By Sarah Ann Noel
“Evergreen’s Own Compete in the World’s Toughest Race and Come Home to Take on Bigger Challenges.”
Yes, this is a story about physical feats, about mountaineers and ultra-runners and the sort of elite athletes who think, “I will climb to the top of Mt. Whitney in the snow”—and then they do.
But this is also a story about so much more than that—about how, at the heart of a passion, is a form of strength, strength of mind and strength of character; about the sort of drive that pushes a person outside of what they thought was possible… to create new boundaries that exhilarate and inspire others.
And this is a story about Mark Macy. Perhaps you know him from his early days as an adventure racer, competing in Eco-Challenges and other competitions around the world. You might recognize him from the revived Eco-Challenge series, “The World’s Toughest Race,” recently aired on Prime Video. Maybe you just know him from the trails in Evergreen, the town’s friendliest man, always on the lookout to brighten someone else’s day.
“He takes an interest in other people,” Marshall Ulrich told me, a man who himself has a number of titles and world records under his belt, but spoke with me about Mark just because they’re friends.
“We all have chances to lead and to help each other,” said Mark’s son, Travis Macy, something that he says he learned from both his father and Marshall over the years.
To get to the bottom of this life philosophizing, we need to go back to the 1990s, and the world’s first Eco-Challenge. Dubbed “The World’s Toughest Race,” Eco-Challenge was an adventure race series taking place all over the world, sometimes for more than a week at a time. In essence, adventure racing is a team sport—usually a coed team of four—that requires a variety of skills and disciplines, all demanding supreme athleticism. Teams engage in trekking, biking, paddling or sailing and fixed ropes to navigate an unmarked course—and hope to finish first.
In 1995, after meeting Mark at a small triathlon a few years earlier, Marshall was looking for another team member for the first Eco-Challenge. “I thought of Mark right away because he had a reputation as an ultra runner. I invited him to be on the team,” said Marshall. Mark accepted and from there, the two built a relationship of adventure, along with the other members of their team, the Stray Dogs. “Marshall and I have been all around the world together—deserts and mountains and jungles,” Mark said. “And we were okay. We didn’t win any races typically. Actually,” Mark laughed, “we never won one of them, but we got to be the best of friends.”
Considering the quick bonds formed through less harrowing circumstances, it makes sense that traveling to unknown lands and co-attempting exhausting and death-defying acts is likely to draw people together. “Something like the Eco-Challenge fast-forwards relationships because it’s this microcosm of life and its difficulties. You learn what a person is really about,” Marshall said. “It shows how much character a person has.”
There isn’t space enough in this article to list the winning character traits of Mark Macy, not the least of which is that he is always putting others first. In essence, he’s the very best friend a person could ask for. Marshall said, “I used to kid, ‘Mark, I probably know more about you than your wife does.’ I think that is what Eco-Challenges did for us. We decided we could depend on each other, lean on each other and that deepened our relationship.”
So Travis Macy grew up watching his father tackle super-human challenges while simultaneously modeling that people are the most important thing. In 2005, after finishing college, Travis determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and was himself a member of elite adventure racing teams. When rumors started buzzing about the revival of the Eco-Challenge, Stray Dogs jumped to apply to race.
“It’s a reality TV casting system,” explained Travis. “So they’re looking for experienced teams and they’re also looking for ‘story’ teams. Stray Dogs had all of the experience and they have a cool story. Not only have they been racing together for decades, the average age was over 60. They got in—no surprise there. I also put together my own team.” Travis’s team was also accepted to compete.
As both teams began to train, they confronted an obstacle sooner than they might have expected.
“A diagnosis like Alzheimer’s hits you really hard,” said Travis. But they all—father, son, friends—recalled one of their favorite ‘Mark-isms:’ It’s all good mental training. “All those years, Dad would call the tough stuff ‘mental training.’ Of course, we didn’t know Alzheimer’s was coming, but you know something is going to come. That’s life.”
Mark, who had for years had a relationship with Mark Burnett, creator of Eco-Challenge, along with Travis as advocate, appealed to the organization.
“Travis was very instrumental in helping plead Mark’s case to the selection committee, and that went a long way,” said Marshall. “[Stray Dogs] was, by far, the oldest team out there, which was a great selling point. But with that, we knew we would have our own age-related challenges. Travis was the go-to guy who could keep them going, and the father-son relationship made perfect sense for Mark to jump to Travis’s team.”
“And most importantly to me,” said Travis, “I realized, I wanted to race with my dad.” Travis enlisted Evergreen natives Shane Sigle and Danelle Ballengee, as well as Andrew Speers, who teaches at Evergreen High School, as Team Endure’s support person. The entire team was focused on making Eco-Challenge attainable for Mark. True to character, while everyone worked to rearrange the teams and earn both teams a spot in the race, Mark’s concern was everyone else. When Travis asked his dad to join his team, his first response was, “What are my teammates going to do?”
In the end, another Stray Dog, affectionately called “Dr. Bob,” joined forces on Marshall’s team, and Mark was permitted to compete with Travis.
