Welcome to the seventh installment ofThe Story Goes, a monthly column of stories told by Eric Senseman about someone, somewhere in the sport of running. You can find every installment of the columnhere.
There are some sports that allow an athlete to practice for a seemingly limitless amount of time without the burden and restriction of an overwhelming physical toll. These sorts of pastimes--like gymnastics or swimming or cycling or golf--can be very challenging physically, and demand practically unending repetition in the pursuit of perfection, but lack consistent, high-impact repetition that’s inherent in a sport like running. In these sports, the more an athlete repeats a particular piece of the puzzle--a flip or a turn or a shot--the better she becomes.
Running, too, is the type of sport that requires a particularly challenging level of commitment and consistency over time. On some level, the formula is rather straightforward: the more you run, the better you’ll become. But whereas a golfer could practice a single shot for twelve hours a day, every day of the week, the upper boundary for a runner is much lower. You don’t run for twelve hours a day, every day of the week, if you want to be the best runner possible--you’d get injured, or overtrained, or burnt out, or something.
If I’ve ever met anyone who’s willing to challenge the idea that you should stay below a certain ceiling when it comes to overall volume of running, it’sJared Hazen.
Jared, or “Tank”, as some of his friends call him, isn’t especially tall but any preconceived notion that places an artificial ceiling on weekly mileage is too low for him. Earlier this year, as the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing and race cancellations dotted the horizon with no end in sight, Tank was unphased. He averaged something like 110 miles per week for about twelve weeks from April to June. Eight years ago or so, when Jared wasn’t even yet eighteen years old, he ran back-to-back 200-mile weeks in training. He started to deal with some urinary incontinence issues and decided that maybe 200-mile weeks were a bit too much. If you want to know the difference between Tank and other runners, it’s pretty simple: most any runner could tell you that 200-mile weeks are too much before peeing their pants; Jared had to pee his pants first.
Two years ago, ahead of the 2018 Western States 100, Tank ran 170 miles in a week, with something like forty thousand feet of vertical gain, including a forty-two mile run across the Grand Canyon and back. Shortly thereafter, a stress fracture turned up in his pubic bone and he had to withdraw from the field prior to the race. It was his third fracture in two years. Several of his friends, including me, felt we should try to explain to him that he needed to run less. (Most people, including myself, often have the opposite problem.) When I presented my case to him, I remember his bewildered look, and the sense of loss and disappointment in his eyes, when he responded: “I just want to go out and run for three or four hours every day. Why can’t I do that?” Running is almost the only thing that Tank ever wants to do. But that wasn’t always true.
Tank grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. He’s told me the name of the town several times but it’s so forgettable that I can’t remember it. From what he’s told me about where he grew up, there wasn’t a lot to do by way of entertainment. You had to figure out a way to pass the time. Tank’s dad, Carl, is a hunter and a golfer, and as he grew up, that’s how Jared passed the time.
In the middle of the night, on bitterly cold fall mornings, Tank would bundle up in the dark and hike a few miles to a blind in the woods with his dad. They’d sit in the numbing darkness, waiting for a deer sighting and the chance at a clean shot. I like to think that it was in the Pennsylvania woods, in the middle of the night, in the frigid, unlit air, that Tank started to become an ultrarunner--even though he didn’t yet know what ultrarunning was. He was learning the importance of patience and mental gymnastics, honing his ability to pass the time in an uncomfortable setting.
If Tank wasn’t on the hunt with his dad, then they’d play golf together. Legend has it that Carl is essentially a scratch golfer: he can shoot even par over eighteen holes on his home course in Pennsylvania. Those skills passed down to Tank, who is a rather decent golfer. When Tank and I first started golfing together earlier this year, I couldn’t understand how he was so dexterous with his irons and so powerful with his driver and woods. Tank might weigh 110 pounds, and he might be five feet, seven inches tall--maybe--but he can hit the golf ball way further than me. When we play eighteen holes, he’ll usually give me a two-stroke advantage on every hole, and he usually still beats me. I had to understand how he got so good, so I asked him.
