Emily Hawgood photos by adidas TERREX and @iancorless.
Emily Hawgood, seventh place finisher at the 2021 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, returns to the Western States startline in this weekend. Hawgood, Zimbabwe’s trail running phenom, has had a unique upbringing on a small farm in Zimbabwe where she ran mostly barefoot and competed in a variety of sports until she discovered trail running in college in the United States. 2021 was a breakthrough year for Hawgood, who not only placed seventh at the Western States 100, third at the Bandera 100K, fourth at the Canyons Endurance Runs, and tenth at UTMB, but also secured a professional running contract with adidas TERREX.
For this article, I interview Emily Hawgood about her trail running background, recent trail running success and her preparations for the 2022 Western States race.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] How did you discover trail running?
[EMILY HAWGOOD] My college coach Pat McCurry introduced me to my current coach Paul Lind, and he said he ran in the mountains, his son ran in them and he had some other athletes that he trained to run in the mountains too. I had just completed my second full Ironman Triathlon and wasn’t enjoying the time on the bike, especially competing with cars and trucks on the roads so when he said the mountains my heart leaped and I asked Paul “Can I do that?” He took a huge chance on me—I fell in love with them and the rest is history.
[TAYTE] Growing up, you enjoyed playing a variety of sports including field hockey, tennis, swimming, track and cross country, netball, triathlons, basketball, and volleyball. Do you see any crossover from these sports into trail running?
[EMILY] The team aspect for me is pretty big. So playing team sports and seeing how even though trail running is done individually, the strength of having a team beside you is incredible!
[TAYTE] You had an incredible year in 2021, with top ten performances at both UTMB and the Western States 100. What was it like transitioning from being a relatively unknown talented athlete from a small farm in Zimbabwe to an elite trail runner finding success on the biggest stages in our sport?
[EMILY] I love running in the mountains. The opportunities that have arisen from finding success have been incredible with becoming a part of the adidas TERREX team being the biggest one. It’s been pretty special to have what I love doing become my work, my way to adventure, travel the world, and another means of meeting incredible people.
[TAYTE] Reflecting on 2021, do you see this as a turning point in your career?
[EMILY] I see it as part of the journey for sure. It was an amazing year in terms of understanding myself, working closely with my coaches to understand exactly what my personalized training needs to look like, giving me the confidence to never give up on a goal and so much more. It is fun to get to a start line and know I have what it takes to compete with the best even as I continue to grow and learn.
[TAYTE] You are the type of trail runner who enjoys the technical/off-trail adventure. What have been some of your favorite (or craziest!) adventures off-the-beaten path?
[EMILY] Great question! I’ve had some wild ones, for sure. My craziest one would have to be a solo adventure I had in the Lost River Range in Idaho in 2020. It was 18 hours long where I climbed up Mount Idaho and then ended up missing a shoot to get further along the range. I climbed down something I didn’t have the confidence to climb back up but got stuck and had to cry my way through each scary hand placement and footstep to get back to safety. Then, I bailed off into forested drainage to get some actual running miles in, which included a lot of bushwhacking but also the incredible discovery of a couple ice cold blue mountain lakes that I swam in. Then, I ended up running out over a pass with the intention to tag another Idaho 12er but thunderstorms rolled in so I had to drop a few thousand feet and run low miles back to the truck. It was quite the adventure and one that made me who I am today, no doubt!
[TAYTE] I have never met a trail runner from Zimbabwe. What is the trail running community there like?
[EMILY] Trail running is just starting to take off in Zimbabwe. I only discovered the trails when I graduated from college in the US so I haven’t been too connected with the trail running community back home until recently. I am running the Skyrun in Zimbabwe, which I am excited for. The running community in general is a close community, too, and it’s been great to see family and friends find joy on the trails.
[TAYTE] What are the trails like in Zimbabwe?
[EMILY] We have a little bit of everything minus the height, technicality and snow you might find in say the Alps. We are definitely limited to where we can run because of the wild animals. The Skyrun is in the highlands of Zimbabwe, which is a little safer but we also have a lot of trails that run through townships and other true bush areas.
[TAYTE] How do you feel being one of the most influential trail runners to come out of your home country?
[EMILY] I have to pinch myself that a flatlander farm girl can now run in the mountains all over the world, and don’t take that opportunity for granted ever. It’s a very special privilege.
[TAYTE] I’ve seen photos of you at races with the Zimbabwe flag. What does it mean to hold your country’s flag at your races?
[EMILY] It’s a huge reminder for me that brings tears to my eyes after each finish line that this journey is possible for someone like me. I raise it for every person from back home that loves and supports me and wishes they had the opportunity to run these races too. It is a reminder of where I’m from and the family back home that share it all.
