawks: But now I’m training with definitely more purpose and I’m all in.
iRunFar: One thing I didn’t hear you talk about a bunch of specifics for Western States, and you thrive on vert. Have you also done some specific run training because that’s, there’s a lot of faster runnable terrain later in this race.
Hawks: Yeah ,I’ve mixed it up definitely. My big weeks have consisted of 30 hours of training. Some of that’s on the bike as well, 25 hours of running in that week, five hours of bike, and then two or three hours of strength training, but I’m also doing workouts. I’m doing two or three workouts a week. Yes, I’m getting vert in, you know 20-to-25,000 feet a week, but I’m also focusing a lot on some speed training. I put in some faster intervals, some tempo runs, different things like that. Speed’s definitely a strength that I have and I definitely don’t want to get rid of that. And so I continue to build that.
iRunFar: So it sounds like the vert stuff comes naturally, just because you enjoy it.
Hawks: Yeah, and I feel like the speed… they play with each other really well. Like you focus on the speed and getting that economy down and that just pure fitness down, it actually helps you on the trails. It helps you on the vert because I’m actually a better climber, when I have that economy and I have that speed.
iRunFar: What’s bringing you to Western States to go for your first 100-mile finish?
Hawks: I mean I’ve always wanted to run Western States and I actually thought I would run Western States before UTMB as my first 100 miler. A long time ago I worked at the St. George Running Center when I was growing up and the owner of that store actually used to volunteer here at Western States because he grew up in this area, and he would always talk about this race and how amazing it was the community around it, the history around it. And I was like, “I’m going to run that race someday, like I really want to do that race.” And me and him have kept in contact over the years and we’re really good friends. He’s actually crewing me here at Western States.
iRunFar: That’s awesome.
Hawks: And I’ve always really wanted to do this race. It intrigues me. I was able to crew and pace Matt Daniels a couple years ago here, and I fell in love with it there, and was like I got to get back and do that race.
iRunFar: Does that provide a different feel going into the race and just going to a beautiful race, it’s competitive somewhere, is there like an extra element to it?
Hawks: Oh yeah, you know, I’m a history buff, I love history, and there’s a lot of historical stuff about this race, especially for endurance sport, and I love that element of it. It’s special and really it is, the community here is very special. The experience I had with Matt a couple years ago was very special. And I was able to build a really strong relationship with him and we’re really good friends. We talk to each other almost daily. But also the competition, like everything. This is the place to be in June, it really is. And I can’t wait to get out there and race this race.
iRunFar: You plan to run your own race and run. But if you have the best your best day out there, what does that look like on Saturday?
Hawks: Best day. I mean I’ve learned I should never focus on time. Time is something in the beginning of my career, I was so focused on course records. I was so focused on trying to be times and time, time, time. And I think I had a lot of inconsistency, because I was focused so much on times, and I’ve learned since that, that I don’t need to focus on time. I need to focus on running my race, doing what I need to do. I need to focus on the little elements you know keep taking care of myself and fueling properly, and as I do that the time comes. The course records come. And so I believe that if I go out there and I focus on me and I do what I need to do on the on race day, I believe I can get the win. I really do. I have complete confidence that I can win this thing. I don’t care what time I run. I really don’t. I’m not set on trying to break a course record or anything like that. There’s so many elements that can go into that and I do believe I can win but I’m focused on finishing first.
iRunFar: Yeah. So if you had a great race, and two people out ran you, and you finish third you’d still be pretty happy with your day.
Hawks: I would be completely happy to be honest with you. I really want to just get that 100-mile distance, and I want to feel like I crossed that finish line, I did what I could do on that day. I can’t control what other people do. Yes, there’s amazing athletes here: Jim Walmsley, Jared Hazen, and Tim Tollefson, all amazing guys. I’m not focused on that. I don’t care about Jim. I don’t care about Jared. I don’t care about Tim. I’m not even focusing on them in the race. I’m focusing on me and doing what I can do, and if that means that I finished 15th place, but I had the best day that I could have, then I’m happy with that.
iRunFar: You just mentioned a bunch of guys you probably spend a bunch of time with and there’s Matt Daniels out there who you paced. If you were to find yourself with these guys at mile 20 or mile 30 on the course, are you talking with them at all, or is it friendly early miles or is it is it butting heads from the gun?
