My next guest for this column is Mark Hammond. After a 3rd place finish at the famed Western States 100 last year, Mark proved that he was for real, by coming back and finishing 3rd place, yet again, in one of the most competitive 100 mile races in the history of the sport. I had a chance to catch up with Mark both before this year’s race, as well as after. We get meticulous and break things down to the types of real life questions we all wonder: training, nutrition, heat management, and maybe even some of the doubts and fears that pop into the heads of the very best in the world. This one’s a good one y’all.
PRE WS100 Interview
@tommy_rivs: Alright, so let’s just jump right into this thing. Western States 100 is tomorrow. A big day. Tell us, what have been the biggest changes in your preparation going into this year as compared to last year?
@mark.d.hammond: I think the main differences between my training this year and last are that I’ve done more running in the heat and more downhill speedwork.
@tommy_rivs: Smart. Heat and downhill durability. Those are definitely key. You obviously know how to race at WS. It’s a race that a lot of great runners have failed to get right. In your experience (3rd place last year), what would you say is the secret to success at Western?
@mark.d.hammond: I think some of the keys to success at Western are being patient in the first half and being diligent at cooling yourself with ice/water as much as possible.
@tommy_rivs: Man, it seems so simple and yet so difficult for so many people to actually execute. Ok, so what have been your biggest struggles over the last year of training?
@mark.d.hammond: My biggest struggle with training has been finding enough time to do it. I recently got married and am working full-time, so it’s been tricky.
@tommy_rivs: Alright, so this next question is something that might be uncomfortable, but I know people are curious. After that 3rd place finish last year against a very solid field, you could obviously run for whatever shoe company you wanted. Why Altra?
@mark.d.hammond: I chose Altra because I love the footshaped toe boxes. They are much more stable to run in. I used to roll my ankles quite a lot in other shoes, but I rarely do in Altras. The zero drop makes downhill running more efficient.
@tommy_rivs: I totally agree with all of that. You said something really important that I think a lot of people don’t realize about professional endurance athletes. You said, “I chose Altra.” That is key. You chose to run for Altra, when you obviously had other options on the table.
@tommy_rivs: So, what’s your goal going into the race tomorrow?
@mark.d.hamond: Of course my main goal is to win but I also want to finish without using a headlamp which means going sub 16.
Post WS100 Interview:
@tommy_rivs: Well obviously congrats. That was a great race. I know this is all still very fresh, but can you tell us your first impressions after the race?
@mark.d.hammond: It feels really good to prove that my performance at Western last year wasn’t a fluke. The field this year was more competitive than last year so many people, including myself, were doubtful I could podium again. I started the race feeling more pressure than ever but finished feeling increased confidence in how I train and execute races.
@tommy_rivs: You killed it man. That was so much fun watching you out there. I was so stoked when I saw you with about 2 miles to go. You may have had doubts, but all I could see on your face all day was focus and grit. Tell me, how are you feeling now, physically, emotionally? I always feel super irritable from being so depleted. How’s it all going for you?
@mark.d.hammond: Now, two weeks removed, I’m finally feeling some desire to start training again. I had a blister on my right foot during the race which threw off my stride and consequently tweaked something in my right quad. At the time I thought maybe it was just a cramp but I’m still feeling it when I walk down stairs. It seems to be improving but I’ll have to be very careful when I ramp up training.
@tommy_rivs: That’s smart man, and you definitely deserve it. Alright so about the heat out there. I paced my buddy Tim Freriks starting at Foresthill. It was so hot. You were the rabbit and we were trying to chase you down. We hit the river around mile 78 and you were still so far ahead. I absolutely blew up. I got dropped by Tim at the top of the climb. The pace was not insanely fast, but because of the heat my heart rate hit 198. That’s high! Tim never caught you and he blew up trying. Tell me dude, how did you deal with the heat out there?
@mark.d.hammond: The heat in the canyons didn’t bother me too much which I think was due to my preparation (running in hot weather as much as possible), diligence in getting water/ice on me at aid stations, and staying hydrated. I felt right at home on the hot climb to Devils Thumb and then up to Michigan Bluff where I moved into 3rd.
@tommy_rivs: That was so impressive. Alright let’s get into the good, bad and ugly. What were the highs of the race for you?
