Last Chance | The Bandera Finish

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.

Photo Cred Rob Steger

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.

Photo Cred Billy Yang

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.

Photo Cred Myke Hermsmeyer

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.

Photo Cred Myke Hermsmeyer

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.

IAU Trail World Championships – 2016 & 2017

The 2016 & 17 IAU Trail World Championships were only 8 months apart. I had the privilege to experience both World Championships and wanted to take the opportunity to share what I learned from the two completely different results.

In 2016 I placed 123rd place and in 2017 I placed 9th. Most importantly, both our men and women’s teams moved up in 2017, and on the men’s side we were able to secure a bronze medal.

2017 USA Men’s Bronze Medal – Photo by Irunfar

The IAU Trail Championships are really competitive. I’ve gotten to experience several other trail/mountain world championships and I think the European countries really put more emphasis on Trail Ultra Running. For them Trail Ultra Running is also Mountain Running because the courses they run on our way steeper and more challenging than what we run on in the USA. I honestly don’t mean to lessen the competitiveness of other racing disciplines and distances, I just want to acknowledge that the European countries take this race extremely serious. I didn’t realize how serious they take it until I experienced it.

2017 Podium Teams. Spain and France again in top 2. USA 3rd!


In 2016 my quads gave out with 12 miles to go. I could still run uphill pretty well but downhill I had to walk. It got so bad on one of the downhills that I had to walk backwards. In the last aid station I didn’t think I could finish. Being our third runner and knowing that our team would only score if I finished (we needed three to score), helped me push deeper than I ever have in an ultra. Grabbed hiking poles from a teammate and left the last aid station with the intention to finish. Everyone passed me. I mean everyone! I went from being top 40 in the race to 123rd but as crazy as it sounds I think it’s the race i’m most proud of. It’s easy to finish a race when things are going well. Finishing a race when every obstacle comes at you is the real challenge. It really teaches you more about yourself. Something happens inside your character as you humble yourself and keep pushing. It was a very emotional finish for me because I didn’t think I could make it.

Crossing the line at the 2016 IAU World Championships


In 8 months I tried to work on what I learned from 2016. I learned that European courses are way harder on the quads and that I needed more volume in my training. I added strength training as well and started working with Joey at Central Oregon Strength Academy. I also learned that I needed to push some of the downhill training a bit more. I’ve always been a good climber, but it’s important to work on the weaknesses too.

There was one other big change I made that I think is worth talking about. In ultra races that have that much elevation changes you have to be ready to hurt. There is no way around it. You can’t expect to get into a rhythm or to feel good for at least half the course. The European guys are so tough. They are serious mountain runners who are used to pain and suffering. I noticed it last year and wanted some of that mental toughness for myself. It’s been a big breakthrough.

THE 2017 RACE:

After getting stuck behind a lot of people at the start I slowly worked my way up to about 30th place. By 8k I moved my way up to 20th place and was feeling great on the climbs. I knew 5 of our guys were ahead of me at that point and that actually made be happy. I was hoping we all had a great race.

Around 15k into the race I saw both Hayden Hawks and Tyler Sigl up ahead. I passed Hayden first and knowing he had come off a bad race I figured he wasn’t feeling recovered. I knew it was my job to encourage him. I told him he would feel much better if he committed to sticking in the race and later I found out he caught a second wind and was able to move back up the field.

Another 1k later I passed Tyler up the hill. I noticed he had been pushing the downhills hard but was struggling a bit on the uphills. I encouraged him to also hang in the race but to try to be more patient on the downhills so he had more power to climb back up.

Photo by  Irunfar

The next 8k into the 24k aid station went really smooth. I ran with one of the Spaniard guys and we passed a couple of people who were also hurting. At this point I moved into the top 15 and knew that we still had 3 USA guys up ahead. There are only two big aid stations in this course and so I took my time at the 24k mark. Made sure I refueled in everything and got what I needed. Then it was time to get to work. I had stayed patient for now almost half the race and it was time to give it what I had. In the next 5k you do a really big climb. It was in this section that I passed David Roche. He still looked strong and that made me happy because the more guys we had up there the better. I encouraged him to hang tough and to run for the team. Just after David was Cody Reed and catching him was a little more gradual. He was sweating a lot but still looked smooth and in control. I knew this was Cody’s first big international race so I encouraged him that he was doing really well and that if he kept strong he would be able to really help the team out. He asked me about water and thankfully we were about to hit a water station.

