Bend, Oregon’s Mario Mendoza is going to give The Rut 50k a go on Sunday. In his first interview with iRunFar, Mario talks about his long and successful history with trail running, why he thinks he’s able to excel at a variety of distances on the trail, and who he thinks will come out on top in the duel between he and training partner, Max King.
Be sure to check out our in-depth preview to see who else is racing.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Mario Mendoza Pre-2015 The Rut 50k Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here in Big Sky Resort on Friday night. It’s two days before The Rut 50k. I’m with Bend, Oregon’s Mario Mendoza. Hey.
Mario Mendoza: How’s it going?
iRunFar: Good, how are you doing?
Mendoza: Good. It’s good to be here. I just got here.
iRunFar: You just pulled in, like watching twilight behind Lone Peak as you drove up. What did you think?
Mendoza: Yes, it was kind of scary actually. I was like, “Whoa, we have to go up that?”
iRunFar: It’s a pretty imposing mountain as you drive in.
Mendoza: Yes. It’s really majestic though. It’s beautiful.
iRunFar: It’s literally a lone peak. It stands by itself.
Mendoza: Yes. It’s perfectly shaped, too. It’s sharp edged and pointy.
iRunFar: This is our first time, iRunFar’s first time, interviewing you. That’s pretty exciting. A lot of people know who you are, and a lot of people know your strengths when it comes to road running and trail running, but I would like to start with your background. You’ve been trail running for quite a few years now.
Mendoza: 2010 was my first year.
iRunFar: And loads of accomplishments. You were the Trail Runner of the Year for USATF twice, which means performing well in the different trail running championship distances—trying to perform well at multiples of those in the course of a year, right?
Mendoza: Yeah, like the 10k, and they used to have the 15k, the half, and the marathon. Basically anything sub-ultra.
iRunFar: Take us back to 2010 when you first converted to trail running. You’ve got so much experience under your belt now, but what was it like going onto the trails for the first time?
Mendoza: To be honest, before 2010, the sport’s growing so much, so back then you didn’t hear a lot of huge names. It was basically that Max King would win every championship.
iRunFar: The Max King Show.
Mendoza: Yeah, it was the Max King Show for everything. It was cool that I was in Bend and became friends with him and just got to know him as a friend first. Then he’d show me around the trails and got me into trail running and the interest. So my first one actually wasn’t great. I think I ran the half-marathon championships. To date, that’s probably my worst finish for those. I got fifth, and I stopped twice. I got side stitches. I stopped twice in the race. I wasn’t in great shape. I was kind of in so-so shape. I’m really competitive, so I went out front and tried to stay with Max and then got a side stitch. But then after that, I got second at the rest of them that year. I think I was second to Max each time. So it wasn’t a bad year. I learned quickly just mostly how to pace myself. Yeah, a lot of those races were still pretty fast. They were a lot of rolling up and down type stuff which is a lot like what we have in Bend—really rhythmic type of running. I really enjoyed it. I really felt with the community, especially in Bend, we just have this great, great community where runners of all levels really support each other. I really like that because you feel like you’re in a family.
iRunFar: You stuck with shorter distance trail running for a couple years before you made your first experiment with an ultra. Was there a fear factor or were you just sticking with, Okay, I know I can do pretty well at these shorter distances?
Mendoza: Mainly, the first year I probably would have been scared. The second year I wasn’t as scared but I didn’t know that much about trail running yet, and I just felt like I wasn’t experienced enough to just jump up. I didn’t want to do that. So it wasn’t until after I ran TransRockies that I was like, Okay, I think I can run a good 50k. So I ran two within two weeks. I ran the McKenzie River Trail 50k and then the 50k championships in Bend.
iRunFar: So you just kind of went for it.
Mendoza: I just went for it, yeah. They both went really well. It was neat to see that.
iRunFar: When I look at your results with the ultra-distance trail races, you don’t seem to have that learning curve like some of the road runners do when they convert where there’s a couple crashes and burns. You went into it. You occasionally have a result that doesn’t quite mix with the rest of them, but almost all of your ultra results are solid.
Mendoza: Yeah, I’ve been real consistent. Obviously, like with Max, he’s probably one of the most consistent runners I know, but I think there’s a few people I can think of. I’d say I’m pretty consistent especially over the last couple of years I’ve learned how to be consistent. I think it’s maturity, and I think I’m a really patient runner. I really try to focus on my body. Even though I want to do the best I can, I think a big part of that is listening to myself.
iRunFar: Let’s fast forward and talk about this summer. You’ve already had a pretty good summer of racing, and I know I’m missing things that you’ve done. But you’ve been to Cayuga Trails 50 Mile. You won the USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships there. You represented the U.S. at the Long Distance World Mountain Running Championships. You’ve competed in the US Mountain Running Championships. Just last weekend you were at the USATF Trail 50k National Championships in California. What else have you peppered in there?
