The Western States 100. One of the premier ultra-running events on the global calendar each year. What does the course profile look like? How do elite athletes perform on this course? What are the demands on the body and how would an athlete prepare for such an attempt?
Just a few days ago, COROS Pro Athlete Hayden Hawks took home 2nd place at Western States. Below you will find how he trained leading up to this event, how he paced on course, and how runners looking to prepare for such a race may find tips from Hayden’s experience! Sit back and enjoy as we break down the training and analytics to the worlds oldest 100 mile race!
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Data Analysis provided by the COROS Training Hub
Course Profile & Conditions
Starting in Olympic Valley California, the course runs southwest through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and finishes in the town of Auburn California. Topping out at over 8,600 feet, athletes will experience over 16,000 ft of elevation gain, and over 20,800 ft of descent. While the course gradually works it way downhill, there are many peaks along the way that athletes must climb before continuing the run towards Auburn. To make things even harder in 2022, temperatures hit in excess of 100°F during the hottest portions of the event!
Hayden’s Prep Leading In
As an elite athlete, Hayden maintains a high Base Fitness throughout the season. Even during his recovery period of the year (Feb-April), Hayden still maintained a score of around 180. Starting on April 16th, Hayden began his build heading into Western States. From April 16th to May 16th, Hayden went from 180 to 240 Base Fitness. While this was an aggressive build of roughly 15 base fitness points/week, his fatigue followed sharply by hitting a peak of 90 on May 6th.
By having a Base Fitness of 180, you are averaging (180*7 days per week) 1,260 Training Load each week over the past 6 weeks. In his peak Western States build, Hayden recorded weeks of:
Week of April 18th: 1617 Training Load
Week of April 25th: 1928 Training Load
Week of May 2nd: 2354 Training Load
Week of May 9th: 2485 Training Load
While we can not recommend this aggressive of a build to all runners, its amazing what Hayden was able to do in his build towards this race. Nearly doubling your training load with this volume is an amazing accomplishment by itself!
Key Training Days
May 6th, 2022: Zion National Park Trail Run
As one of his key prep days leading into Western States, Hayden performed a 4:51:08 run which covered 32.29 miles. This run was done with temperatures ranging between 85-95°F and covered 6830 ft of elevation gain. Hayden accumulated 1017 Training Load which would ultimately be roughly 66% of the strain he would receive at Western States. A great test to see if his body could hold up to the effort.
May 14th, 2022: Grand Canyon Village Trail Run
Another key session consisted of a 4:00:05 run which included 26.2 miles accumulating 678 training load while gaining over 6400 ft in elevation. This run allowed Hayden to test his endurance over rugged terrain just over a month prior to Western States.
Western States Run Analysis
Hayden Hawks finished 2nd in a time of 15:47:27. Throughout his 2022 race, these are the key stats from his run.
Elevation Gain: 16,148 ft
Elevation Loss: 20,820 ft
Avg HR: 137 bpm
Avg Pace: 9:38/mile
Avg Adjusted Pace: 8:54/mile
Avg Cadence: 168
Training Load: 1530
With an overall average pace of 9:38/mile (Adjusted 8:54/mile), Hayden was well within his aerobic endurance zone. With a threshold pace of 4:22-4:34/mile, this speed wasn’t overly difficult for Hayden. What makes this race so difficult is the elevation gain/loss and technical terrain. Due to this terrain, we see a lower overall cadence compared to elite road runners, but this is expected as Hayden is walking some uphills and slowing down on descents to ensure proper footing.
Climbing to the highest point of the race (8600+ft), Hayden maintained an adjusted pace of 7:19/mile (13:02/mile pace) for the first 46 minutes.
Hayden’s fastest mile was mile 32. During this time, Hayden ran a 6:26/mile while dropping 348 ft in elevation and averaging 173 cadence.
The slowest mile was at mile marker 47. This mile saw 725 ft of elevation gain and a mile split of 15:47. While the time looks slow, when you look at Hayden’s adjusted pace, he was still running at 8:21/mile effort.