Mark told me, “I was always excited for Eco-Challenge, and so this race was no different—even though it was kind of different. I’m surprised they let me into the race, and once we knew I was going to get in, I was very excited to get there and see what happened.”
From here, I heard tales of wheelbarrows full of paddleboards and bats with a 4-foot wingspan. There were tense moments of boats veering off course, both boat and teammate needing to be righted. Mark, of course, loved pedaling his bike through the mud—the heavy, strenuous task that everyone else hated, he chose to love.
“Something that was really special to me,” Marshall remembered, “was a moment when the two teams crossed paths at camp. I saw Mark, and I knew he was hurting. The first thing I said to him was, ‘God, you look like shit’—in a good way, in a typical way, in an endearing way. I was glad to see him, totally destroyed physically, but such strength of character. It was precious.” It was normalizing. Despite their hard news and lifestyle adjustments on the trail, Marshall’s buddy Mark was the same tough guy he had always been.
“You’ve got to have fun,” Mark told me. “Or else, don’t go!”
Races, even the hardest ones, come to an end, and no matter where your race ends, it always does. I asked Mark what it was like to come home from competing in another Eco-Challenge, still facing the challenge of Alzheimer’s.
“You talking to me?” he asked, and we laughed. Travis said, “Dad is the humor leader on our team.”
Then Mark got serious. “Most people will tell you that [Alzheimer’s] can’t be conquered, that you’re just stuck with it and ultimately you die from it. And I accept that as a possibility, but I don’t accept that as an absolute. I am basically a guy who has a positive outlook on life. I have full-on plans to continue with my life and be with my family. The world is going to continue on and I’m going to continue on and I’m going to have a good life.”
Drawing from the resilience store of their lifelong ‘mental training,’ Travis agreed with his dad. “I think we’ve all come to a point of acceptance, and if I was to explain our approach, there are two key points,” he said. “One is focusing on strengths instead of deficits. What can you do still? For dad, it’s staying fit, getting outside, being a wonderful father and grandfather.” The second factor, as Travis explained, is very comfortable territory for all of them, and especially Mark. “We have a team-oriented approach,” he said, citing the support from family, friends, and friends like family. “Marshall drives over to Dad’s house and they go for a run together. Once they get out there on the trails, they’re two guys just doing their thing.”
Inspired by his friend and their adventures together, however, Marshall is doing more than simply picking up his running buddy for an afternoon trek. At the end of February, he completed the first Winter Badwater, summiting 14,508-foot Mt. Whitney through the winter snow via the Mountaineer’s Route. “I was able to do a very Mark-ish thing. He is a fantastic snowshoer,” Marshall said. “It took us four days to get up that mountain, and it was very difficult. But when things got hard, I would think of the importance of what I was doing, all of that with Mark in mind.”
Marshall’s Winter Badwater quest is part of a larger effort for Team Macy Endure to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association’s “The Longest Day” national fundraising effort. Funds will be used to help advance the care, support and research efforts of the Association. Team Endure’s fundraiser is based on what Mark loves most—tallying miles.
“The original idea,” Travis explained, “was to have people contribute miles—running, biking, hiking, walking—enough to cover 3,063 miles, based on Marshall’s 2008 record-setting run across America. Turns out, a lot of people ended up joining, so now we’re trying to cumulatively do enough miles to go around the world.”
“Enough people” have actually ranked the Team Endure fundraiser as one of the top five teams in the country. Marshall’s leg alone has raised over $12,000. “We’re shooting for $14,508—the height of Whitney,” Marshall explained. Collectively, Team Endure hopes to raise $30,000.
“I think somebody, someday, is going to figure out what to do with Alzheimer’s and do away with it,” Mark said. In the meantime, he told me that he’s had enough ‘mental training’ to keep going. “Without a doubt, my career as an adventure racer has been a big help to me. We are different, and quite frankly, we just go ahead and we do what we have to do. That’s just the way it is.”
Mark has bodily strength, the strength of a team around him, and the psychological fortitude to do just as he says. And, from my perspective, from the privileged hour I got to spend hearing this inspirational story, I think it’s quite clear where his greatest strength lies.
He said, “If it’s okay, I would just like to say something.” Of course it was, I joked. It’s an article about him, after all. “I would like to say a few words for my brother and sister Alzheimer patients,” he said. “I know it’s difficult, but whatever you do, don’t quit. You have to keep going. Take care of yourself. I’m feeling strong and healthy, and every one of you can too. And if you need someone to talk to, I live right here in Evergreen. And I’d be happy to talk to you. Anytime.”
To learn more about The World’s Toughest Race and see Mark, Travis, Marshall and their teammates in action, visit
Eco-Challenge.com or TeamStrayDogs.com.
To join Team Endure and contribute to the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, visit act.alz.org/goto/TeamMacyEndure.
To keep up with Mark and Travis Macy and their adventures, both on the trail and in life, listen to The Travis Macy Show on Spotify. You can follow Travis on Instagram at @TravisMacy and follow Mark at @mmacy146.
And keep track of Marshall’s adventures on his blog at marshallulrich.com and contribute to his arm of the Team Endure fundraiser at act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace.