Courtney Hawkins - October 2021
This month we are celebrating Courtney Hawkins and her performance at the Chicago Marathon where she came in 330th overall and 44th female! Not too shabby for a World Marathon Major! Thank you Courtney for letting us spotlight you this month - please enjoy the benefits offered by Peak Recovery and Health Center!
Can you give us a quick bio of your running experience/history
I’ll touch on some of this at later points, but here is a little snapshot. I started running at age 12 and joined cross country at age 13 at Milford Middle School and Milford High School. I have been involved with GCS since I was 13, and some of the members have watched me practically grow up since then. I quickly learned that I have some natural talent and loved to run. Mike Wright was my coach during most of middle school and high school and played a large role in my early running career and life. I got 6th place in the 2010 Nike Indoor Nationals Freshman Mile, making me all American. I also did Junior Olympics for cross and track with the Striders! When I was 15 I actually got All American (10th) at the 2010 JO National XC Championships in Alabama. I earned 9 State/Division (New Hampshire) individual titles between XC, indoor, and outdoor track, including 2011 XC State Champion In high school. I earned All New England honors twice in XC (top 25), and twice in track (top 6). I also received the 2011-2012 NH Girl’s XC Gatorade Runner of the Year award.
I competed for URI’s XC and T&F team on scholarship for 5 years. College was a very bumpy road in my running career, and I battled many injuries. I did get a handful of PR’s, but it was a very humbling experience and huge learning curve that I will always appreciate. I was out for my entire junior year due to fracturing my kneecap twice. Coming back was a long road. I focused on XC, and 3k – 10k. I was able to finish 5th at my last college race at the New England Champs in NH with my teammate and close friend coming in right next to me.
2 weeks later, I graduated and jumped into the 2018 Vermont City Marathon to get a BQ and have loved the marathon ever since. I have done 5 marathons (VCM ‘18, Baystate ‘19, Boston ’19, Cheap Marathon ’21, Chicago ’21). I have since found my love for trail running and spent Winter 2020 running through the white mountains. You will likely find me doing some absurd and unnecessary challenge (but I always get someone to fall into the trap and join me). I also help Souhegan High School XC on the Annual summer running workshop in Acadia, which is a highlight of every Summer for me. After college I joined Millennium Running’s Racing Team and I was coached by Jen Mortimer. I learned so much from her and gained many friendships. In January 2021, I joined the Boston Athletic Association, and I am looking forward to what comes my way.
You just ran the Chicago Marathon and were in the top 50 women's finishers in a World Marathon Major. Tell us how you feel, if you'd expected to have such a strong showing, and about the experience
Oh man that's a loaded question for me, but you asked so here we go! No, I never in a million years thought I would be top 50. I am still shook, and still try to invalidate it. I think I may have learned my lesson that I need to trust my training a little bit better than I do right now. I never made a concrete goal to share with anyone going into this race. I would just respond in ambiguity. I really wanted to make sure I enjoyed it. When training for this race, I gravitated towards 6:20s for goal marathon pace workouts, and that felt right. I just went with that. As the week approached it was very clear that a more cautious approach should be taken on race day due to less-than-ideal weather. I immediately threw the idea of a possible sub 2:50 out the window, and I was OK with that. I knew that I could do it, but I am HORRIBLE in the heat (as some of you have had a front row seat to). If it's not the day, then so be it. No better way to tame the pre-race jitters than opening a participant update email the night before stating "The current EAS level is Yellow, which suggests less than ideal conditions for marathon running. Based on the forecast, race officials anticipate that the EAS level will reach Red in the late morning. Red suggests potentially dangerous conditions for marathon running", am I right? The expected weather was "partly sunny, winds 12 to 17 miles per hour, low temperatures in the low 70s (degrees F) and high temperatures in the low 80s". The only good thing about that email was that there would be sponges (!!). The race started at 74 degrees F, 85% humidity. I did this race with two close friends who were my teammates back at URI, Lauren and Frankie. Frankie and I shared similar goals. We planned to work together for as long as we could. The new game plan was to stick with 6:35 pace until it made sense and felt safe to drop the pace, but we were fixated on waiting until mile 20 to change anything (speeding up). The race started and we executed our plan knowing it would take a couple miles to calibrate. 