When running 26.2 miles is not enough, try an ultra marathonDec 06, 2021 02:36PM ● By Karmel Harper
Ultra marathoners in the Moab 240 experienced incredible Utah scenery. (Photo courtesy of Mike Hawker.)
By Karmel Harper | [email protected]
How does a human being run 240 miles in just over four days? According to Herriman’s Mike Hawker, one step at a time. When 36-year-old Hawker isn’t spending time with his wife and 2 young girls, working at his tech job, or coaching basketball at Mountain Ridge High School, he is running.
Hawker has been playing sports his entire life. He has run two marathons. In the fall of 2018 Hawker completed his first ultra marathon, the Buffalo Run on Antelope Island, a 50 kilometer/31 mile event. As an ultra rookie, Hawker was not prepared. "I ran with road shoes even though this trail was mostly mountains. I kept thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? This is stupid,’” Hawker said
Although Hawker performed well, finishing the race in 5 hours and 46 minutes and running the entire time-with the exception of a few uphills-he did not think he would ever do it again. He was wrong. Two days later, Hawker signed up to run 100 miles in another Antelope Island event the following March, giving him five months to train.
“After 31 miles, every step was uncharted territory because I never ran further than that. It was pouring rain and I didn’t know about changing my shoes or changing my socks. The first 50 miles was awesome. But the second 50 miles was brutal. By mile 76 my toenails were falling off. But I kept going,” Hawker said.
With no sleep, Hawker finished the race in 29 hours. “Again I swore off the sport, I was in so much pain. I said 'I will never do this again – ever,'” Hawker said. Once again, he was wrong.
In October 2021, Hawker attempted his longest distance ever in the Moab 240 Endurance Run. The event is a 240 mile race over varying terrain that includes massive climbs and steep descents through incredibly remote areas. Runners encounter temperature swings from 10 degrees Fahrenheit at night to the scathing heat of mid-day. Participants enjoy the variety of absolutely stunning scenery that Utah offers from red rocks, alpine forests and breathtaking mountain vistas.
With room for only 250 runners, Hawker signed up for the race on Jan. 1, 2021, claiming his spot before the event sold out within a couple of hours. “There’s a bunch of psychos out there who want to do this,"Hawker said.
Outof the 250 entrants, 14 did not show up to race at all. There were 50 who did not finish the race. . Hawker was close to being the 51 DNF around mile 102. Although he felt great physically, he allowed his mind to entertain the daunting thought that he still had 140 miles left to go.
“I was in pain and I allowed my mind to cripple me,” Hawker said. His friend and pacer, Melissa, who joined him at mile 72, encouraged him by telling him that he was close to a change of scenery. Hawker crushed the next section and caught up to other people. Hawker had a personal crew who took care of him at designated aid locations and drove an SUV to give him a comfortable place to nap. With the help of his crew and the encouragement and camaraderie of other runners on the route, Hawker finished the race in 98 hours, including about 7 hours of sleep which was broken up in catnaps.
Hawker attributes his success to his positive mindset and balanced approach to running and training. “I stuck with my plan of treating my family as No.1. I had a solid balance between running, work and family. I still trained—a lot—but it did not overtake my life and I was super fresh on race day,” Hawker said.
Though being the spouse of an ultra runner can be challenging, Hawker’s wife, Katie said, “We just had to figure out what works best for our family. It’s all worth it to see him at the finish line and see how his hard work has paid off.”
One of the biggest reasons Hawker loves his sport is being able to experience places and views that few people see. “What’s amazing about this race…because it’s a loop, every step is new. Each new turn is a more beautiful view. I kept telling myself that very few people have seen this view. In every ultra that I run I get to this point that I am so stripped down from being able to control my emotions that I just cry in gratitude for what Mother Earth has given me in terms of my family, my wife, my girls, and these beautiful views I see,” Hawker said.
While running ultra marathons is an accomplishment very few people achieve, Hawker encourages others to celebrate their own personal victories regardless of distance or elevation.