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Just two week’s ago, on September 1, in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), Scotty Hawker was done at Les Chapieux, France, just 50 kilometers into the 171-kilometer race. His sciatic nerve was on fire on his right hip, and he couldn’t run another step.
“I knew my race was over,” says Hawker, 32, of New Zealand. He walked into the 50K aid station and started asking volunteers how he could hitch a ride to Courmayeur, Italy, the race’s halfway point, to meet up with his wife and daughter.
A fellow runner convinced Hawker to at least try to run to Courmayeur, so, with no easy way out, he decided to give it a shot.
Hawker climbed out of the aid station and into the darkness. As he began the ascent, his nerve pain vanished. “Far out,” thought Hawker, “the longer I’m in this, the more time I have to turn it around.”
Still, this was not the UTMB Hawker envisioned. He had done course recon with the Spaniard Pau Capell and Zach Miller of the United States, both touted as top contenders and hoped to be racing with them. He’d run the race four times before, had finished just out of top ten in 11th place, and knew he was falling short of expectations. Instead of racing with the top men, he was jogging in 39th place.
One By One
He took advantage of the reprieve from the pain and began to focus on what he could control—the space between himself and the headlamp in front of him.
“You’re next,” thought Hawker as he began to pick off runners, one by one. He was moving well. He was eating well. When he arrived at the halfway point at Courmayeur, he had moved up to 10th place. In 40 miles, he had passed 29 runners.
“Nothing seemed impossible then,” says Hawker. He left Courmayeur in ninth place (as another top-10 runner still lingered in the aid station) and began to really push. “There was still so much race left.”
The pain that had reigned in Hawker’s race early on was gone, and he had plenty of gas in the tank. He focused on eating and moving quickly and efficiently. He made sure to smile and say hello to people on the course, he says. At Champex Lac, 76 miles into the 106-mile race, Hawker was in third.
“I had dreamed about being on the UTMB podium, but I thought that would be in two or three years,” says Hawker. But, now, he knew he had good time on the runner in fourth, so he turned his attention to three-time UTMB champion Xavier Thévenard, who was running in second, behind Capell.
“The way the day was improving, I thought, ‘Why can’t I close on Xavier?’”.
Hawker reminded himself that he was good enough to be there—he had finished top five at the Vibram Hong Kong 100K—that he belonged at the front of one of the world’s most competitive races. While he never overtook Thévenard, Hawker was soon cruising into Chamonix, solidly on the podium.
He had enough of a gap that he was able to run the final kilometer with his three-year-old daughter, Sienna, finishing in 21 hours 48 minutes 4 seconds, proving it’s not over until it’s over.
“My race was far from perfect, but in long events, you’re never done. You can always come back,” says Hawker. “The key is to keep going forward and try to enjoy yourself.”
Perfect Training for an Imperfect Race
Hawker credits his ability to persevere in races to his training. Leading up to UTMB, Hawker averaged just 50 miles a week, emphasizing rest when necessary, and big mountain adventures on the weekends.
“I made sure not to get too worried or caught up in what Pau [Capell] was doing. He was running 140-mile weeks, and I’d think, ‘Holy heck! 100K is a big week for me!”
Focusing on his own training enabled Hawker to run his own race, and embrace imperfection on the way to the podium.