6:24, 6:31, 6:33, 6:35... there we go, all settled in. The wind was awful in the middle, so we hid behind taller guys. If anyone was tracking the two of us, you would have seen that we were GLUED to the hip for ~20 miles. I don't think I could have done it without her. I drank water and Gatorade basically every stop, I wasn't messing around. Every water stop I re-wet my sponge and dabbed my face to cool off. By mile ten I thought to myself that I felt suspiciously good. I buried that premature thought. The feeling was the same for halfway, then 15... 18... I thought it was a fluke. The big 2-0 approached and bells went off in my head while still holding dorky smile. I felt fantastic. Frank and I were going strong. I started to naturally speed up and noticed I was losing her. I kept looking back, and she yelled she was feeling good and to run my race. My brain basically shut off, and I let my legs do the dance. I dropped down to the very low 6s and with 2K to go, I only then realized I could break 2:50. Nice one, Court. It was going to be close. It had to be a sub 6 which I knew I could do, but those words were daunting. I dipped under 6min/mi, and then I saw my workout buddy FURLER in front of me. While I knew he was not having the race he wanted, I was happy to see him, as it gave me the boost I needed, and I could cheer him on. We gave a fist bump (if I remember correctly?) and I switched gears. The last mile was 5:42, but I still missed sub 2:50 by a few seconds. Tough pill to swallow, but I FINALLY realized that I have mid 2:40s potential if I just executed a negative split 3min PR marathon (1:26:11, 1:23:59) in dangerous hot, humid, and windy conditions. Frank and I got PRs and Lauren was very happy wither race as well. Furler and I met right at the finish and cracked open a beer with my two B.A.A. teammates. Lots of emotions, but we all could conclude it was a hard day, and we were proud regardless.
What is your next race?
I don’t even know what I am making for dinner tonight… I think my loose plan is to do cross country! I have a schedule conflict (and need rest) for the Mayor’s Cup, but USATF New England Cross Country Championships, and USA Club National Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee seems to be a realistic plan. Time to dust the crusty 5yr old dirt off my spikes. Do people still use spikes, or are we all about carbon now? What are the cool kids doing?
Do you follow any runners on social media? (Maybe we should ask how many runners follow you on social media!)
My social media activity has been so sporadic the past year or so, but yes, I do. I love the wide connection that I have gained. I used to compete against (they were at the same meets as me but far ahead) Heather MacLean and Elle Purrier in college, so it has been very inspiring to follow them now. Des Linden is one of my favorite marathoners, she came to our practice back in April after getting the 50K WR. She is such a gritty blue-collar runner, and I resonate with her relationship with running (plus she loves whiskey too). Courtney Dauwalter is another gritty ultra-marathoner who inspires me. B.A.A. has many inspirational athletes that are now becoming friends on top of teammates. I follow a bunch of the members of our pro team. Most importantly I follow my friends (i.e., old teammates, new teammates, friends gained in the running world, and a lot of competitors that become friends).
What are your 2022 goals?
I guess if I say it, there’s no going back, huh?
1. Obviously, my next goal is to break 2:50 in the marathon but dropping 11s is a silly goal to work over 26 miles for. I plan to tackle 2:45 in the marathon, with a reach goal of getting an Olympic trial qualifying time (OTQ). Those standards have not been released yet.
2. Now I’m thinking of Boston 2022 for the Spring, then Berlin and/or Indy for a Fall marathon (call me crazy).
3. Finish the NH 48 4,000 Footers. I was on a roll and then took a hiatus - 9 to go.
4. Run the single day Pemi Loop.
5. Get under 17min in the 5k (with all that room I am leaving myself…)
What has been your favorite race so far?
