When Carter Hawke was 15 years old, he would run for stretches alongside his dad, Ferg, as the elder Hawke completed the gruelling Badwater Ultramarathon – billed as the world’s most difficult footrace – in the blistering summer heat of Death Valley, Calif.
Seeing firsthand what his father was dealing with – extreme fatigue, sunburn, toenails tearing off and shoes with soles so hot that they literally melt after miles of pounding the hot pavement – one would think young Carter would want nothing to do with ultra-marathon running, in which competitors run courses that range from 75 km to, in the case of Badwater, more than 200.
Fast forward a decade and a half, however, and it’s clear that whatever he witnessed growing up did very little to scare him off the trail. In fact, being in that world – around people pushing their bodies to their absolute limits – only served to motivate him.
Like father, like son.
Last month, Carter, now 30, competed in the three-day Whistler Alpine Meadows ‘Triple Wammy’ event, which began with an ascent run – from the base of Blackcomb Mountain to the top of the gondola – and continued with a 25-km trail race the following day, and wrapped with a 55-km slog through the hilly Whistler-area terrain.
“It keeps getting longer, keeps getting worse,” he laughed, when asked to describe the weekend race series.
He finished third overall.
It was the younger Hawke’s second go at the Alpine Meadows event; last year, he competed in the one-day 110-km event. He chose the three-day event this year after a foot injury curtailed his usual summer training schedule.
“I didn’t think I’d be prepared enough for the 110,” he explained.
A casual runner for years, it wasn’t until the last three or four that Carter began moving toward ultra-marathon distances.
And good son that he is, he doesn’t even blame his dad – not exactly – for his relatively new interest.
“I wouldn’t say that him doing it is exactly why I started, but with him doing these races throughout my childhood, I was exposed to it and kind of understood it,” Carter said.
“I don’t think (watching my dad) dissuaded me at all, and he didn’t try to stop me. It’s hard to rationalize, I guess, but the more you’re around these ultra-marathon people – not just my dad, but others, too – the more you realize that they’re not superhuman. It’s feasible for the average person to do, which I think makes it interesting.”
Though he’s now completed a handful of races over 100 km – including one last year in Quebec – Carter didn’t start out with such long runs. First, he ran a half-marathon, and he eventually progressed to 50-km events and beyond.
“I did fairly well in a 50K, and then it just grows and you want to do better, and I’m a competitive person,” he explained.
“Incrementally, you just start getting stupider.”
However “stupid” he may jokingly claim to be, Carter said the Badwater Ultramarathon – which Ferg completed twice, in 2004 and ’05 – is not something that is on his running radar, calling it “at another level” compared to most other ultra races. In ’04, Ferg finished second overall, crossing the finish line 27 hours after he started.
For his part, Ferg – who still owns the Badwater record for best finish by a Canadian competitor – takes his son’s feelings toward Badwater as a sign of good parenting.
“I do like that whenever someone asks him, ‘Are you going to do Badwater like your dad?’ he says, ‘Uh, no.’ So I think I raised him right. That’s probably a good decision,” he laughed.
“He could do it, and he’s certainly got the ability to break my record, but there’s just so many other cool races out there to do. Watching me (while he was) growing up, I think the seed was planted, but I’m glad he’s got a little more sense than I ever had.”
One area where the two differ, Ferg notes, is that Carter prefers mountainous trail runs, as opposed to the long, hot mostly-pavement routes of events such as Badwater. Among his accomplishments, Ferg has also competed in the Marathon des Sables, a stage race in the Sahara Desert.
Though he’s mostly done with competitive races – he did sign up for this year’s Chuckanut 50K race in Washington before pulling out due to a hamstring injury – Ferg still runs, and said he enjoys being able to share his hobby with Carter, even if Carter and his usual running mates are pulling away in the speed department.
“Luckily, I’ve been fairly injury-free and at my age, sneaking up on 62 here, I’m still able to do it. Our gap (in speed) is getting bigger and bigger, but we’re still able to get out there and do the same trails, so it’s a unique experience, for sure,” he said.
A few years ago, the pair – along with a friend of Carter’s – travelled to Arizona to run the Grand Canyon, on a route known as the rim-to-rim-to-rim double crossing.
“We started together and ran the first four or five miles together, but Carter was running with his buddy – another quick, young guy – so I told them, ‘Don’t wait for me. I’ll just meet you on the other side, and if I don’t come up after daylight, start looking for me.’
“So they took off and ripped it, and I survived. But it was just awesome to do the same run together.”
When race days come around, Carter said he’s lucky to have his dad in his corner, lending a hand where he can, either with pre-race advice or working as part of his support crew. In fact, Carter said last month’s Whistler event was the first of his ultra-marathon races that his dad had missed.
“A lot of it is learning. In these long ultras, half the battle is nutrition and hydration and how to train properly, and I had that knowledge already from watching my dad, so I had an advantage there because there’s a learning curve for people who are new to the sport,” Carter said.
One highlight for Ferg was helping his son at last year’s Quebec race.
“What was really cool was I was crewing for him, and the last 20 km, I was able to pace him. So I got to run alongside him, encourage him and push him to the finish,” he said. “It’s just kind of come full circle because 12, 15 years ago, he was doing those same things for me.
“It was a really cool moment.”