@mark.d.hammond: Coming into Foresthill was the high of the race for me (besides the finish of course). I think it’s crucial to arrive there feeling good/ready to race and that’s how I felt. Because there’s so many cheering spectators spread out so far down that street, you can pick up positive energy for a few minutes as you prepare yourself for the race to really begin. As I turned off that street someone told me that Francois was about 15-20 minutes ahead, but he looked quite tired and I would probably catch him. That really fired me up and I headed down to the river fully expecting to catch him. However, at each aid station along Cal Street I was disappointed to learn that the gap between me and Francois wasn’t changing much. So, as I neared the river crossing I was feeling kind low about not gaining on Francois and based on how my legs were feeling I figured I wouldn’t catch him unless he blew up. My left hamstring was acting up a little, perhaps related to how that blister affected me earlier. So, the question in my mind began to turn from “When will I catch Francois?” to “Is someone going to catch me?”. At the river crossing I heard reports that Sharman was anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes behind me. As I climbed to Green Gate I nervously expected to hear cheering from the river as he arrived but never heard anything, so I relaxed a little.
@tommy_rivs: Wow, that’s honestly amazing. There are so few people in the entire world who knows what it feels like to be chasing Francois and being chased by Sharman late in a race. I can’t even imagine the emotional roller coaster that would be. So, were there any other lows of the race?
@mark.d.hammond: The low of my race was a little bonk somewhere between Red Star (mile 16) and Duncan (mile 24) which was likely because I got a little behind on calories. I was really worried for a few miles because it was so early in the race to be feeling that. There was also a blister forming on my right big toe and that affected my stride. I watched Mendoza and Freriks pull away and then Hermansen passed me. After Duncan I caught up on calories and then just before Robinson Flat I caught up to Mendoza and Freriks. At Robinson I knew I had to put on a second pair of socks to take up space in my right shoe to keep the blister from getting worse. I panicked when I realized I didn’t put spare socks in my drop bag but thankfully my friend Quin Stevenson was nice enough to take off his own socks and give them to me!
@tommy_rivs: Wow. That’s honestly just a testament to your fortitude to be able to come back from a scary place that early on. It just goes to show that it’s possible to go through low points early on and you can definitely climb back out of them. I’m going to remember that one next time I find myself in a situation like that. Alright, so any other favorite parts?
@mark.d.hammond: My favorite part of the race was certainly the Rucky Chucky river crossing. Last year I was disappointed I had to ride a boat across because the river was too high. It’s hard to adequately describe how good it feels to get in that wonderfully cold river after nearly 80 miles of running through triple digit heat!
@tommy_rivs: Absolutely man. I only ran a fraction of the distance you did, and the river crossing was definitely my favorite part too. So, least favorite part?
@mark.d.hammond: My least favorite parts of the course are the long stretches of mostly flat single track in the woods (i.e. Cal Street, Green Gate to Brown’s Bar). I come from a mountaineering background so I’m still learning to “roll” on the flats like guys from road/track backgrounds do. I don’t mind the flats so much when there are good views but when I’m in the forest and the scenery is hardly changing then I get bored.
@tommy_rivs: Alright, so were there any funny moments out there?
@mark.d.hammond: The final climb up to Robie Point. I knew nobody would catch me (Sharman was about 15 minutes behind me at No Hands) and my quad was cramping so I was mostly just walking. A spectator called out, “Don’t feel bad, Jurek always walked this hill!” I just smiled.
@tommy_rivs: Oh man, that’s awesome. Tell us about your shoe choice. That’s always something people wonder about.
@mark.d.hammond: I used one pair of Olympus 3.0s for the whole race. Next time I’ll likely go with a lighter shoe that still has lots of cushion such as the Duos.
@tommy_rivs: Dinner the night before?
@mark.d.hammond: Dinner before the race was pizza.
@tommy_rivs: Good choice. That’s the food of choice among those cowboys from Flagstaff. What about breakfast morning of?
@mark.d.hammond: Breakfast was chocolate milk.
@tommy_rivs: Wow, that’s never a bad thing. What about nutrition during the race?
@mark.d.hammond: During the race I mostly consumed Vfuel gels. Also had some Cliff shot bloks from aid stations when I ran out of gels. I think I drank too much Coke late in the race and that spoiled my stomach, so I need to avoid it in the future. I didn’t eat anything until the complimentary post-race breakfast at the finish; bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, and orange juice were just what I wanted!
@tommy_rivs. That complimentary breakfast was definitely my favorite part of all of it! Alright, so we talked before the race about your goals going into the race. How did that match up with the actual day?
@mark.d.hammond: One of my goals was to finish without having to use a headlamp. Thankfully I hit the track just as the twilight vanished! I came a little short of my goal to finish under 16 hours but I’m confident I’ll achieve that next time. Overall, I’m very pleased with my performance.