Post collegiate, I’d say Chicago Marathon 2021, but Cheap marathon 2021 is a close second. Mill Cities Relay always has a place in my heart too.
Did you do any virtual races over the past year?
Yes/no. I did a solo marathon in April 2020 to replace the cancelled 124th Boston Marathon. That was a suffer fest by the end, but I do not regret it. It didn’t count for anything, I just did it for myself and all the work I put in with training, fundraising, and life.
What is your funniest running or race related memory?
I honestly can’t think of anything specifically, but my Strava definitely documents some raw funny moments. I almost got plowed over by a deer on Rt 13 this summer. I was on the side of the road minding my own business as we were trying to get to an entrance to the Ghost Train and it pops out of nowhere on the other side of the road, darts across towards us, cuts off a car (going at least 50mph), and runs straight towards us. We stopped just in time. The deer then waltzed off as if nothing happened. Most other funny moments involve some form of profanity. You are welcome to stalk my Strava as there is normally some form of nonsense each week to cause a laugh.
I also crack myself up because I made pretty much every part of the Pressed Café (PBS Shake run) loop(s) a Strava segment. Ruining friendships one segment at a time…
Outside of running, do you cross-train?
I hike a lot! I also bike. I did more riding in 2020 but will be using the trainer this Winter (someone hold me to it). Hit me up on Zwift. I swam in a past life, but I am tempted to revisit that here and there. I love to ski as well. I also do strength 1/2x a week with the help of the brilliant Sarah Crane. To everyone now asking if I plan to do a Tri eventually, the answer is no (so probably yes).
What other hobbies do you have besides run?
I make embroidery floss friendship bracelets. I am now learning photography on my mirrorless camera. I am also in grad school for my Masters in Public Health (not a hobby, but hey it’s something other than running).
What made you decide to start running?
I started running at age 12 when I joined outdoor track in 7th grade. Up to that point, I had been a soccer player since I was 5 and a swimmer since I was 7. I hated swimming by the final years, but knew I was talented which made me feel obligated to continue and not be a “quitter”. That negative association was translated in my performances. I gained a new friend group in 7th grade, and they all were on the xc and track team. I basically joined the team cause my friends were doing it. 4’ 9” Court thought she would be a hurdler. Spoiler alert, that never happened. I knocked the wind out of me after one hurdle attempt in the middle school hallway, caught my breath, then caught the distance squad as they headed out the door to run. I ran the mile in my first ever meet and won my heat with a 6:42 mile and ended the season 7th place (I think) at Tri-County’s (basically states) on the Nashua South Track with a 5:55. I had a blast that whole season and Mike Wright brought me to high school practices while building a campaign to get me to quit swimming and join cross in the Fall. After that summer, I did my last swim season and then quit that and soccer because I had realized running was my passion.
Do you listen to music while you run? If so, any favorite songs/artists?
I don’t like listening to music when I run. I can’t hear my surroundings. If I do, I would not even be able to tell you one song I listened to. I did a solo 20mi last month, and I put one ear bud in but only lasted two miles with it. Podcasts are my best bet probably. Backpacker Radio – highly recommend.
What has kept you motivated during the past year of COVID?
Not to be sappy, but probably most of the people reading this kept me going. The beginning of covid had me temporarily back at the ‘rents for two months. I was super strict about running with no one. The GCS virtual challenges kept me entertained. I was working remotely for about a year, and that was very hard on me. I felt isolated and running was a huge part of my social life. Eventually we got some group runs back in action. PBS (peanut butter shake) Thursday runs became a staple. Seeing everyone and whatever nonsense unfolded each morning made my entire week. Saturday barn runs were back too, and things almost felt half normal. Then winter 2020 was a big covid setback. I strayed away from big group runs and then started winter hiking/mountain running… literally every weekend. No really, I did 28 4K footers this winter season. Before I knew it a got a weekly routine while living in Hollis and boy I don’t know what I would have done without it. 5am a Tuesday runs with Adam and anyone else willing, workout Wednesdays with Furler, Thursdays dedicated to my other early morning freak girlfriends, 5am Friday Death March with Adam, Furler and Kasey (eventually transitioned into trail runs), Saturday hike/run, and Sunday Boston run. It just fell in place, and I looked forward to every morning. My point is, y’all rock, don’t change. I pick up an April marathon 6wks out and Furler and I started to tailor workouts to that, and all was good. Loose goals, TT format races, and my people… can’t ask for more during this time.
