This is a piece by one of our most popular writers, Cait Chock, on Nick Hauger and the lessons that he learned in his first marathon last year after battling the challenges of a year marred by injuries, he debuted at the 2021 Cal International Marathon with fabulous race.
Nick Hauger: Impact, Intent, and Gratitude
By: Cait Chock
Nick Hauger moves through this world with impact and intent. Which, naturally, is just how he runs. As a freshly turned pro in 2019, Hauger was dealt with the blow of a stress fracture that kept him unable to run for eight weeks. He was left on the sidelines when he planned to be grinding it out with his new NAZ Elite teammates. Yet he never wavered from his true north: impact and intent.
“I truly believe the impact is everything when it comes to pursuing one’s goals,” shares Hauger. “I don’t know how running will pan out for me as the end result is always unknown. So, the way I view my own pursuits, I want to ultimately inspire people to believe they can achieve more than they think they can. I’ve always surprised myself in running, and it comes from discipline and a belief in myself.”
The stress fracture healed, and Hauger went from barely being able to hang on to the back of his teammates to keeping up. And along with the benefit of fitness that came with being able to run with them came the invaluable amount of knowledge they could share with him now that he could converse with them while running. “Teammates are everything in this sport…they changed so much for me, from instilling wisdom and guidance as I ventured into my first marathon to providing good banter on easy runs or even just showing me how hard we can actually work. I have an inspiring group of teammates—and at this point, friends—who make this running thing a lot easier.”
This brings us to the marathon. And intent. The 2021 track season was one that left Hauger gutted yet inspired. He channeled his disappointment and shifted focus to his marathon debut. The definition of intent is both purpose as a noun and resolution and determination to do something as an adjective. In duality, the intent of the marathon was the kindling Hauger used to re-ignite the fire inside him.
He delved into the grind that is marathon training. Thankfully his teammates had prepared him for the journey. “I think a mental piece of the marathon grind was knowing that there will be days when you are emotionally and physically exhausted. Knowing this was a piece of the day-to-day prep that allowed me to accept it for what it was and keep plugging forward.”
While his teammates were there in wisdom and support, the timing of the CIM Marathon meant that the vast majority of his training was to be done alone. Yet Hauger only moves through this world with impact, so he shifted his perspective to that of embracing, even relishing, the lone wolf training block. “I felt that really gave me this edge in many ways because I told myself, ‘If I can do this alone, imagine what I can do on race day in a group.’”
He also learned plenty of lessons firsthand, and the heavy fatigue of being deep in a marathon block will leave your legs feeling heavy, sore, and impossibly tired. Though he found if he just got into the hard workout, eventually some kind of magical muscle memory would kick in, “I knew if I allowed myself to be fully present with the work and accepting of those feelings, my body could get the job done.”
Acceptance. Don’t fight the pain, but also don’t fight your journey. The second part is something Hauger has had to embrace time and time again, and his ability to find purpose and strength through all the unexpected blows is a further testament to his mental tenacity and keen perspective.
Just before gearing up for his first marathon, he encountered a string of foot niggles and injuries, ones that forced him back to the cross trainer. But they never forced his eyes back from the intended goal. While it’s impossible to not be disappointed, Hauger shares that the key for him, and something anyone stuck in the trenches of an injury or setback can adopt, is to shift your mind away from the worry and rely on confidence in yourself. In time you will heal. “If you are doing all the right things like eating well, getting good sleep, doing rehab and cross training, then you are on the right path, and the injury will subside when the time is right. Worrying makes life miserable and ultimately does nothing to change the situation.”
He admits this is easier said than done, but something that, with practice, is possible. Practice and distraction are two things he recommends utilizing during these times to connect with yourself outside of running. Do things you normally wouldn’t: visit friends, try new things, and distract your mind from what you feel like you’re missing. Finally, he cautions tackling cross-training with simply too much zealousness, “Back when I was younger, whenever I ran into an injury, I pushed myself so hard when it came to cross-training. Sometimes this caused the injury to last longer than it should have.” While that’s not to say don’t cross-train, it’s an emphasis on balance and learning to listen to your body. Sometimes the, fighting of an injury only comes back to bite you in the butt.
Hauger overcame these road bumps, mentally and physically. He got healthy, and as CIM approached, he thought back to when he couldn’t even run and was desperately keeping his hopes up by writing himself notes: “I will debut in 2:12.”
Finally, at the starting line of CIM, Hauger had come off his strongest builds, and he was both healthy and grateful the most powerful combination. As he fought through the later, most painful stages of the marathon, his mind focused on one person in particular, “I had to dig pretty far to get the most out of myself on the day, and my thoughts kept coming back to my recently passed high school track coach, Bob Isitt, who once told me mid-race, ‘You have to believe!’ With those words ringing through the pain of the race, I was able to really dig to a spot I’ve never gone before.”
2:12:59. Hauger believed, and he did. He overcame every obstacle that his journey had entailed, and he never lost sight of the gratitude of simply being able to do what he loves. “I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you get to constantly rediscover just how far you can push, how fast you can move, and how deep you can go.”
Nick Hauger, 2021 CIM Marathon, his marathon debut where he ran 2:12.59, photo courtesy of HOKA NAZ Elite
Impact and intent. When neither are tethered solely to a time or a place but to a much deeper, intrinsic place that is infinitely stronger, that is when you will soar.
Now having months to the process, savor, and learn from his first marathon, Hauger is already looking forward. He is also more confident in his ability to navigate the darkest regions of the pain cave, “On a weird level, I feel like a lot of my workouts are easier to approach mentally because of the constant comparison to the marathon itself, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in running.”
Not that shifting his workouts down to the speedier, 10k, and half marathon paced work that he will be focused on for the summer season didn’t come with a bit of a shock to his system, but the aerobic strength and fortitude no doubt is paying off in dividends.
Hauger is excited about the next seasons, including another marathon. 2022 started with some challenges, and injuries halted his progress in the spring and summer of 2022. Nick Hauger is a fighter, and he came back, setting a 10-mile PB of 47:41, taking 15th in the USATF 10 Mile Championships on October 2, 2022, at the Medtronic 10 Miler.
There is also the omnipresent goal that has been there since he was just a fourth grader signed up for a track club by his mom to keep him out of trouble. “Since a young age, I have loved the Olympic games and have felt for as long as I can remember now that I want to get there and compete for my country. That dream is still very much alive and real.”
Impact and intent. It reaches beyond merely his own personal endeavors and proves both the character of Hauger and the authentic affinity he has for the running community, “If I can help inspire [belief in oneself] through my own running, that’s success to me.”
And thus, Hauger runs on along the oxygen-sparse trails of Flagstaff, chasing dreams alongside the teammates who are also his best friends, and with the levity from gratitude in the process that keeps his feet floating onward.
Cait Chock previously ran for Nike and set the then National High School record for 5k (15:52.88). Today she is just as addicted to running as it keeps her sane(r), and she chronicles that on her YouTube Channel. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @caitchock.