[TAYTE] You went to college at the College of Idaho. How did you enjoy your college experience and the Idaho running community?
[EMILY] I love Idaho! I was trying to go to the University of Idaho and made the best mistake of my life applying and being accepted at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Idaho is my home and where my community is. I love the running community there and was blessed to have Matthew Laye as my professor in college who lit a fire in my heart about trail running and exercise physiology through his stories about his incredible career. There really is a little bit of everything there and the trails or Sage brush-filled mountains to go bundu bashing through are so much a part of my foundation for my career. The community in Idaho and the people in general are some of the best in the world and feel like family.
[TAYTE] adidas TERREX has built a strong team of young runners over the last several years. What has it been like being a part of this team?
[EMILY] It truly brings tears to my eyes that I am part of this team. When our team manager reached out to me I had two requests:
- I wanted a true team. Not just a group of runners that wear the same gear and see each other at races but who genuinely love and support each other.
- Shoes that I could run in. I was a barefoot runner until college and had a hard time finding shoes that didn’t cause me to get shin splints or other injuries.
I knew adidas TERREX was my team when Robert gave me the full rundown of our #oneteam structure and functionality, his dream and passion for us to be a team, how he hand-picked each one of us to be a part of that team for a reason. He said he was creating the most incredible orchestra. I was sold and texted Robert back right away that I was in!
Robert sent over 16 pairs of different shoes at that point and when the magic glove didn’t show itself he sent a prototype pair of the Speed Ultra, which was perfect. I’ve run every race in them since. adidas TERREX is constantly creating the best shoes and so many that fit my feet so well. I couldn’t be more lucky.
[TAYTE] How old were you at your first ultra?
[EMILY] I ran my first ultra at 24, but I had done two full Ironman Triathlons before that and a few multi-day Iron Will events in Zimbabwe too.
[TAYTE] What distances did you focus on early in your trail running career?
[EMILY] I started with a few ultras combined with many Skyrunning events, which are all between 21km and 74km so I had a great mix!
[TAYTE] Paul Lind is an important name in Western States 100 running circles and also your coach. What does it mean to have him on your team and how has he helped you prepare for Western States?
[EMILY] I wouldn’t be half the trail runner or person I am today without Paul Lind. The roots that Paul has in Western States with his dad and the whole Lind family are special ones. Watching the pride and love they hold for the race is soul warming. Bob Lind was a man I wish I had met. The knowledge learned and shared has guided Paul throughout his coaching and it’s the wisdom that guides a lot of steps now. I couldn’t be more grateful for having Paul on my team for any race, not just Western States. The quality of his coaching that he pours into each of his athletes is unbeatable.
[TAYTE] What has the ultrarunning learning curve been like for you?
[EMILY] Paul Lind is the best at protecting the longevity of his athletes. From the beginning he suggested that I don’t start anything longer than 100km for a while to keep running fun. It was the best advice ever and we built up my strength and endurance needed for the longer events over time.
[TAYTE] Let’s talk more about Western States 2022. What has your training been like this year? What are your main goals?
[EMILY] Training for Western has been amazing! I’ve been lucky enough to live close to the course and make these trails home. I’ve taken the time to work closely with both Paul Lind and my strength coach Pat McCurry to put together a unique and specific program from what I learned racing Western States last year. It had a little bit of everything—endurance, speed, strength, mobility and more. I’ve learned how to listen closely to my body and lean into Paul and Pat for their wisdom when anything is a little off or when things are going well too!
[TAYTE] What was your biggest lesson from Western States 2021?
[EMILY] I need to save my legs for the back half of the race!
[TAYTE] How do you feel about your crew for Western States this year?
[EMILY] I’m stoked with my crew. They are Paul Lind, my mum, Luke Garten, Nate Bender, Alexis Crellin and a lot more cheering souls and helping hands.
[TAYTE] What role does a crew play in having a successful Western States for you?
[EMILY] My crew is such a bonus for me. I could do it on my own with drop bags at the aid stations but I think having the excitement of the crew and the helping hands just adds something special. It’s pretty awesome to see their smiling faces and get some coach wisdom mid-race.
[TAYTE] Where do you primarily live and train?
[EMILY] Currently I am based in Roseville, California.
[TAYTE] You have spent a significant amount of time in the US. How do you enjoy the US trail running community? Do you feel a sense of home here in the states too?
[EMILY] The US trail running community is wonderful. I’ve made many close friends and people I consider family over the past five years.
[TAYTE] Any other race goals this season?
[EMILY] I have UTMB at the end of August, something in Cape Town at the end of November and the Zimbabwe Skyrun in December.
Are you excited to follow Emily Hawgood’s 2022 Western States 100 journey? Follow our live updates and content from Western States on our social media channels; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.