After passing David and Cody I was a little worried. I wondered if they would be able to hold on to their positions because we needed at least 3 guys to have a good team race. I knew Andy was still ahead but really prayed that either Cody or David would be able to hang steady.

Later found out Cody hung on super tough and stayed in 15th place to finish 2nd for USA

At roughly 35k mark I heard Andy was only 90 seconds ahead. I was actually hoping he was way up ahead because for me it was about the team result. I had moved up to 12th place at this point so I knew Andy must be at either 11th or 10th. I moved steady on the downhills and refilled my bottles again at the aid station. The next 4k was another big climb into the last aid station. This was the first time I started getting some cramps in my legs but I knew at this point in the race it was just normal. I kept steady up the hill and spotted Andy. Just ahead of Andy was one of the French guys and knowing that I was still feeling strong I worked my way up into 9th place. As I passed Andy I told him Cody was still hanging strong (hopefully) and that he needed to hang in there for the team. I encouraged him and kept pushing.

Just before the last aid station I got to see my wife, some of the USA supporters, and Bryon from irunfar. I knew they were excited to see a USA guy in the top 10 and i’m sure were excited when they saw Andy and Cody just behind. I believe somewhere around that last aid station is where Cody passed Andy, but Andy still hung on super tough to round out the scoring.

The last 8k is when I realized how well my individual race was going. It was the first time I actually thought about my race and got a bit emotional as to how unreal it would be to finish top 10 at this race. Even though I started cramping I didn’t care. I just kept running to the finish line.

As I came into the finish I couldn’t help but tear up. It’s been a life goal to finish top 10 in the world.

Immediately after finishing I hugged my wife and team leader Jason Bryant. And we turned around just praying that the next USA guy would come in. I was so stoked to see Cody Reed come in at 15th place and then just a couple minutes later Andy Wacker hung tough to come in at 20th place. Those two guys secured a bronze medal for the USA just edging out the host country Italy. It was so awesome.

when I found out we got a bronze!

I was so proud of the entire team. Women’s team as well. Everyone gave their best effort even if they didn’t have the race they dreamed of having and that is what matters most. I have high hopes that our team will continue to learn and even if I’m not on the team next year I will keep hoping for more USA medals.

Here is the race article written by trail runner magazine.

I enjoy running for something much bigger than myself. Having my team and country in mind helps me push. I wish there was more emphasis in the USA on team results, and not just individual results.


There was mandatory gear we had to carry so I used a belt that could carry more stuff.

  • Skechers GoTrail2 (coming out soon)
  • Nathan VaporKrar
  • Nathan flasks
  • 6 Gu Gells
  • Drymax socks

I got the chance to do a pre-race interview with TrailRunning Review in Spain. It was fun to do this one in Spanish.

Chasing the Crown

First the updates:


I’m really excited to announce I have joined the Skechers Performance Team. I was already impressed with what they’ve done with Olympians Meb Keflezighi and Kara Goucher. They’ve allowed their characters and personalities to shine and have made it more than just about performances. After trying out their trail shoes the last few weeks I was fully convinced. Both the GoTrail and GoTrail Ultra cover all the bases and provide a super comfortable ride on all trail surfaces.


What is really exciting for me is i’ve already had the privilege to provide input towards the new trail shoes coming out in July (stay tuned). I Also get to have my own custom shoes that say “GoMar” in a few weeks. I mean how cool is that, a shoe with my name on it! It’s been a pleasure working with the Skechers team already.

I’ve also partnered with Simple Hydration. I happened to get a chance to try out their bottles in my last race and loved the simplicity and ease to carry it. I really like having my hands free when I run and being able to slip these bottles in the back of your shorts without it bouncing around is just perfect.

Up next:

This Saturday I’m running the 100 mile USA trail championships at Rocky Raccoon. After what happened at Bandera 100k USA Trail Championships, the last thing I want to do is come up short again.  Being sent off course when I was thinking I had the win secured was a big heartbreak for me. You’d think i’d race something shorter instead and play it safe. That’s just not who I am. I like challenges and going into races needing to have faith. The dependency on God for strength is what I crave and I am excited to run this race regardless of what the outcome is. I know it’s going to be fast up front but I am ok with that.


I still race to win, but now I chase something bigger. I run each race with a specific purpose in mind. To get a crown that I can lay down at Jesus’s feet. Win, loose, DNF, I just want to give God my best each time I race. This verse Paul wrote sums it up perfectly:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:25-27