Mario Mendoza returns to the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile after having placed third at the race two years ago. In the following interview, Mario talks about his earlier inconsistency with longer ultras, what he learned that drastically changed that, and the heartwarming reason he’s back at Lake Sonoma.
Mario Mendoza Pre-2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Mario Mendoza before the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you doing, Mario?
Mario Mendoza: I’m doing good. It’s sunny. It’s beautiful weather. I’m just loving it out here so far.
iRunFar: It is a beautiful spring day. It looks like we’re going to have more on tap for tomorrow. Are you excited about that?
Mendoza: I am. It’s actually going to be a little warm, but I like that weather. It will be nice.
iRunFar: This is not your first time to Lake Sonoma. You had some good success a couple years ago coming home with third, I believe? How did that race go for you?
Mendoza: Yes, it was one of those races I’ll remember forever.
iRunFar: Why is that?
Mendoza: Dylan Bowman and I had just an awesome battle to the line. I thought he was done after I passed him at mile 38, but he’s tough, man. I couldn’t drop him and couldn’t drop him. I got out of the last aid station and he’s 30 seconds behind me. Oh, man, this guy—he’s tough. He was right on my heels with a mile to go, and then he flew by me like as if we were doing a 5k. I was like, Oh, my gosh, I didn’t go this far not to respond. I did the exact same thing basically back. I sat on his heels and the last 400 just blasted it with all I had, and it was enough, but it was close. It was a fun, fun race for me. The hardest thing for me that day was the week before I had been sick, so I was trying to decide if I should race or not. The whole race was just kind of those where I almost dropped out a couple times just not feeling good and was proud that I stuck in it and stayed in it. Then when I started seeing that hope that it was possible to get to the finish line, I think my competitiveness just took over. It was nice to see that one through.
iRunFar: As an outside observer, it seemed as you were making that transition up to 50 miles and 100k, it was kind of hit or miss. You had a really long history of some great shorter-distance trail running, if that’s fair to say. What didn’t you and what have you figured out that has contributed to your success?
Mendoza: Last year was the first year I would say was consistent all the way through. I was very proud of it because it’s hard to have a consistent year like that, right? Really what I figured out—and this is a big secret, so my competitors are going to get it—is that it’s always going to hurt. It’s always going to hurt. Realizing that… and in the shorter races, you get to this place where you can real a little bit, but in an ultra, you just grind, You’ve got to stay in it. That was one of the things I learned—and preparing for that place where I’m going to be tested. I’ve been working on that a lot more. I think that’s made the bigger difference. I think Strava opened my eyes to just a little bit more training that I needed to do, and seeing that I need to get more hills. I don’t have the time to put in as much training, but I do need to get in those key days and get the quads strong.
iRunFar: Was there a certain race that made you realize that this pain, there would be a lot of it and you’ve got to accept it?
Mendoza: Yeah, there are a few I can remember—Lake Sonoma is one of them. That was one where I was like, Wow, if it’s possible on a day like that, then it kind of gave me a confidence and a hope. But honestly, at IAU [Trail World Championships] 2016 in Portugal, that was a big breakthrough for me. I finished 123rd, and I got passed by everyone and a lot of women, and it was a humbling experience, and I needed that. I needed to let go of the ego—I’m way faster than this.
iRunFar: You’ve got to be top-five…
Mendoza: Yeah, exactly. That might be the race I’m most proud of—that or Lake Sonoma. That one, I had no quads left with 12 miles to go, so I grabbed hiking poles and just got to the finish line.
iRunFar: Did it feel good—I’m remembering off the cuff here—but a year later you were back at IAU [Trail World Champs], and it went differently.
Mendoza: A lot better—I went from 123rd to ninth place. I don’t know how that happens.
iRunFar: With a really solid, consistent race.
Mendoza: Yeah, the whole day I was moving up. I was probably top 20 within 8k, but then I just one-by-one picked people off.
iRunFar: You were charging those last 10 miles.