His explanation was difficult to first comprehend. The inquiry into his golfing prowess began as we started to talk about the U.S. Open, which was unfolding that week. Tank said that he didn’t think he’d be very good in a tournament setting. He explained how challenging it would be to focus for eighteen holes a day, four days in a row, for a total of seventy-two holes, under the pressure of playing for big money. He mentioned that he had got a “case of the yips” in high school, when he went from being one of the top players on the varsity team to shanking nearly every shot. He lost his mojo in some inexplicable way and to some extent he thought the pressures of tournament play were to blame.
So I asked Tank what I thought was a very reasonable question: “Have you ever played seventy-two holes of golf over four days?”
He gave me that same sort of bewildered look that he gives you when he thinks a very reasonable question is unreasonable, and said, “Eric, I’ve played seventy-two holes of golf in one day.”
I had a lot more questions.
For those that are less knowledgeable about golf, it’s important to first note that it takes some time to play eighteen holes. Even if you’re alone and playing well, it takes close to three hours to complete a round of golf. Again, Tank would playfour rounds of golf in a day, which means he was playing golf for more than ten hours on those days.
The four-rounds-in-a-day approach happened more than once for Tank, too. He couldn’t exactly recall how many times he’s done it. This would happen mostly in high school, when one of his parents would drop him off at the golf course early in the morning. He would walk the entire course those days instead of using a cart. On average, a golfer will walk three to six miles over the course of eighteen holes. So, Tank was walking between twelve and twenty-four miles during these all-day golfing binges. When you walk that much, you get hungry. He would satiate himself with hotdogs and french fries from the food truck that drove around the course, shoving it all down as he walked the course, and washing it down with a soda.
I like to think that this, too, was a young Jared Hazen preparing, unknowingly, to later become a storied ultrarunner. He was learning how to be on his feet for a long time, how to focus while tired, and how to digest food on the move.
When Tank did pick up running in high school, it was only a matter of time before he found out that you could race much farther than a 5k during cross country season if you wanted to. This was a kid who voluntarily played golf for almost all of the daylight hours, and who sat for hours in the woods waiting for movement in the trees. This was a kid who was molded for the very demands that running very far requires.
It seems only inevitable that he quickly applied the lessons he had learned as a kid--about patience and being uncomfortable and the value of practicing a lot--and won his first 100-mile race, the Oil Creek 100, at the young age of eighteen. It’s also unsurprising that after years and years of 100-plus mile weeks, he finished second at the prestigious Western States 100 last year in the second-fastest time ever.
Tank has earned the respect of his peers because of his level of dedication, and his unwavering commitment to his goals. He does not miss a training run. He outworks almost everyone around him. He tests the boundaries of what’s possible in a way that is either too frightening or too painful for most other people. What I find most inspiring about Tank, though, is that he’s applied those same values and characteristics to everything he’s ever done. It’s not just in running that he’s tried to be his best. I think he wanted to be the best shot he could be when he hunted and he wanted to be the best golfer he could be when he golfed. And what I’ve thought about when driving the golf cart down the fairway on a sunny day in Arizona with Tank is that if everyone could try to be their best--in their profession or their hobby but especially in their life and as a person--then the world would be a better place. I think Tank is a shining example of that.
Tank will need to try to be his best some day soon. He’ll need to draw on his many experiences and his countless 100-mile weeks. He plans to attempt a fastest time on the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 170-mile loop around Lake Tahoe, at some point in the future. I have the feeling that if he digs deep, and he remembers those freezing Pennsylvania mornings, and he recalls the taste of hot dogs and french fries from his days on the golf course, and he recognizes that he’s been preparing for a long trip in the woods for practically his whole life, he might just circle that big, blue lake faster than anyone has ever before.
While he recovers from that monster effort, you’ll probably find him golfing a lot. After all, there’s only one way to get better at something: the more you do it, the better you’ll become.