Mendoza: I think the best week of racing I’ve ever had was the week before the Cayuga Trails. I ran the Trail Factor Half Marathon and won that, and then I won the 50k right after that. They had two races back to back.
iRunFar: So like one on one day and then the other?
Mendoza: You had one day in between. It was a Saturday and a Monday. Then that Sunday after that Monday was when I won the 50-mile trail championships. I was telling somebody recently that I was just in a really good rhythm. Something clicked. I was recovering really well. I know my body and it was just like, I need to go for it. I didn’t know I was going to run the 50k at the Cayuga Trails, but after the 50k just finishing really strong and fresh, I was just like, You know, this is now or never, and it paid off. Yeah, I felt really good.
iRunFar: You’re raced a 50k just last weekend. How are you bouncing back from that?
Mendoza: Yeah, so the way I saw it is I felt a little bit off, but I had two extra days to recover compared to last time, so I think it’s about the same. I feel pretty good. I think I’m more nervous about the altitude than the actual recovery. I take the whole week easy. I just really trust that whatever I’ve trained before is in there.
iRunFar: It’s enough.
Mendoza: So I don’t stress out about it. I think that’s a bit part of it is just not being nervous or worried about it.
iRunFar: You’re from Bend. There’s a little bit of altitude there.
Mendoza: Yeah, 3,600 feet.
iRunFar: You still raced the Flagstaff Skyrace last year where you went to high altitude. This weekend, you’re going to spend a lot of time above 9,000 feet. How are you feeling about the altitude, and additionally, how are you feeling about some of the really technical aspects of the course? I’m sure you’ve watched the videos.
Mendoza: I did. I’ve watched the videos. I was trying not to watch too many. You’ve got to have confidence. I do the best when I’m a little bit scared and also confident. I am nervous. I see the elevation profile and it’s like, whoa. I look at the times and that’s one long 50k.
iRunFar: That’s quite a 50k.
Mendoza: Then obviously, if guys like Kilian [Jornet] are saying it’s hard, I know it’s going to be super hard for me. But I think I’ve some decent experience on the technical stuff. That Flagstaff one was not bad. I did a race in Squamish, the 23k, which is pretty technical. This will be a lot more rocky than what I’ve done, so I think I’m nervous about that. I think a lot of it for me is how fresh my muscles are, the strength, because I think when I have that I feel more confident in the technical stuff. I think everyone is different. For me it’s more do I have the muscle power in my legs to take that technical downhill. I’m hoping I continue to feel the way I have the last couple days.
iRunFar: Last question for you. You have pointed towards Max King as sort of a trail mentor. He attributes to you a lot of leg speed because he says you push him through a lot of speed workouts together. The two of you have raced against each other a lot. Who is going to come out ahead of the other this weekend?
Mendoza: That’s a good question. I would say it wasn’t until the last year that I’ve actually considered myself kind of close to giving him a good run. It’s just because I’ve steadily improved. I started running late. I started running in college, so I’ve just continued to get a little bit better. Max is an amazing athlete. He’s at the top of the sport. I think if he has the kind of day he normally has when he hits it, I think he’s the guy to beat. He’s going to be really good especially on all the downhill technical stuff. You’ve got to think you can win. I definitely came here to try to win and at least give him a good run. The last good race we had, we raced a half marathon in Bend and we just kept going back and forth and it was awesome. That was one of my favorite races ever because our strengths would make us move back and forth in the race. That was cool to see. I’m excited. I think if it’s like the way it’s been lately, maybe I’ll climb a little better than him, and he’ll descend better than me. I know he’ll descend better than me. He’s just really good at that stuff. If he’s in his good climbing shape, he could climb better than anyone. I’m hoping I can at least give him a good race because I know he really likes that and at least give him a good battle up front and scare him a little bit.
iRunFar: Okay, Max, Mario’s got his eyes on you.
Mendoza: I know. It would be cool with two Bend guys… I know there are a lot of good guys in the race, too, and I’m sure we’ll have our hands full especially if there are guys coming from altitude—they’ll have the advantage.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend. It was good chatting.
Mendoza: Thank you. Thank you.