RUN247 / Running News / Trail Running News / Coach Robbie Britton in the limelight after ultra wins for dynamic duo Hayden Hawks and Dan Jones

Coach Robbie Britton in the limelight after ultra wins for dynamic duo Hayden Hawks and Dan Jones

Jonathan Turner
News Director
Updated on

It’s early days in the ultrarunning year, but two of the biggest events so far have been the Black Canyon Ultras in Arizona and the Tarawera Ultra-Trail in New Zealand, which kicked off the 2024 UTMB World Series.

American star Hayden Hawks was the impressive men’s winner of the 100k race at the former, making a fantastic ‘comeback’ from knee surgery last year.

And then in the 102km event on the trails around Rotorua there was another ‘home’ winner as Dan Jones defended his men’s title in superb style.

There are plenty of connections between the two – they’re good friends and often train together, plus they share the same coach.

That’s Robbie Britton, a fine ultrarunner in his own right who is the British 24-hour record holder with 277 kilometres, and we caught up with him to find out more, starting with Hawks’ road to recovery.

‘Friend, mentor – and coach’

Ahead of his return at Black Canyon, Hawks posted on Instagram: “I’ve been lucky in my career to have great people in my corner! Mentors that I trust, coaches that I believe in, and people that I love. I would like to give a shout out to five individuals that have helped me a lot lately and that I will forever be grateful for.”

Top of the list was Britton, with Hawks adding: “Robbie has been my coach for a few years now and has done so much for me as a friend and coach. He was a friend and mentor long before he was my coach. He knows what he is doing, is an excellent coach, really cares, has always been there for me, is easy to talk to, and I trust him!”

Of Hawks’ journey back to top form, Britton says: “He had something that had been bothering him for a number of years now and it took what happened at Western States last year for him to kind of address it.

“It’s a weird situation where you can run 100k comfortably, you can train and get through stuff, but you’re in pain. I’ve been there as an athlete, I’m sure lots of us have, but you’re not quite right.

“And then when it gets to something like Western States with the level of competition and the length of race – not quite right or 90% right doesn’t cut it. We’re not there to just get him to the finish line, he’s there to compete.

“And I said to him at the time, this [getting the knee better] is going to be an essential part of your career in the end. It was his first serious injury – he’d had niggles over the years but this was different and he was really worried.

“He had a spur on his knee and it was rubbing. Not only does that cause pain, it affects how efficient you are, how you run downhill.

“But I believed this could be a turning point and that we’d see a stronger athlete in the next couple of years.

People think he’s making a comeback, but it’s not really that. He’s stronger than he was before.

Hayden Hawks men podium Black Canyon Ultras 100k 2024 photo credit Howie Stern for Black Canyon Ultras / Aravaipa Running
Hayden Hawks celebrates his recent victory [Photo credit: Howie Stern for Black Canyon Ultras / Aravaipa Running]

Patient approach pays off

And so started the process – first the surgery, then the recovery. After more than a month of rest there was a gradual build back to fitness which started with walking and biking.

Crucially it wasn’t hurried, with Britton explaining: “Black Canyon fitted really well into the schedule. It meant we didn’t have to rush things and Hoka, his sponsor, were really supportive. They’ve been great because they weren’t pushing him to come back and do a race.”

All of which paid off with that record-breaking performance at Black Canyon but when asked about his role, Britton modestly deflected the question as he added: “Really, at the end of day, it doesn’t matter who helps him. It’s just the fact that he’s back running and enjoying it and doing what he does best. That’s kind of always the most important thing, isn’t it?”

Hawks’ return was followed a week later by Jones’ blistering display at Tarawera, something that had been predicted beforehand by Britton.

And Britton revealed that Hawks and Jones will now hook up for a training block, with the focus very much on a return to Western States in late June.

He told us: “Dan, who was fifth at Western States last year is another runner I coach and he and Hayden train together, they’re really good friends. They complement each other really well in training.

“So yeah, those boys are going to be strong. It’s so much easier when you’ve got people to train with, it just takes a lot of the weight off that kind of stuff and I think they’re both in a good place.”

Daniel Jones on course during the 2024 Tarawera Ultra-Trail by UTMB photo credit Cameron McKenzie
Dan Jones en route to victory in New Zealand [Photo credit: Cameron McKenzie]

Thinking on their feet

Hawks and Jones are just two of a roster of athletes that Britton looks after, though he’s reluctant to run through the whole list, instead saying: “I just coach a nice bunch of people. That’s the key. You get as much joy from helping someone finish an ultra that they’ve been trying to complete for a few years as you do from winning big races.”

And all of them are coached remotely, something that Britton feels is a benefit in ultrarunning terms, explaining: “I see it as a nice kind of added benefit if you get to be there in person with people. The last couple of years I’ve been at Western States with Hayden and I get to see him when he’s in Europe.

“That’s the same with a bunch of people I coach. But in ultrarunning, they have to make those decisions themselves come race day and so I think remote coaching can be more beneficial because you need to create a sense of autonomy.

You can’t be at the side of the trail throughout an ultra. Even if you see them for a minute in the checkpoint, there’s only so much information you can get across.

“They go through a lot on their own, so I think it probably works better this way but, yeah, it’s obviously nice to see them in person too.”

Britton a huge fan of parkrun

And what about Britton’s own plans? There’s plenty on the pipeline, starting with him again being the England manager for the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100k Championship: “We’ve got a really strong English team heading out to Perth at the end of March. So I’m there supporting athletes, a strong men’s and women’s team.

“I’ve yet to finalise my own plans but there’s lots on the horizon – a potential 100-miler, a 24-hour race too in Sweden at the end of April and we’ll take things from there.”

Robbie Britton breaking the British 24-hour running record
Robbie Britton set a new British 24-hour running record in 2023.

He’s also busy setting up a training base – The Coggiola Endurance Centre – for endurance athletes having expanded his property in Italy’s Biellese Alps where he’s now based.

And, at the other end of the distance spectrum from ultra running, he’s also been in news recently for his considered response to parkrun’s decision to stop showing its all-time fastest finishers, which they denied was in response to criticism for allowing trans entrants to self-identify their gender.

While recognising it’s a hugely complex subject, Britton struck a chord with many when he reminded everyone what the parkrun ethos is all about, saying at the time: “We love that you can race each other at parkrun, if you choose to, but ultimately it isn’t a race. It’s a community coming together to enjoy the outdoors, welcome others and, in my opinion, have a huge impact on the physical and mental health of our nation. It’s brilliant.

“If one runner is put off from attending because of all the records and fast times on the parkrun website, then that’s one too many.”

That was all the more impactful given that those words came on the fastrunning website, which each week highlights the quickest UK parkrun times. And reflecting on his comments, Britton told us: “I don’t have the answers, but it’s that crossover between sport and general mental health and well-being for a large number of people in different demographics. And there’s no simple solution.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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