Justin Hayes: on the trail to running glory

WE TALK to Justin Hayes about his passion for running and the huge impact its had on all areas of his life.

Justin Hayes

Runner Justin Hayes pictured with his family.

JUSTIN HAYES fell in love with running as a child. He found it exhilarating running in nearby forests and his pace was soon recognised when he played sport at school.


He has since competed in several road marathons and has thrown himself into the world of trails and ultra running. Here he talks about some of his biggest running successes and the impact the sport has had on all areas of his life. 


When did you start running and when was it that you realised you had a real talent for the sport?


I started running competitively during the spring track season of 1997, it was my 7th grade year. It’s hard to believe it’s been over 20 years now. I was always pretty fast on the fields when we played soccer and other games growing up. Once I got into the sport I was immediately running outdoors on the trails. I lived near the Morgan Monroe State Forest in south central Indiana, and could run to the trails in the park from my house. It was not very widely visited in the late 90s/early 2000s, so I could run for miles and miles on trails without seeing another soul. I think that is part of why I fell in love with the sport.


Justin Hayes

Running surrounded by nature has always been something that has Justin has enjoyed

When did you run your first marathon?


My first marathon was the Phoenix Rock & Roll Marathon in 2006. It was the only road marathon I’ve specifically trained for, most of my bigger races since 2009 have been trail races, and I’ve occasionally run a road marathon as a training race for a longer trail ultra. In 2006 I broke the 3:00 mark with a 2:57. I’d like to train for another one and break 2:50 while I’m still in my 30s.


What were some of your earliest running successes?


I led my middle school school distance teams, and my high school cross-country team my senior year. I didn’t win a lot of races though until I really started getting into the Indiana road racing circuit in college. I decided to try out for the cross country team my senior year at Purdue University. I was able to walk on the team by winning the two-mile tryout race.


It was an incredible experience to be a part of a Division 1 Big 10 Varsity sport. Another early success was in stair-climbing races. In 2005 I ran a race up the Sears Tower and became the third fastest human to ever run up that building.


Justin Hayes

Justin has run several road marathons as trails and ultra-running are his main focus in the sport.

When did you get into ultra running and where in the world has the sport taken you?


In 2009 I joined a trail running group in north east Ohio. Every week the group would meet at a different trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and go for a run together. The group was a lot of fun, and consisted mostly of ultra runners. There were a few high profile events in the area that I was a spectator for, and I eventually decided to give the 50k distance a go. I ran under 5:00 hours on my first attempt, even after getting lost for a few miles and adding some distance on. I later dropped my time to 4:19, and added races up to the 100-mile distance.


Justin Hayes

Justin got into ultra running in 2009 and in 2015 competed in the USATF 100 Mile National Championships in Texas.

My crowning achievement was competing in the 2015 USATF 100 Mile National Championships in Texas.  I was 12th in the Men’s Division of the National Championships, and 23rd overall.  It’s hard to describe the experience of running 100 miles in a single go.  I’m actually writing a book about it, discussing the life lessons I’ve learned through running and how they have helped to make me a better and more successful person overall.  I hope to have it published early next year.


The best thing that has come out of the sport for me though is my wife.  We met in that trail running group in Ohio in 2009.


Justin Hayes

Justin met his wife through his passion for trail running.

Who have been your biggest mentors and supporters along the way?


My biggest running mentor was Charlie Warthan, my high school coach. He taught me a lot, not just about running, but about the benefits and rewards of practicing hard work and discipline. Those are traits needed to succeed in life, much less athletic events. My biggest supporters have certainly been my wife and my parents. They have crewed for me on countless races, and without my wife’s cooking there is no way I could have made it through training for a 100-mile race!


Justin Hayes

Justin has recently moved to Boise, Idaho, and will compete in a local 50k race in October. photo Rachel Marvel Photography

What are you currently training for and what races and events do you have lined up for the rest of the year?


I recently moved my family to Boise, Idaho, and have my sights set on a local 50k race in October.  It’s challenging and mountainous, and the only ultra that starts in Boise.  I’m currently exploring the trails the race will follow to get myself familiar with the lay of the land, and practicing running up the mountains. 

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