Mark Hammond has taken third at the two previous Western States 100s and he’s back at it for a third time this weekend. In the following interview, Mark talks about how he’s changed his training ahead of this year’s race, what it’ll be like running a big race as a dad for the first time, and why you see him winning smaller ultras around the country.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Mark Hammond before the 2019 Western States 100. How are you Mark?
Mark Hammond: I’m great. Stoked to be back for a third time.
iRunFar: Yeah, well, third time and so far you have two third places. Is that a good target again? Or do you shoot to go higher?
Hammond: Yeah to go higher absolutely.
iRunFar: Yeah, you think that’s possible?
Hammond: Yes I think it’s possible, I think it will be a bigger challenge than the past two years.
iRunFar: Why is that?
Hammond: It seems like the race gets more competitive each year so yeah, but I’ll give it my best shot.
iRunFar: This year there might be a little–well there’s a debate, could there be less carnage or more carnage with the temperatures being so good?
Hammond: I know, that is an interesting debate. It’s like now with the lower temperatures we can go out harder. I think there will be less carnage overall. So I’m really excited about the lower temperatures, I hope I can go under 15:30.
iRunFar: So you thinking go a good bit faster?
Hammond: Yeah, I think so.
iRunFar: Even with a little bit of snow early on?
Hammond: Yeah, since it’s cooler the snow will be hard I think, so we can run on it pretty fast.
iRunFar: Might be a little soft if they’re grooming the upper run, just for that one mile before you get to the past there.
Hammond: But hopefully most of the miles with snow will be okay.
iRunFar: Right on. And you’re obviously used to running on some snow in Utah?
Hammond: Yeah well if there’s some snow I like to ski it.
iRunFar: Fair enough. Snow is not unfamiliar to you.
Hammond: No, not at all.
iRunFar: So this will be your first major race as a dad.
Hammond: As a dad, yeah. Three months ago I had a kid, a little boy and he’s a joy but he’s taken a lot of sleep from me so that’s been a challenge. I think overall my training plan has been better than the previous two years. I’ve done more intervals, more structure in my training, so maybe that will make up for the lost sleep I’ve had. We’ll see.
iRunFar: Maybe you’re gonna’ buy some earplugs tonight?
Hammond: Yeah for tonight, yeah, he woke me up a lot last night.
iRunFar: As a runner who can be on the podium of Western states two years in a row, you are interesting in that you also run a lot of smaller races, not just around home to get a training race in. You travel the country to try new stuff. Can you explain this a little bit?
Hammond: Yeah, I had this goal to win an ultra in every state. Kind of like this endurance-tourism project. It’s just a fun way to get out and see a lot of people and interesting places. A lot of these races aren’t the most competitive, they are worthwhile to me and I learn a lot.
iRunFar: And how do you balance it with training for a competitive race like this? I’m assuming you’re not tapering. How does that all go?
Hammond: The last two I’ve done in Kansas and Maine, I didn’t train it hard for them or taper for them. It was just pretty casual efforts.
iRunFar: So it’s true, people see your name on the list. You won this race, but it’s tourism?
Hammond: Right. Pretty much.
iRunFar: Right on. And you’re feeling good and rested and healthy for this?
Hammond: Yeah, pretty much. Last week I felt my IT band a little bit tight and I think it will be okay.
iRunFar: Is that a taper tantrum kind of thing?
Hammond: I think so, yeah. Aside from that, I think I’m okay. A little bit tired but I think I’ve trained pretty good, so I’m optimistic.
iRunFar: And you said you have some more structure, Is the volume and whatnot similar to past years?
Hammond: A little bit less, so maybe like 100 to 110 [miles] and 20,000 vert per week but a lot more one- to two-minute intervals, one-mile intervals type of thing.
iRunFar: Gotcha’. And having run so well at the previous two Western States, for this year have you tweaked anything along the way? Is there anything you can improve upon?
Hammond: I want more flat speed for the last 40.
Hammond: Like that’s where I feel I can really improve, so I’ve worked on that with treadmill intervals and that kind of thing.
iRunFar: And you think you have that extra gear?
Hammond: Yeah, I think I can.
iRunFar: Right on. What are you looking forward to most this weekend up there?
Hammond: That’s a good question. I’m looking forward to enjoying the second half of the race more because it won’t be so hot. And I think I will try and be maybe a little more aggressive at the start. I looked at last year and it’s like François [D’Haene] got me by 15 minutes. If I had tried to hang with him earlier on, who knows what could have happened.
iRunFar: So maybe just try a new approach slightly?
Hammond: Yeah, maybe a little more aggressive. It’s a careful balance.
iRunFar: Right on. Well best of luck out there, maybe get that 15:30.
iRunFar: Right on.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…