Even though i’m a trail runner, I often picture life as a track race where each lap that we take we move forward, yet we cross similar points on each lap. I can think of plenty of these “laps” i’ve taken in life that have brought me back to the same points. I think there is something special about these places we are brought to because they allow us to reflect, to learn, and to grow.
The Bandera 100k is one of those events for me. The race serves as both a USATF Trail National Championship and a golden ticket qualifier to Western States 100.
2016 my preparations for the race had gone perfectly until i got sick the Tuesday before race day. I decided to start the race and just take it aid station by aid station. Even though I wasn’t feel good I was excited that I was staying in the race. At the 50k mark I I was sitting in second place behind Jim Walmsley and even though the idea of winning had gone out the window there was a possibility of pulling of a second place.
The next 20 miles were a tough grind but I stayed in it. Between miles 53-55 I started slowing down significantly and got passed by Christopher Dennuci. As I approached LAST CHANCE aid station I knew I was in trouble but I also knew I only had 4.5 miles to go. I found out that 4th place was 35 minutes back so I took my time to get some soup, to put some clothes on, and start that last stretch. I knew mentally that if I could just walk those last 4.5 miles I could still pull of a respectable podium finish. But my body was done. Completely spent. To the point that I could not even walk. A tough DNF at LAST CHANCE.
2017 I came back for redemption. I wanted to prove to myself what I could have done on a healthy day. At the halfway 50k mark I had a 7 minute lead and this year with the course being different I didn’t think twice when I was sent by a race official to run the loop clockwise. I saw all of my competitors as I looped back and could see that I was having a really good day. I spent those next few miles really focusing on what I needed to do to lock this win. It wasn’t until the next aid station when I saw the volunteers faces that I realized something was wrong. I had been running in the wrong direction since the halfway mark. Myself and Bob Shebest had been sent the wrong way. The crazy thing about this years race is that it ended again at the LAST CHANCE aid station. I was devastated for many reasons.
2018 I didn’t even want to go back to Bandera. I signed up for The North Face instead but after winning the Moab Trail Marathon Championships my ankle got compressed. I took a few down weeks before I was able to get back into good training and then my friend texted me and put me on the spot. “Your going back to finish this thing right?” I knew this story needed a finish and this had become much more than a race to me. Maybe it was a character issue, maybe it was just something inside of me that I needed to conquer. I don’t know. But I knew I needed to finish the damn thing.
What is neat about this year’s race is that it turned out to be quite competitive. Cody Reed, Chris Mocko, Ryan Smith, Jared Burdick, Chris Rauli, and more guys that i’m sure i’m missing. But I didn’t care about that, my goal was to finish. I had a story that needed its finish and that was the motivation for going back.
From the start of the race I focused on what I needed to do to and get the best out of my body. I ran my pace and it wasn’t until mile 21 where I found myself tied in the lead with Cody Reed. At the halfway mark I had roughly a minute on Cody and once I knew I was running the right way on the 2nd loop I made my move and started to break away.
By mile 45 I had a solid 11 minute lead and even though a small part of me wanted to ease off I wanted to be the one throwing punches at the course this time. I thought back to how awful I felt when I was sick. I thought back to how awful I felt when I found out I had been sent off course. As I crossed the LAST CHANCE aid station this time I was prepared to do whatever I had to get to that finish line. I’ve never prayed like this before in a race and I let my emotions enjoy the victory of conquering fear. Normally I cross the finish line with a smile but this was something unique, something different. This was a victory of a warrior that did give up.
I really want to thank Mario Rodriguez for stepping up and crewing for me. Thank you Mario for your support and faith that it was possible. This finish was something I’ll never forget:
Winning my 5th National Title and getting the Golden Ticket to Western States was just a bonus. Honestly the joy was finishing this story.
What I used during the race:
- GoTrail 2’s Skechers Performance Shoes
- Simple Bottle Hydration
- Drymax Socks
- VFuel Gels that were at the aid stations
- Tailwind from the aid stations
I really enjoyed this pre-race interview with Training For Ultra. Rob asked real questions and nailed a lot of things right on the head. Training For Ultra with Mario Mendoza
For my Hispanic friends, I really enjoyed doing this interview with Territorio Trail Media in Spanish. A Fondo con Mario Mendoza
Thank you to all my sponsors: Skechers Performance, Drymax Socks, Flora Health, Simple Bottle Hydration, Backporch Coffee, Recharge Sport, Sporthill, Territory Run, and Northern Lites Snowshoes. Without your support it would not be possible for me to train.