Sarah Hamon, a 19-year-old junior cross-country runner at UNC Wilmington, will soon represent Team USA in the 32nd Junior World Mountain Running Championships in Sapareva Banya, Bulgaria. Three other young women, two from Colorado and one from California, will join her.
A 5K personal record of 17:58 is a startling résumé for any runner, but Hamon doubted it would be enough when she applied for the race.
When she received the call from USA Track & Field and was told that she had made the team, she expressed a great deal of surprise.
“I was definitely really shocked,” she said, “especially since I made the age cut-off by only seven days.” The junior team is comprised of four elite young women ranging in age from 16 to 19 years old. Hamon is the oldest on the team.
Layne Schwier, head coach of cross-country at UNCW, was just as surprised as Hamon. He guessed that “they [USA Track & Field] liked what they read, and thought she was a good fit.” He chuckled, going on to explain the irony behind a runner from a beach town being chosen to run up a mountain.
Hamon debated not going. She reasoned that it was in the middle of cross-country season, and with her eyes set on being named to the all-Colonial Athletic Association team this year, it might not be a smart idea. “Forget the season,” her parents said, as they encouraged her to compete.
Schwier said that while her main priority is still cross-country, this was a “unique opportunity.”
“It was a goal this summer [as a team] to get better at climbing hills, so it fit the plan” he said.
Sporting a Team USA sweat jacket with her hair pulled back in a braid, Hamon described the course by using her hands to motion a slanted hill, adjusting her fingers a few degrees to indicate a slight difference in incline, saying it’s “pretty much uphill.”
The run is 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) long and accumulates 531 meters of elevation, according to Trail Runner. Hamon estimates it will take her 20-25 minutes to finish the course, about two times slower than her usual pace.
With no vision of the course, it has been difficult to prepare.
“You have no idea what the course is like or what to expect,” said Schwier. One thing is for sure – he predicts that it will be a “non-stop, grueling, leg-numbing” run.
Apart from adding the treadmill and stepper to her training to simulate hills, Hamon has not drifted far from her cross-country regimen. She practices daily with the team and occasionally adds a few strength exercises at the end. She said that 90 percent of the cross-country workouts will benefit more than running at a 10-12 minute pace.
Her coach has reminded her of the principles that he teaches all runners: learning to race within yourself. Schwier described the body as an “internal governor” where it is important to “listen to your legs and listen to your breathing.”
Schwier said the agreed upon strategy is to start off conservatively and that Hamon would rather have a good finish as opposed to a thunderous start. She added that she wants to avoid the mistake of burning all her energy in the early stages of the race.
“People do walk, some parts are a 40-percent incline, so it’s just as fast to walk,” said Hamon, explaining the race’s difficulty.
Out of the four runners on the team, three will score; Hamon hopes to be one of them. As she is the oldest on the team, Schwier noted that she is one of the most experienced and hopes it will serve her well.
“I try not to think about it because you can’t predict how a race will go,” she said of handling her nerves. “When you put on the uniform, it becomes official,” which is when the anticipation may set in.
Nonetheless, she’s excited. “I look forward to contributing to the team.”
Hamon will leave Wednesday, Sept. 7, giving her a few days to acclimate her body to the time change and prepare before the race on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Occupied by the current season of cross-country, Schwier will not travel to Bulgaria, but mentioned that he will be refreshing the Team USA website for updates to hear the outcome.
Editor’s Note: On behalf of UNCW students and staff, we extend our congratulations to Sarah Hamon. Good luck, Sarah, and go Seahawks!