In 2014, Brett Hales signed up for the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship half-marathon in Utah one-hour before the race, then proceeded to blitz the field and win with a six-minute lead.
It was his first-ever trail race, and he was hooked.
“It was phenomenal, I loved it,” said Hales after the race. “Holy cow, that was so addicting. Looking left and seeing the valley, looking right and seeing the valley, it was unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”
Hales was an accomplished road runner at the time, an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, and an All-American at Weber State University where he finished fifth in the steeplechase at the 2011 NCAA championships.
The trails, however, had lured him in and he was having great success racing off-road.
In 2018, he won his third XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in as many tries, and went on to finish second behind only Joe Gray at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.
And then … life happened.
“Man, so much has happened since 2018,” explained Hales. “Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the past three years my life hasn’t been filled with flashy pizzaz racing stories, it’s been more like, life settling in and running becoming less important than family and career.”
Hales took a job with Medtronic as a Medical Device representative and moved from Layton, Utah to Billings, Montana. His wife, Britney, gave birth to their third child in March of 2019 and because the racing scene in Montana isn’t that active, he’s just run a couple of competitive races since 2018.
“But I love running too much to simply stop and let the COVID 25lbs get the best of me, so I never stopped, and I’ve been able to keep my base, just paused the more intense workouts,” said Hales.
“What I’ve come to realize, though, is the longer I go without racing the more I feel a part of my identity is being lost and my body screams to once again find the boundary of “too much.” My muscles ache to feel the explosive force in climbing uphill, my lungs, sadistically call for going anaerobic and my veins plead with having lactic acid to buffer. Because of that, there’s no better race I could think of as a coming alive party and re-entry to racing than the XTERRA World Champs.”
Hales added that while he’d love to say this is the year he’ll get the best of Joe Gray, “he's just too difficult to stop right now, like a boulder tumbling downhill.”
“I also have respect for Andy Wacker and the rest of the US Mountain Running Team, and honestly don’t know what kind of trail shape I’m in but I can guarantee that once I toe the line, the Maui course is going to get everything I’ve got. Maybe I play spoiler, you never know.”
Perhaps even more important than the outcome of the race for Hales, is the beauty of the trip.
“For the first time in six years my wife and I are taking a vacation without kids,” he said. “My wife home schooled last year and needless to say it is a much-needed break we’re so looking forward to. This will be our second time to Maui, and I can’t wait to do the Road to Hana again and get some of that banana bread.”