Hawks: Well, I think we all know that the race doesn’t start till Foresthill. So I’m focusing that first, 60 to 80 miles just being calm, under control, relaxed. And then that last 20 to 30 miles, I’m just going to go all in. And so I think, if I meet up with Jim or Matt or Jared or whoever, yeah I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit, have a conversation, make sure that we’re just keeping it nice and under control and easy. Me and Matt have talked about that before. We did that at JFK, for a few miles we were just talking and having a good time on the canal path together, and you know I think there’s part of that, but we’re there to race, too. We’re there to beat each other. I’ve trained with Jared and Jim and Steven Kersh and some of the other guys leading into this race. I did a big stint out in Flagstaff. And yeah, they’re friends. They’re mentors. I bounce questions off to them all the time. But I’m also there to compete against them, and competing makes all of us better. And that’s a mutual respect we have for each other.
iRunFar: You had a pretty fantastic run at JFK last year. How did that feel?
Hawks: Felt good. Yeah, felt good, especially because I mean it wasn’t focused on getting the course record at all. I had no times, like I’ve talked about for like, keeping that, you know, turn off the watch, not caring about time or splits. And that’s exactly what I did at JFK. I was out there having fun. I ran with Jared and Steven and Matt for the first 15 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Me and Matt kind of took off when we hit the canal path, and I just kind of kept going from there. I got to the last, I think five miles, and the race director was there and he’s like, “Dude, you’re going to break the course record.” And I was like, “There’s no way.” Like there’s no way I’m going to break the course record and I looked down on my watch and I was like, “I guess I am going to break the course record.” Like that’s pretty cool. And yeah, that was definitely a confidence builder and I’ve kind of built my training off of that. Like block after block after block has just gone great since then. I feel like I’m a lot more fit than I was going into JFK, going into this race. I’m a lot more prepared, and I feel like just training has been very good since then.
iRunFar: With all that training, do you still feel fresh?
Hawks: Yeah, I feel fresh. I feel hungry. I was talking to a friend this week about the race and he was asking me how I felt going into it, and I just said, “Man. I feel so hungry.” I feel so excited, and most importantly I feel excited to suffer. I want to have pain. I want to go out and I want to hurt, and I’m excited to hurt. To be honest with you. I’ve gone into races before, UTMB for instance, two years ago. I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t want to feel like it was going to be easy. I was kind of like, I don’t really care to hurt. Hopefully, I can just have a nice easy race. It’s never going to happen in 100 miles, and it was the wrong mindset because I was, I think it was little over raced, overtrained, just not prepared for it. And this race feels completely different. I feel like I’m ready to hurt, I’m ready to suffer, I’m ready to go out there and deal with the heat. I actually want it to be hot. And I’m excited for all those things that are going to make me have to get out of my comfort zone.
iRunFar: I was wondering, you know, living in Southern Utah for quite a long while, for the most part, if you were looking forward to possibly a hot day out there.
Hawks: Yeah, I mean I grew up in Southern Utah, St. George, Utah. I live in Cedar City, Utah now. It’s hot. I mean in St. George is really hot especially we’ve had a huge heatwave going, I mean the whole country has. It’s been really hot in St. George. It’s got up to 115, 120 degrees, and I’ve done some runs in 115-degree weather the last few weeks. My heat training has gone really, really well. I’m used to that though. I mean I grew up playing in 115, 120 degrees in the summer, you know, riding my bikes with my brother all day, and I actually embrace the heat. I love the heat. I hate the cold, and so I’m really excited for the heat here. And then I feel like I’ll be prepared for that. I think it’s a mindset, too. You’re going to have to have that mindset of, like, I’m willing to handle the heat, and I feel like I am.
iRunFar: Nice. Well, best of luck out there.
Hawks: Thanks, man.
iRunFar: Enjoy. And suffer.