Ultra runner Hayden Hawks on bears, snakes and trail running success

On the trail with one of the best ultra runners ever

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If you see a rattle snake laying length-wise in front of you on the trail, then no problem; run on by. That’s the kind of first-hand knowledge Hayden Hawks, ultra trail supremo and Hoka shoe ambassador is only too ready to share with you. 

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Be warned though - if it’s coiled, then it’s ready to strike and we all know what that means. Snakes are just a small part of Hayden’s expertise, gathered over years of experience running the trails near his childhood home. Bears? Big black ones? Not a worry; they’re more worried about you. It might be a bit different if you meet a grizzly, but Hayden has sent many a black bear scuttling back into the forest so he's not too bothered. 

He’s explaining his in-depth wildlife knowledge as we run through the hills around Tring of all places. The odd rabbit might have hopped by, but few, if any, black bears bothered us on this particular five-miler. At least, we didn’t see any. But even that doesn’t stop him sharing his skills. You never know when you might be running the Rockies after all. Mountain lions, he says, should be kept in view at all times. You won’t know much about it if one creeps up behind you. Don’t let them sneak up on you.

And with that he accelerates smoothly up what Hertfordshire residents describe as a hill, but what to ultra trail runners is barely more than a bump - that’s 200ft he laughs, hitting the accelerator and flying off into the distance to chat with a couple of others on this run.

His is an incredible story that basically says, "go on, give it a go". As a track runner with impressive 28-minite 10km speed, he had always loved trail but such is the American college system track and cross country ewre his only real options for running and racing in his early twenties. But after college, he saw a trail race and thought, "why not?". Given it was 50km, that should have provided one or two acceptable reasons - it was after all about five times further than he usually raced and he hadn’t really done any special training, but Hayden is nothing but tough so, undeterred, he gave it a go. And anyway, it was the toughest 50km in America, so who wouldn’t want to give it a go?

“People shouldn’t fear trails,” he says simply. Just get out there and run; have fun. It’s that simple. Oh sure, there’s technical stuff to deal with, but even with that Hayden sees it as it is. “The more you do, the better you'll get,” he says. 

It’s simple-sounding, but not in any way flippant. He applies that same rule to his own running; backing up the five miles we’ve just run, for instance, with another easy five about half an hour later. And, of course, he’s run a bit before the interview so suddenly it’s a big day of training.

But then if you’re contemplating an outing in the UTMB and its 100-plus miles and Everest-equalling ascent, then perhaps it's a good idea to be so keen. 

He’s fresh from winning the Laveredo in Italy, 120km and 20,000ft of climbing and has a race in Geneva planned for just a week later. The UTMB, however, is a different kettle of fish and he’s contemplating how best to get his diet in order. "Eat loads more,” is one fellow runner’s view of things, but Hayden is already jamming in 5-6000 calories a day so getting any more into his system wouldn’t be easy.

What will be easy, however, is this autumn. Hayden plans a bit of a holiday in the Lake District and Scotland through September and October before heading back to the States. Currently, he’s based in Chamonix but actually can’t wait to get over here and enjoy the Lakes and all they offer. Heck, he might even run a fell race he says, keen to discover where exactly is the best place to run and whether he use Kendal or Keswick as his base. Watch out for him; he's the one flying!

Who is Hayden Hawkes?
As an ultra trail runner, Hayden believes in living a simple, adventurous and love-filled life, while running trails around the world with his wife and family. A St. George, Utah native, he ran track and cross country at Southern Utah University before moving to longer trails. Hayden’s philosophy is to train so that he can race, and he thrives on the feeling of stepping to the starting line with those butterflies in the stomach. His main goal is to improve his training and ultimately race faster. 

Career achievements

  • 5K: 13:51 
  • 10K: 28:53 
  • Marathon: 2:23:01 
  • 1st place at the 2017 CCC® (UTMB)
  • Fastest-known time on the Zion Traverse 
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What he wears
Currently Hayden is wearing the Hoka Torrent, out now. It’ll be tested for the next issue of Trail Running, but early signs (this quick-paced five with Hayden) suggest it has all the tools required for a successful autumn. Featuring Hoka’s great cushioning, it comes up a little harder feeling than the road versions - good for rough trails and the grip looks good (it hasn’t rained for weeks, so we can’t say much more). It’s the kind of shoe that loves road as much as it does trail so will make a great winter addition to your collection - think longer, not too muddy runs where you’re looking for a bit of cushioning and you won’t go far wrong.