How many pairs of running shoes do you currently own?
Too many but not enough.
Do you like running in the rain? In the snow?
YES! Slap some micros on my feet and I’ll be deep into the snowy woods, running in the middle of a snowstorm on the covered roads (for safety purposes, that is totally hypothetical…), or running Beaver Brook for a full moon running chasing down Adam and Furler. I love rain but count me out for freezing rain.
Favorite junk food? Seriously, the kind you don't like to admit you eat?
I love me a good donut, or any pastry/sweet at Buckley’s.
What is your most useful running accessory? Music player? Article of clothing? Etc?
My headlamp. Petzl Actik Core 450 lumen (sponsor me) - it’s so bright that people think all 5’1” of me is a car coming up behind them. It also is a great tool to keep the brats (Adam and a Furler) somewhat in check because they are dependent on my light, and Chaia the doggo gets worried if she can’t see my light anymore.
Have you ever been Furlered? (Adding this one in since I saw it on previous RotM responses)
Twice. Let me tell you about it.
Sept. 7, 2019 @ 6:36 AM: Andy, Adam, Kasey, Furler, (red flag #1) and I meet up at the Goldstein’s. I was still naïve to the implications of being Furlered. I requested an easy 20mi run on the Facebook page. Furler designed the route – red flag #2. He does come clean that the course is rolling hills and that there is some trail – red flag #3. The Strava map did not do it justice. I had not done any trail running with Mark at the point, so my ignorant self had agreed to the soft surface with the hopes of learning new trails. 21mi and 2,300ft elevation gain later, I think Andy and I could safely conclude that those hills were not rolling. I was momentarily scarred.
Oct. 24, 2020 @ 8:04 AM: The plan was about 12 miles. I confirmed that it was road prior to start, as I was wearing prototypes that were road racing shoes with minimal traction. We went on technical single-track trail at mile 8, AKA not road. Mark said he knew a short cut on a non-technical trail that would get us back sooner, but took a wrong turn. At that point I did not know where I was so I couldn’t navigate myself to my car if I turned back, and my keys were in someone’s car. I was slipping everywhere and eventually ended up with an ankle the size of a softball. We had a nice group walk after that to get back haha. Luckily, I was only out for a few weeks, and there were blueberry pancakes courtesy of Brian after. All was good.
I think this is all about perspective, accountability, and considering the source of the idea. For example, if I reach out to get a group together for 10mi and state the intended pace of 7:30min/mi or slow, but only Adam, Brian, and Furler confirm to join, we all know that 7:30 is NOT happening here. Since this is a real-life example, I will go on to say that they went on to do 20mi at sub 7 pace while I stuck to my word of 10 @ 7:30. I knew what I was getting myself into. They were kind enough to loop back every few miles and say hi. Nothing out of the ordinary here. So, in this situation I would conclude that I did not get Furlered, but it’s a good laugh.
Why do you run? (e.g. health, fitness, mental/stress relief, competition, etc)
I am the best form of myself with running, and it has introduced me to a World of some of the most amazing people. It is a bonus that it keeps me fit, but I am thankful to have a passion that can serve so many benefits: a mental relief, social life, a tightly knit community of slightly twisted people, a fit lifestyle, and a lifestyle that has a positive impact of other healthy life choices. Distance running has brought some of the most important people into my life.
(I also am unnecessarily competitive)