His 2006 season is already on fire, including fourth overall at the Jed Smith 50k, sixth overall at the American River 50-miler, 4th Mens Masters at the Miwok 100k, third overall at the Quicksilver 50-miler, and 2:52 marathons at both the Napa Marathon and Boston Marathon. And that’s just in the last three months! By delivering consistent results so early in the season, he holds a healthy lead in the 2006 PA/USATF Masters Championship.
I caught up with Mark (figuratively, of course) to ask him a few questions.
First, congratulations on a great season so far! How is it you are able to race so much in a single season?
Thanks, Scott. I’m fortunate to have maintained an injury-free season by taking a couple of days off per week to recuperate. Entering races is part of my training plan, because it ensures I train at a fast pace. When I enter races, I don’t feel guilty taking days off prior to and after races for taper and recovery.
I understand that you were a competitive cyclist for many years before getting into ultrarunning. Can you tell us a bit about that? What led to the transition?
Yes, I spent a few years racing Cat 3 (Category 3) and really enjoyed the sport. I was part of a small local group that began our own team (Team Murlock). We had a couple of outstanding sprinters, so I was either the lead-out guy or the climber in the hilly road races.
A job change led to a significant commute and put the kybosh on the amount of training required for competitive cycling, so I started running a couple of years later. A neighbor at the time ran marathons, and he encouraged me to run the San Francisco Marathon for my 35th birthday. That was really the beginning of my distance running.
Have you always been an athlete?
I guess you could say that, with the exception of a few years during college. Prior to college, I played year-round soccer for several years. That had led to burn-out, but I began cycling shortly after I graduated.
What is it that you enjoy about running? What motivates you to keep at it?
During the week, I enjoy the quiet solitude of an after-work run. On the weekends, I look forward to running with friends and team mates especially my fiancée, Rena.
My biggest motivation for running is to find the limits of speed and endurance and to socialize and enjoy the company of others who enjoy the sport as much as I do. It’s satisfying to see my times improve based on experience and on the hard effort I put into my training.
You seem to do a bit of everything – road marathons, 50k’s, 100-milers – which do you like best?
That is difficult to answer because each race may be different in distance, but they each have their own unique venue and character that contributes to a great race. For example, the New York Marathon is about as opposite of an Ultra as can be, due to the number of participants and spectators and the venue. Running through the boroughs is amazing, because it epitomizes the cultures on which our country was founded. Conversely, I have run for hours during a 100-miler without a trace of other runners, I’ve appreciated the solitude and inner struggle that one can overcome alone. I like the variety of competing in every distance.
Do you use pacers in the longer races?
Yes, I definitely need a pacer in the 100's and for more than just safety. Pacers who have run with me have added to the enjoyment of the race. With encouragement, my pacers have helped me get through tough stretches. I’ve always had very good friends with compatible character accompany me. I can’t imagine running the late miles of a hundred without a pacer.
Any goals (performance or new races) for 2006?
Well, nothing unusual. I would like to get through the season healthy and take a shot at a 2:46 marathon in the fall/winter. If I can improve my 2005 Western States time, I would be very pleased as well.
If you don’t mind, can I ask a few training questions? First, what does a typical I training week look like for you (mileage, types of workouts, etc.)? Does it vary seasonally?
Sure. I try to stay flexible on mileage and run how I feel as opposed to making any kind of regimented schedule. Generally, I like to stay at 70+ miles a week and throw in a long run of at least 2 ½ hours and a tempo run during the week. I also try to back off twice a year for a couple of weeks to gain better mental perspective and generate new goals.
Do you cross-train regularly, or mostly stick to running?
I have never been much on cross-training unless I am injured. I have always believed in specificity, and I generally stick to running.
You are known for being able to bring your “A game” week after week. How are you able to recover so quickly from an ultra? Any tips you can share?
I didn’t think I was known for anything! I do seem to recover well after most efforts and I think an occasional ice bath as well as a healthy diet contributes significantly. I listen to my body, and if I need to, I take an extra day off. I wish I could say I recover well due to plenty of sleep, but I am rarely rested come race day. I’d like to work on that.
What are your favorite foods/snacks?
Food is the reward for all of our running, right? I have a real weakness for Mexican and Italian food, and during the week I frequently indulge in veggie pizza! And with the exception of fish, I cut all other meat out of my diet. I don’t really snack except on energy bars, if those count as snacking.
Any tips you would like to share for somebody doing their first ultra? How about their first 100-miler?
Consistent with most seasoned runners, I’d advise first-time ultra runners of all distances to start slow and listen to your body. Make sure you’ve figured out which foods work best for you before the race and not during. Trust me, I have had weak moments and tried new foods during a low point and it has almost always made my condition worse. It’s rare to stumble on the right food combinations during a race.
Do you have any long-term goals you would like to share?
I would like to finish sub-24 at Western States 10 times for the 1,000 mile buckle if the old body can hold up that long!
Thanks for a great interview!