A questionnaire with the runner who just claimed the Zion Traverse FKT
On April 14, ultrarunner Hayden Hawks claimed the fastest known time (FKT) on the Zion Traverse, a notoriously grueling 47.8-miler that follows a series of trails along the national park's sandstone cliffs, with more than 6,400 feet of climbing. Hawks ran it from south to north and finished in 6 hours, 50 minutes, and 49 seconds, crushing the previous record of 7 hours, 22 minutes, and 8 seconds, set by Mike Foote and Justin Yates in 2013. In celebration of his new best, Hawks' sponsor Hoka One One donated $10,000 to the National Parks Foundation.
For a runner like Hawks, who grew up playing in Zion National Park and uses social media to advocate for our public lands, claiming this FKT was about much more than beating the clock. We caught up with him (like figuratively) to learn more.
What draws you to ultra distances? Ultrarunning has kind of always been in my blood. Ever since I started running, my coaches would always say the longer I go, the better. I planned on doing ultras someday because I love running as long and as much as I can. Being able to do it in remote places and areas that most people say is impossible to run makes it even better. I love looking out at a mountain or on a map of a place far away and saying, "I could run there." Ultrarunning is running in its purest form—and it definitely helps that I've always been known as a grinder and death marcher.
One weird running habit you have that most people don't know about. I bite my lower lip when I run. Biting my lower lip reminds me to relax and is something that I have always done. I have bit it so hard during a race that it was raw and bleeding after.
Why were you interested in pursuing the Zion Traverse? Zion National Park is home to me. I grew up in St. George, Utah, which is just down the road from the park. I spent a lot of time growing up there, took dates to the park, and ran numerous times in it. Working at The St. George Running Center, we'd always have people coming in and talking about the Traverse, many of my running friends had done it, and I made a goal in high school to run it someday. I felt like if I was going to attempt this, why not run it as fast as I could to bring that FKT record to St. George to keep it local? I am so grateful that it garnered as much attention as it did for the national parks and public lands.
What was the hardest part? The hardest part of the Traverse had to have been the last 13 miles from Hop Valley to the end. Not only are you 35 miles into the Traverse with all the biggest climbs, descents, technical areas, and mud behind you, but you have to run through a lot of sand for the next 13 miles. This area is very exposed, as well, and it starts to heat up. I had to really grind through this area and yell at the sand a little bit as I traversed through the riverbeds and up that final climb to Lee Pass. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
What was the best part? I really enjoy the climbs on this route. I enjoy running uphill and see it as a challenge, and the climbs bring out the best in me. Climbing up toward Angels Landing and up to the West Rim Trail is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I came through this area just as the sun was coming up over the sandstone cathedrals. It was breathtaking and thoughts of doing this for the national parks hit me. I also just got a kiss from my wife at the Grotto, was refueled, and my film crew was there. I felt alive and maybe pushed those climbs a little too hard! I dropped some times up those climbs that I have never done before—and I've run that section a lot.
How many hours do you train a week? I average about 18 hours of training a week and over 100 running miles.
Any cross-training? I lift weights and do a core routine twice a week and stretch and roll out every day, but that's it. Everything else is pure running. I take the Kenyan approach that the only way to get better at running is running.
Why protecting public lands matters, in less than 10 words. My children will learn in these lands!
What do you eat before you race? It's always hard for me to get food in before a race. Recently, I've been eating Bobo Bars, a banana, and a glass of my favorite sports drink. Just add in some water and my stomach feels great. I feel energized and ready to go before those early morning races.
Favorite recovery meal? Right after a run or race, I always throw down a bag of Perky Jerky. This settles my immediate cravings and starts aiding the recovery process. Then, I'll go out and get some of the great Mexican food that Southern Utah has to offer. I enjoy tacos, burritos, and some chips and salsa.
Who inspires you? My wife, parents, and other trail runners. I look up to trail runners like Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller, Sage Canaday, Andy Wacker, Karl Meltzer, and many others. And all of the other trail-loving runners out there grinding away just like me, but working full-time jobs, having families and other obligations inspire me more than they will ever know.
Words you live by. "Always maintain the love and magic of what you're doing, mix in some competitive juices come race day, and you're unstoppable." —Nate Houle
[ed. note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity]