No one in history has run the historic Western States 100-mile race faster than Jared Hazen. Except, of course, for the guy sitting across from him at the breakfast table.
“I mean it's funny, for sure,” Hazen says a few days after he finished second to roommate Jim Walmsley at Western. “I thought about it at the race a lot. I thought I ran a really good race and then my mind started drifting to ‘What could I have done to win?’ and I started thinking of, ‘Well, I could have done this better, and that better,’ and I started going down that rabbit hole.”
In retrospect, Hazen understands that over the course of 100 miles, there’s always something that could be improved upon but at the same time he ran a strong race.
“I did what I really wanted to do in the race — just give myself the opportunity to win,” he says. “I did that for a very, very long time. And yeah, you have a guy who's at the top of his game right now and probably the best we've ever seen in the sport who is lining up against you. You can't beat yourself up over not being able to beat him.”
Hazen finished with a 14:26:46, second to Walmsley’s 14:09:28. Both times beat the previous course record, set by Walmsley a year ago. For 24-year-old Hazen, his rise to the elite level can be traced back to his early start as a teen-aged ultra runner as well as training with Walmsley and the other Coconino Cowboys.
Birth of an ultra runner
Hazen began running during middle school cross-country.
“When I started running I found that I was a little bit better than your average runner, and was doing well,” he recalls. “So that encouraged me to keep going. And so I continued into high school and then I just had a desire to be a better runner and be able to win races. During my junior year of high school I just started training really hard and during that process I kind of found trail running.”
And he quickly found ultra races. At 17, Hazen won the Bigfoot 50K in Cambridge, Ohio, and placed second at the Baker Trail UltraChallenge, a 50-miler, in Smicksburg, Pa. The Pennsylvania native found his passion and immersed himself in the culture. He read books like Born to Run and followed Anton Krupicka’s blog.
“I remember reading years’ worth of his blog posts, and that totally just, was super inspiring and motivating,” he says. “Just learning more about him, I wanted to move to Colorado immediately after high school to do this ultra running thing and run in the mountains. I'd never been out of the East Coast too much. I learned there was a pretty cool new world that I wanted to check out.”
After high school, Hazen headed out west to embrace trails, ultras and mountains. His first stop was Wyoming where he worked as a housekeeper in Grand Teton National Park. He had a place to live, a job and epic trails to run on. “I spent the summer living there and running in the mountains,” he says. “That was where I got my first taste of mountain running. I really enjoyed it. It was so cool. I could put up with the shit job and kind of shitty living conditions just to be able to live in a place like that.”
After a few months, he moved to Colorado Springs for about three years. Even as he pursued his dreams, people were offering suggestions on what Hazen should do.
“People were trying to tell me to go run in college — ‘Go get an education! Running on a college team will be fun,’” he says. “And I would agree, that I think that is a pretty cool experience. But, had I run in college, I wouldn't be in the situation I am in now.”
His advice to teens who might be looking up to him as he did to Krupicka not that long ago: “It might sound a little cliché, but follow your dreams. If it's really a big part of your life, then things will click.”
Hazen met Walmsley at the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50-mile race where Hazen took third and Walmsley finished fifth. At the time Hazen was living in Colorado Springs where Walmsley had earlier attended the Air Force Academy. They reunited a few times there and went on runs together.
Eventually, Hazen went to visit Walmsley in Flagstaff and fell in love with the community. “I had plans to start college, so I went back to Pennsylvania to start my freshman year at Shippensburg University,” Hazen recalls. “Flagstaff wasn't really in the cards. And then after being there, very shortly I decided that I can't live in Pennsylvania anymore. So I texted Jim and said, ‘I'm moving to Flagstaff in May once this semester is over.’ That's how I ended up here in 2017.”
In these past two years, Hazen has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Last year at this time, he was dealing with an injury that derailed his Western States appearance. A few weeks before the race, he suffered from pubic osteitis inflammation, the soft tissue that connects the front of your pelvis.
“It did not clear up before the race, and I needed some significant time off,” he says, noting he had been dealing with various injuries the past 18 months. “It was super disappointing to miss the race. I was really excited to go out to Western States, and the last time I raced it was 2015 and I was super motivated in 2018 to go back and have a good run.”
Hazen was discouraged. “I was starting to think that I sustain these nasty injuries every six months to a year. What's going on?”
He set aside his personnel setback and accompanied the other Coconino Cowboys to Squaw.
“I was super happy for all the races they had,” recalls Hazen. “I remember being very emotional. I don't know if it was regret that I wasn't able to run, or just being very happy. But, as Jim came across the line — I think it was just the fact that he had finally got it done — but I remember just crying as he was coming across. I'm not a super emotional person, so it seemed to be, just a unique experience.”
A true test at JFK 50
After spectating Western States, Hazen returned to Flagstaff and rested for most of the summer, unable to run. In August he got healthy enough to run again and focused on returning to Western States in 2019. First up would be a good test at the 56th annual JFK 50 in November.
“I went out there and had, at the time, the best race of my life,” he says of his victory in a rainy, sloppy day with a time of 5:34:21. Like Western, it was the second fastest time in race history.
He credits his recovery and performance to his physio in Flagstaff.
“As I was coming back, I was confident in what I was doing and what we were doing with physio,” he says. “I was really excited to be back and just start to lay those few first few building blocks of getting in shape again. I definitely had dealt with these layoffs before, and when you're coming back, you just feel so out of shape, especially doing it up here at 7,000 feet. You don't feel like an athlete anymore.”
Hazen learned a lot during his long layoff, perhaps most importantly, patience.
“My mindset was I was ready to be patient and I was ready to wait and be cautious this time around,” he remembers. “I'd pushed things too quickly before. I was just laying the few blocks that I needed for the hard training and then it paid off and I started being able to get into some of that harder stuff probably three or four weeks ahead of, or maybe six weeks ahead of JFK. I was able to get in some really good training. The more tempered approach of doing fewer miles and taking a day or two here and there to back off, ended up paying off really well at JFK.”
After JFK, Hazen targeted qualifying for Western States. With his victory in 6:08:31 at the Lake Sonoma 50-miler in April, he set the stage was set for his return to the historic race.
‘There’s no way they can lose’
To no one’s surprise, the Coconino Cowboys have had strong showings at Western States and other coveted ultras. It’s part of the secret sauce that has helped Hazen’s ascension.
“When I think about it – ‘How did I get here’ — it's definitely been a combination of starting ultra running at a young age, really training hard and taking the training seriously, and doing that for many years,” he says. “But then also, moving to Flagstaff and training with guys like Jim, Tim Freriks, Eric Senseman and Cody Reed. These guys, all of them, just their attitude is like, we want to win. I never really had that attitude of ‘There's no way they can lose.’ And that attitude has totally rubbed off on me. You gotta believe in yourself. You got to believe you're the best guy on the line.”
Training in the Grand Canyon certainly helps too. Hazen says they trained a couple of times a week in the canyon in June when temperatures hit 90 or 100 degrees. And whether they’re running in the famous national park or elsewhere near Flagstaff, the experience is helpful.
“I have totally picked up some stuff from Jim, and then just the fact of heading out every day, or several days a week at the very least with somebody that's a really good runner, we definitely push each other.”
Name: Jared Hazen
Hometown: Titusville, Pa.
Number of years running: 12
How many miles a week do you typically run: 120
Point of pride: Being on the less talented side of things, but more of a grinder.
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Yerba Mate sparkling gold energy drink
Favorite piece of gear: Amphipod handheld water bottles
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: none
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: none
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: @jared_hazen
• Twitter: @jaredhazen