Mark Hammond took third at the 2018 Western States 100… again. In the following interview, Mark compares and contrasts the ground feel of his two third-place finishes, how he modified his training ahead of this year’s race as a result of what he learned last year, and how he was motivated to close hard because of the talented men he knew were behind him.
Mark Hammond Post-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re at the finish line of the 2018 Western States Endurance Run. I’m with men’s third-place finisher, for the second time, Mark Hammond. Congratulations!
Mark Hammond: Thank you so much. Second loser once again. Just kidding.
iRunFar: Is that how you think of it?
Hammond: No, it’s just funny to say it like that. I’m happy about it.
iRunFar: How does it feel to be on the podium of one of the world’s most competitive 100-mile races again?
Hammond: It’s so satisfying to see all the work I’ve put in come to fruition. It’s great for my career.
iRunFar: Probably just great to, like you said, see the fruits of your hobby labor bloom.
iRunFar: What’s the story? What’s your synthesis of this year compared to last year in terms of your run? You had a faster time?
Hammond: It was a faster time. I think conditions in the high country were probably faster this year with all the snow to slide on. I don’t know how much. I figure at least a half hour faster with all the snow, but then again, it was hotter this year. I don’t know how that all plays out. I think overall I was more fit for this race than last year. Yeah, I did run better.
iRunFar: In terms of “more fit,” did you learn how to train for this race or did you just put in more miles and had more volume in your training season? Can you talk about that?
Hammond: I did more speedwork this year, faster downhill running, more weight vest for downhill running. I think that helped. I also did more hot weather running. I run this mountain in the afternoon that is west-facing, so it gets really hot. That worked good.
iRunFar: I’m familiar with Utah, so which mountain is that?
Hammond: Grandeur Peak—that west ridge.
iRunFar: Oh, yeah. Really beastly. What is that, 2,000 feet?
Hammond: 3,400 feet of vertical in 2.2 miles.
iRunFar: More than 1,000 feet/mile by a lot.
Hammond: Yes, it’s steep and gnarly.
iRunFar: In the heat of the day.
Hammond: Yeah, at like 6 p.m.
iRunFar: Hopefully no rattlesnakes?
Hammond: I saw several snakes. I almost stepped on one.
iRunFar: You may have had some wildlife encounters yesterday?
Hammond: I didn’t see any wildlife. I heard someone saw bears.
iRunFar: Somebody saw bears. Someone saw a mountain lion. I thought you’d seen a snake near the finish.
Hammond: Nope, didn’t see any snakes. Jim [Walmsley]saw bears, is that correct?
iRunFar: I guess he scared up some bears after the Pointed Rocks aid station—a mom bear and her two cubs, and of course the cubs chose a tree right next to the trail to tree themselves into which created a bit of a stand-off.
Hammond: That sounds familiar. In a different race ,I came around a corner and there was a mama bear and its cub. The cub shot up a tree and the mom ran away, so I got lucky.
iRunFar: So back to your training—more speedwork and more intentional downhill training?
Hammond: Yeah, actually, I think I did more downhill training than uphill—with the treadmill that’s possible.
iRunFar: Did you learn last year that because this race has so much more downhill than uphill, did you…?
Hammond: Exactly. That’s why I did it.
iRunFar: Talk about how the race played out. You went out harder this year than last year.
Hammond: I think I did go out a little bit harder.
iRunFar: Yeah, not by a huge amount, but it seemed intentional to me.
Hammond: Yeah, it was intentional. I did want to run a bit faster. I stuck with the [Coconino] Cowboysfor much of the first half. They’re fun to run with. And Mario Mendoza, I ran with him quite a bit, and also with Ian Sharman. I ran with him for quite a few miles.
iRunFar: Were you guys working together or kind of leap frogging and accordioning with each other?
Hammond: That’s exactly what it was.
iRunFar: Unintentionally running with these people, not intentionally?
iRunFar: Then you pretty much had set yourself into the third-place position by Michigan Bluff just after the halfway point?