When running an ultra event, you need to conserve your bodies energy and reduce fatigue. To do this, runners need to spend more time in their lower heart rate zones. Hayden did a tremendous job of spending 83% of his total time in either his Aerobic Endurance zone or below. 17% of this race was spent in the Aerobic Power zone and done in an effort to make up time and be strategic in his efforts.
First Four Hours: 141 bpm
Hayden did a great job of keeping his heart rate steady throughout the first four hours. After climbing to the highest point on course (8,600+ ft), and descending, Hayden kept an average heart rate of 141 bpm. This was firmly within his Aerobic Endurance zone. By doing so, Hayden conserved plenty of energy for later portions of his race.
4:00-4:50 Uphill Section: 156 bpm
As an athlete, you need to take calculated risks. With still over 10 hours of running left, Hayden decided to push this uphill section. 3.97 miles in total length, Hayden averaged 156 bpm and was as high as 167 bpm near the top. He touched the top of his Aerobic Power zone and went into his Threshold zone for a total of 59 seconds.
4:50-6:30: Downhill: 142 bpm
The next 13.9 miles are downhill. Hayden was able to recover and bring his heart rate down to a 142 average over this time. Allowing gravity to take over and focusing on proper footwork on the descent, there wasn’t enough reward to risk pushing further.
6:30-9:30: Rolling Terrain: 145 bpm
Hayden’s tactics begin to take form here. You can see that on all of the uphills, Hayden pushes into his Aerobic Power zone. On the descents, Hayden allows gravity to work and allows his body a chance to recover. He came in with the idea to make up time on the uphills, but to ensure he didn’t push into his Threshold zone. He needed to minimize his fatigue while pushing the pace. Aerobic Power allowed him to run faster, without the muscular damage of pushing at a Threshold effort.
12:00-14:00: “flat” terrain: Walking/Aid station Breaks
Between hours 12 to 14, Hayden was dealing with some dizziness and fatigue. As the temperatures had just been 100°F for the previous 2-3 hours, he was tired. You can see he begins to walk and his heart rate dips back down. Looking forward to possibly breaking 15 hours in the future (Hayden stated this as a future goal), this is the one area we can see improvement going forward. That being said, running in 100°F heat is difficult and outright dangerous. He did a phenomenal job moving forward and allowing his body to adjust.
14:00-15:47:17: The Finish
After a grueling 14 hours on course, and 100°F temperatures, Hayden was headed for the finish line. During this portion, it is rolling terrain and allowed Hayden to cruise at faster speeds on the descents. While his heart rate never got above 140bpm for this section, he did average many miles in the 8:00/mile pace range. This was a gutsy effort and allowed him to cross the finish line in the silver medal position!
Going Forward and Planning Ahead
The beautiful thing about data is that we can analyze, reflect, and plan our next steps. Hayden now has two data sets to pull from when looking at Western States 100. Looking through Hayden’s EvoLab Metrics for both years, he went into both races with nearly identical Base Fitness and Fatigue metrics. His fitness is phenomenal and therefore the key to unlocking his sub 15 hour Western States goal will be found in the race details themselves.
2021 Western States
Hayden’s 2021 was derailed by illness/nausea near the final portions of his race. He had spent over 13 minutes at Threshold and 2 minutes in his Anaerobic Endurance zone. This caught up with him along with the conditions of the day and forced a stop for prolonged periods of time.
2022 Western States
As can be seen above, Hayden paced this years Western States far better and reduced his exposure to any time above Aerobic Power. Hayden can look through these data sets for other key metrics to dial in his approach in 2023 to climb 1 step high on the podium.
Just like Hayden, all COROS users have access to the Training Hub! This is a tool that can be utilized to plan your training, ensure you’re ready, and then dissect your race to identify strengths and weaknesses. Hayden displayed what a true elite performance looks like. Finishing 2nd is no small task, and we are fortunate to see what goes into this type of effort. Will Hayden reach his goal of sub 15 hours in the years to come? That is something we will all be watching for, and I’m sure the results will be in the details!