Mendoza: I was feeling good. I got excited, so that helped.
iRunFar: Is that kind of fun to know? There are going to be these times you have to grind through, but there are times when the race gets better as it goes along.
Mendoza: Yeah, there are different physiologies out there. The bodies are different. For me, I tend to be a last one-third race type of guy. It doesn’t mean I can’t be in the race, but I think… I’ve never gotten testing to see where my VO2 max or all that stuff is, but it seems like I can hold it together. If I’m there, I can hold it together toward that last one-third. There’s something fun about getting excited when you smell that blood. They’re looking back… that’s exciting for me. I really like that feeling. You kind of play your strengths.
iRunFar: You’ve had a really good stretch here. You had a consistent year last year. You had a great run at IAU Worlds. You won Moab Trail Marathon again for a national championship. Starting out this year, you went to Bandera 100k and had a great race there. I don’t know if you accepted your Golden Ticket? Are you going to Western States this year?
Mendoza: I am.
iRunFar: You have this really good stretch. Does that leave you pretty confident coming into Lake Sonoma this weekend?
Mendoza: That’s another thing I’ve learned. I think it’s good not to be too confident. I think you’ve got to have this balance of being very humble but at the same time being tough and ready to battle. That’s sort of that balance that I’ve found. I want to be a person that talks about the bad races. I had a bad one at Transgrancanaria. My luggage never made it. That was a very stupid thing I’ve never really thought about.
iRunFar: Was it actually that you didn’t have your things or that it got in your head?
Mendoza: The hardest part was that they found the luggage on Wednesday, and they were like, it’s going to get to you. It’s getting there tomorrow; we’re putting it on the plane. We go to pick it up and somebody didn’t put it on the plane. This is the last day on Friday, and I’m scrambling putting stuff together. That was the hardest part. It totally distracted my mind from that peacefulness that I try to come into a race with.
iRunFar: And it’s a strange race because it starts at midnight. That Friday you’re scrambling to get gear.
Mendoza: I had to get a light, a backpack, and a jacket. Tim Tollefson let me borrow some shoes. I had some road shoes because I was going to do some light running until my stuff got there. That was my mistake. I take responsibility. I shouldn’t have checked the bag. Stupid.
iRunFar: Now you know.
Mendoza: Even then I tried to finish. I don’t like not finishing a race now. It leaves me feeling like… I wimped out. I’m trying to toughen up.
iRunFar: If you go out there and have a rough day on Saturday and the wheels fall off, we’ll still see you come across that line likely?
Mendoza: Honestly, if I tweak an ankle or get hurt or start vomiting, I really want to finish.
iRunFar: That’s a big shift in mentality because you did have a bunch of DNS and DNFs. Speaking of that, you were at Sonoma two years ago, you already have a Golden Ticket, there were years where you signed up for Sonoma and didn’t start, so why are you here?
Mendoza: Honestly, it’s Tropical John’s fault, man. He emailed me in December and he’s telling me how much he likes Mexico. He just hit that… that’s my soft spot, so he’s like, traveling in Mexico. I was there with my wife and with my parents, and he’s just so nice. Honestly, too, I grew up in a place a lot like this—a farm in Central Coast California, and when I raced here, that helped me. This just reminds me of home and the hills I grew up in. I tend to pick races now more on the internal motivation—if I feel attached to it somehow. So for awhile there, I had no interest in going to Western States, and this year, that kind of came back. This year, I definitely had some kind of attachment to the hills. It’s just like where I grew up. I grew up on Stepladder Ranch. It’s just like it. It’s exactly the same.
iRunFar: It’s like having a 50 mile on your home race course.
Mendoza: Exactly, it feels like I’m just running around on my little ranch. Tropical John just knew how to get…
iRunFar: Tug on your heartstrings?
Mendoza: Yeah, he knew how to.
iRunFar: Alright, Mario, well, enjoy your trip around your hills tomorrow.
Mendoza: Thank you, sir.