Hammond: Yeah, that’s right. Last year, I think I was in fourth by Michigan Bluff, so it was pretty similar how I worked through the field.
iRunFar: When I saw you at Foresthill, mile 62, you came trucking across the flats looking like there weren’t 62 miles in your body already. They say the race is just starting at Foresthill. Where were you at mentally then?
Hammond: Well, it helps that it’s a downhill part of the course. It makes me look better.
iRunFar: You picked a good spot to take photos, Meghan.
Hammond: Exactly, I did that for the camera. Of course, it was on my mind that this is where I really had to focus and push hard. I knew that Francois D’haenewas within striking distance, and I heard he wasn’t looking so good. I was like, [excited breathing].
iRunFar: Now, this could be my chance.
Hammond: Even when he’s tired, he’s still really good. I could never… I think I got within five minutes a few times, but I could never quite close the gap.
iRunFar: Our reporters said that in a couple different places that you were asking on that gap. “How many minutes is it now? How many minutes is it now?” You were hunting?
Hammond: Yeah, for sure. I was hunting.
iRunFar: Were you concerned about what was going on behind you, or were you just trying to run your own race?
Hammond: I was very concerned. I kept getting different reports that, “Jeff’s [Browning]right behind you. Ian [Sharman]is right behind you.”
iRunFar: Those are the people that are terrifying to have behind you.
Hammond: Both of them are so good at closing.
iRunFar: And what if they work together?
Hammond: Yeah, so beyond the river, I was worried. I was really worried. I know, especially Jeff, he’s just so consistent at closing well, I knew if I faltered at all, he’d catch me.
iRunFar: Apparently, you close just find yourself.
Hammond: Thank you. I’m glad I held it together.
iRunFar: I think that finishing third in this race twice is good indicator that you’re just on this next plane of performance. Does that cross your mind? Do you think about going out and seeing the world and the world’s competitors?
Hammond: Absolutely. I did UTMFthis spring, and that gave me a taste of the international scene, and I liked it. I’m looking forward to UTMBin a couple months. It gives me a lot more confidence, to podium again, that I could do well across the world.
iRunFar: What other races… I mean, granted, two 100 milers and even ones as different as Western States and UTMB packed into a summer is a pretty tough schedule, but do you have anything else going on after that?
Hammond: I’m going to get a lot of crap for this, if I’m feeling good after UTMB…
iRunFar: I’m doing something else…
Hammond: I like Run Rabbit Run, and I know the course well. It’s two weeks after UTMB… I know, I know, it’s really close… but the prize money is seven deep. So, a week after UTMB, if I’m feeling good, I’ll do Run Rabbit Run.
iRunFar: A week after UTMB if I’m feeling okay, I’ll do something really dumb and have some fun hopefully.
Hammond: Yeah, I mean, my focus races this year are Western and UTMB. After that, I’m not too concerned if I don’t do my best.
iRunFar: Whatever happens would happen and hopefully it’s in the top-seven?
Hammond: Yeah, exactly, and I’ll also do TNF 50in November.
Hammond: Yeah, I love that race.
iRunFar: Do you? It’s a tough battle for December, isn’t it? To keep your stuff together that long in a racing season?
Hammond: Yeah, it is, but I feel like because I work an office job, I have so much time to rest. I do. I feel like most of the time I’m just resting. My training runs are short. I do two or three per day just short runs. I feel like that’s more sustainable. That’s how I can race so much.
iRunFar: Final personal question because iRunFar has a doctor columnist who has been working on and researching eye issues during ultras, you are a sufferer of eye issues in ultras. How’s that going? Have you sorted that out?
Hammond: As long as I wear eye protection like clear googles at night, it’s not an issue.
iRunFar: Something that keeps dry air from being exposed to your eyeballs?
Hammond: Yeah, exactly.
iRunFar: Okay. That’s a currently increasingly discussed issue—eye issues with night time and cold conditions.
Hammond: I’m realizing it’s more common than I thought.
iRunFar: Everyone was suffering alone. Now you can suffer openly.
iRunFar: Congratulations on your third-place finish at the 2018 Western States 100. See you at UTMB. See you in Chamonix.
Hammond: Thank you. I’m psyched.