By Shannon Payne
He's a Harvard grad. He once placed fifth at the State Cross Country Championships as a Coronado Cougar. He's a mechanical engineer. He has successfully consumed 20 IHOP pancakes in a single sitting. He is the youngest winner of the Pikes Peak Ascent. He uploads poetry onto his iPod. He holds the Barr Trail Mountain Race course record. He is affectionately known to many of his friends as "Bananahands," owing to his tendency for being frequently caught eating bananas.
Yes, one could argue that Ryan Hafer isn't really your typical, run of the mill, 20-something "runner dude."
He likes to dabble in some of everything, and more often than not, he likes to take the road a little less traveled to get to where he's going.
Following his graduation from Coronado in 2004, Hafer went off to Harvard to pursue his mechanical engineering degree while also competing in track and cross country. While many runners know more or less what they'd like to "specialize" in in terms of running events, Hafer ran everything from cross-country to the 1500 to the 10k to the steeplechase, but never really found his niche until the end of his college running career.
"I've always loved cross country. I liked the 3k indoors, but on the track I didn't really find what I liked until my last season when I tried a few steepleschases," Hafer said of his college running days.
Hafer admits however, that track races really aren't his thing. He has reason to believe this too, at 19, during his college off-season, he trounced the field at the Pikes Peak Ascent (2:21:30) to become the race's youngest-ever victor. In 2010 won the 12 mile Barr Trail Mountain Race by a landslide and captured the course record of 1:29.10, he still has that record. He's even made his mark on the roads when he took 3rd in the citizen's race at 2010's Bolder Boulder--easily Colorado's biggest road-race, one of the biggest in the nation in fact.
Hafer's Bolder Boulder finish was made even more impressive by the fact that he had spent the early part of the year hampered with injuries after he self-coached his way to his first marathon the previous year. As with many self-coached runners, there is a great deal of learning that comes through trial and error.
"I made a lot of training mistakes right after graduation," Hafer explained. "When you're coaching yourself and figuring out what works for you, you have to figure out when to push the envelope here, or lessen the volume or intensity there, and what to do in the off-season."
Turning his downtime in 2009 into an advantage, Hafer furthered his knowledge by spending some of his countless hours cross-training on the elliptical or stationary bike reading books like Daniel's Running Formula and Road to the Top. Books written by renowned coaching gurus Jack Daniels and Joe Vigil.
"There is a lot of substance to those books, they're proven methods that work. It's not hard to map out a good week of training, even a good month, but month after month and year after year, and factoring in the off-season, is a lot harder," said Hafer.
It was that added knowledge that helped make 2010 such a successful year for Hafer. 2011 though, a little less so.
Early last year, bothered by lingering dull pain in his foot, Hafer, looking to up his training volume, finally opted to get it checked out and hopefully squared away. X-rays revealed a fractured sesmoid bone that he'd been running on for several months. So much for big plans for the early part of the year. Hafer found himself logging his miles in the pool for the next 3 months.
After a slow but successful return, Hafer got back on track in time for the USATF Club Cross Country Championships where he ran as part of the Boulder Running Company/Adidas team. The team took an impressive 2nd place only to McMillan Elite, a group of professional runners based out of Flagstaff, AZ.
"I just went out there and did the best I could with what training I had," said Hafer.
Despite his talent for cross country, Hafer wasn't to be found at last week's USA Cross Country Championships. Due to recent rule-changes among USATF, many of which ironically hinder the development of the sport in the U.S., Hafer, never one to forgo standing up for his beliefs, staged somewhat of a single-man boycott against the organization. Aside from the USATF Club Championships every December, you won't see him in any other USATF sponsored races.
"I think it's a self-serving organization," Hafer explained of his stance. "It's more looking out for itself than furthering the sport. A lot of people are complaining about the changes that have been made. There are other races with a ton talent competing out there to run in other than U.S. Championship events."
This year looks promising for Hafer, who is healthy and running strong. He is crushing the long-course field in the 2012 Pikes Peak Road Runners Winter Series with three wins in three starts. And he is entertaining thoughts of returning to Pikes Peak in August.
Until then, Hafer will take things as they come, and learn more about effectively coaching himself. Look for him in the lead pack of trail and road races throughout Colorado.