After a harrowing experience during a trip to Australia and New Zealand last May, Hayes should have no problem pushing through.
Hayes made the trip Down Under primarily to visit her best friend, Melssa Olgun, another Cal student who was studying abroad in Australia. She also wanted to explore the running trails there in an effort to reclaim the passion she once had for the sport, a love for running that had been stymied by a series of injuries during her college career.
Another friend, Elizabeth Scott, joined Hayes on the trip. As they were exploring the exquisite Blue Mountains of Australia one day, they decided to stop at Scenic World, a tourist attraction that includes the Scenic Railway, regarded as the steepest passenger railway in the world.
It was late in the day, rainy and windy. During their travels, the three young women befriended three locals. The six of them boarded the train, in the front car, with nobody else on board.
About 30 seconds into the ride, a steep 52-degree descent, Hayes noticed a fallen tree branch lying across the track. The train was far enough away that Hayes couldn't determine how big it was. But as they got closer, her worst fears were realized - a branch thick enough to impede the train's progress was in their way, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop an inevitable impact.
The train hit the branch. Hayes and her friends came popping out of their seats, banging their heads against the train's roof. The train derailed, bouncing violently downhill until finally coming to a stop.
"We knew something was not right," Hayes said. "We were all screaming at that point."
The good news is Hayes and her friends had survived the initial incident. But the train was in a tenuous position, pointing steeply down hill. The group felt like they couldn't move, thinking it could topple the train completely over.
"I closed my eyes until we came to a final screech," Hayes said. "It was one of those moments where you think you could possibly die. You have no control. It's really hard to explain but I had so many flashbacks going through my head, about family, friends, Cal. I was looking at my friends thinking, 'Are we really going to die right now?'"
The train's engineer came on the loudspeaker and frantically told the group to stay put. The friends spent the next half-hour waiting for help, waiting to find out how they would get from the suspended train to safer ground.
"We just kind of sat there and talked each other through it," Hayes said. "We formed a bond I've never felt with anyone."
Finally, using a harness, the engineer made her way to the front of the train. One by one, the friends used rope to swing themselves over a ditch next to the track and land on solid ground. Now dark and still rainy and windy, the group was now forced to climb back up the slope the train had just unsuccessfully come down. There were no trails.
"We were holding hands and scaling the mountainside," Hayes said. "When we got to the top, it felt so good to get my feet on concrete."
Hayes and her friends were interviewed by Scenic World's management to find out what happened. They signed witness papers and went on their way.
Finally back in the car, the group didn't leave immediately. As the rain continued to crash down on the windshield, they sat there rehashing the experience.
"That was the scariest moment of my life," Hayes said. "When we got in the car, the feeling was so unreal. Did that just happen? We just sat in the car and talked for a few minutes. It changed my whole perspective on life, how precious life is and how you can lose it in a second."
The accident took place about one-third of the way into Hayes' three-week vacation, and she went on to do everything else she wanted to do. But she said her roller coaster career is over, and during a trip to Lake Tahoe in August refused to look out the window on a gondola ride.
"It was a moment where I thought I was going to die but I never felt more alive," Hayes said. "I've never felt that much adrenaline in my body, not even for a race. To have that experience this summer, no pain in a race will compare to what I felt. It was a crazy experience that I'm somewhat glad happened. It definitely altered my perception on life."