Mario Mendoza keeps sneaking up to longer and longer distances, like his third-place finish at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. In this interview, Mario talks about the illness he’d just gotten over before race day and whether it impacted his race, how the race strategically played out for him including his late-race duel with Dylan Bowman, and whether or not he’s going to take the Western States 100 Golden Ticket he earned.
For the full story on how the race went down, check out our results article.
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Mario Mendoza Post-2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar here, and I’m here at the finish line of the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m with men’s third-place finisher, Mario Mendoza. Congratulations!
Mario Mendoza: Thank you.
iRunFar: How are you feeling? You literally just finished an hour or so ago.
Mendoza: I feel better now. The first five to 10 minutes were pretty rough after finishing. My legs were just aching and hurting.
iRunFar: Do you… as you start to branch out to these longer and longer distances and kind of go to that place where you’re not tapping out aerobically, you’re not tapping out with endurance, but you go to that place where everything starts to hurt, do you like being there, or do you think to yourself, “Gosh, I wish I was in a 12-mile race today?”
Mendoza: Yeah, I’ve learned to enjoy the different distances. There’s something just mentally challenging about these longer races that I’ve learned to enjoy, too. It’s fun to jump around. It keeps me motivated.
iRunFar: Let me ask you about your race today. Off the front you basically took it out. You were up 25 seconds on the group at the 2.5-mile point where you dropped onto the trail. Was that intentional?
Mendoza: No, not at all. In fact, I was just talking about that with the fifth-place finisher. I didn’t even take it out hard. I just think people were warming up or waking up. I actually kept pretty even pace the whole way. Then they just closed back in. I was expecting them to. It was definitely not intentional. I just woke up earlier than they did.
iRunFar: Walk me through your trip around the lake. The race takes on different character in different parts of the course. There’s definitely a lot more climbing when you loop around to the north side. Walk me through how those different parts of the course felt for you today.
Mendoza: Today, I actually did better in more of the rolling sections than both ends of the 50 mile. The really steep climbing section in the middle was kind of rough. I got sick last week when I was down in an orphanage in Guatemala, and I didn’t know if I was going to race today. I’ve gotten sick for two races this year. This morning, I just woke up and said, “It’s turning. My energy level feels a little better. I was still pretty traumatized from the last time I tried that, but I think I’m going to try it and just not care what people think.” You start fearing what people are going to say if you DNF. I was like, “You know, I’m just going to do my thing and try and be tough.” I think today, the climbing was really hard for me. I’m usually a good climber. Today, I was kind of huffing and puffing. My lungs weren’t fully there yet. My energy level wasn’t fully there yet. I made up for it on the rolling stuff and the downhills. So, today, that was my strength which usually is not really my strength.
iRunFar: Well, people grow and they evolve.
Mendoza: Yeah, you just have to go for it.
iRunFar: When you’re forced to use what you perceive as your weakness as your strength on the day… that’s where you learn and grow the most.
Mendoza: Yeah. Today was my quads… just pounded those on the downhills. That made up for it a little bit.
iRunFar: The approach to the turnaround at mile 25, there are some gnarly… it’s up, down, up and then down, up, down. It’s pretty gnarly in there. I feel like it’s kind of an intimidating place mentally because you get to this turnaround point and you know you have to repeat what you just did. Where were you mentally at the turnaround point? Were you ready to like, “I’m going to go for it on these downhills; I’m looking forward to the more roll-y stuff later in the race?”
Mendoza: I think at that point I was actually running with Matt Flaherty. I was in fourth/fifth. That was the first point in the race where I kind of committed to going for it. I think just having seen the course now, I was like, Okay, I know what is left, and I’m just going to do what I can today and just focus on myself. So from then on I really just ran my pace and got in my rhythm of whatever I had for today. It was actually a good mental turning point for me. I think around 20-ish, I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish. My body just wasn’t all there today. It’s hard to run a race like that. It really is. I found myself for a few miles kind of complaining. This sucks. I want to feel like I normally do. Especially in a long race… I think days like that make you tough and make you grow.
iRunFar: That nasty grinder with the rocks up to the finish. You’re sitting in third at this point. Are you letting yourself soak it in? Are you in the debt zone? Are you thinking about, “Am I going to get into Western States with this performance?” What’s going through your head right there?
Mendoza: I knew Jim [Walmsley] had it already, so I knew I would get offered a spot. Dylan [Bowman] and I had a really close battle. Dylan passed me with a mile to go.
iRunFar: Oh, wait, because at mile 4.5 to go, our people were there and you were ahead of him. So he surged…
Mendoza: He surged, and I thought I had gapped him pretty well, but I was confused because I thought we got back on the road for the last two miles. I thought I got kind of lost. Then I heard him coming. It was kind of like, Okay, well, at least I’m not lost, but now he’s coming!
iRunFar: “But now he’s here! Oh, shoot!”
Mendoza: So then he caught me, and then he passed me.
iRunFar: With a mile to go? On this climb?
Mendoza: With a mile to go. Then I just told myself, I’ve suffered a lot today, and I’m going to give it everything I had. I just pictured a 5k finish and got into my rhythm.
iRunFar: “There has to be some kick in here!”
Mendoza: He went, too. I could feel him going with me. But then I think about a half a mile to go, I think he just realized it was getting close and I had a little more and he kind of backed off a little bit.
iRunFar: From here you can kind of glimpse a couple different spots in the last half mile or so. The first time we saw you two, both of you looked like you were still working it for the race.
Mendoza: Oh, yeah. We were both going. It was my favorite part of the race. I love that stuff. I’m used to that in the shorter races. I just love that adrenaline.
iRunFar: I didn’t actually know he’s passed you and gotten in front for awhile.
Mendoza: Oh, yeah, he went for it. He passed me, and he was going.
iRunFar: It’s the new age of ultrarunning.
iRunFar: So you have this Golden Ticket offer. Everyone wants to know, what does Mario Mendoza do with that?
Mendoza: Yeah, there’s a good chance I’ll take it. I’m going to think about it a little bit more for the next week. I’m doing the World [Mountain Running] Championships in Slovenia the week before. That’s the only kind of hesitation. I think I can pull it off. You run that first race and then just rest the rest of the week. It’s just the history of Western States and being there would be really cool. The experience… you never know if you’ll get another chance.
Mendoza: Yeah, I think so. There’s a good chance. It’s more “yes” to “no,” but… I’m my own coach, so I get to decide.
iRunFar: Congratulations to you.
Mendoza: Thank you.
iRunFar: Way to pull off that last-minute surge there.
Mendoza: Thank you. That made up the spot and third, so I was like, I need to go.
iRunFar: Congrats to you.
Mendoza: Thank you. Thank you.