November means that the high-level racing is not quite done for the year and it’s time for the 2019 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships in California! Let’s begin our look into this year’s race by recapping the last couple of years. In 2017, lots of changes were introduced to the TNF 50, with both an earlier race date and updated course. Last year, the race was canceled due to air-quality issues related to northern California’s extreme wildfire season. This year, all of those 2017 updates remain and we all cross our fingers and hope for a safe conclusion to the wildfires that are currently burning around the state.
The race course starts in the town of Sausalito before heading into the Marin Headlands and tying into many miles of the original race course. Then, the race ends with a fast, paved jaunt across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the historic Crissy Field finish line in San Francisco proper. The course sports 50.7 miles with 10,600 feet of climbing, but much of the course is nontechnical and the miles fly by. In 2017, men’s and women’s winners Tim Freriks and Ida Nilsson established men’s and women’s records on the new course at 6:02:26 and 7:07:56, respectively. The $10,000 payout to the men’s and women’s winners remains the same as in years past, as does the rest of the prize purse.
The race takes place on Saturday, November 16 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S. (That’s Saturday, November 16 at 2:00 p.m. CET in Europe.) Indeed, we’re covering the race live, so stay tuned!
A special thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible!
Thanks, too, to BUFF for supporting our coverage of the TNF 50.
I wouldn’t blame Jared Hazen if he was simply resting on the laurels of his 2019 accomplishments. His top results this year have been a win of the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April and a second at the Western States 100 in June, finishing the latter in a still-mind-boggling 14:26. Yeah, that’s enough! But Jared’s running the TNF 50, and I *think* this is his first timing lining up at this event. Given his year so far, there’s no reason to think he can’t–and won’t–win this race.
In 2019, France’s Thibaut Garrivier has vaulted from being a strong trail ultrarunner with about six years of steadily ascending performances to being an internationally competitive one. His top finishes of the year so far have been winning the Transvulcania Ultramarathon and taking second at the CCC. It looks like this is Thibaut’s first time racing in the USA, a new challenge. Another challenge could be the TNF 50’s more runnable terrain than what’s found on most European trails. That said, he podiumed last year at the fast-moving SainteLyon 81k in France in 6.5 hours.
What a difference a year makes for Matt Daniels and his running. Last year, he was on the entrants list, but had only finished one prior ultramarathon, and that was a 50k. I think he’s now officially a trail ultrarunner–and a darn good one. His top races of 2019 have been a win at the Black Canyon 100k and fourth at his debut Western States. With the leg speed he brought with him into ultras plus a year’s worth of experience at this long stuff, I’m pretty sure he’s going to give this race course and everyone on it a run for their money.
Trail-ultrarunning fans might remember France’s Sébastien Spehler taking second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile earlier this year, a super-strong U.S. debut for a Euro runner on California’s runnable terrain. In his interview with us after Sonoma, Seb said he enjoyed learning about the challenges of traveling so far to race as well as how Cali’s trails feel. I should think that a man with his talent and this earlier learning experience will turn up at the TNF 50 ready to race for the win. As a reminder, Jared Hazen beat Seb to the Sonoma finish line by a good seven minutes, though. Since April, Seb’s run several shorter trail races in France, either winning or taking second in all of them.
Well, well, well, what do we have here? Scotland’s Robbie Simpson is on the TNF 50 entrants list. Robbie had planned to race Les Templiers in France a few weeks ago, but it was canceled due to a big storm. It looks like Les Templiers’s loss is the TNF 50’s gain. Robbie is best known for his prowess in shorter-distance trail running and mountain running. As examples, he’s been third at the World Mountain Running Association World Championships, he’s twice finished second at Sierre-Zinal, and he’s a multi-time winner of the Jungfrau Marathon. The only potential hitch to Robbie’s giddy-up is that I don’t think he’s raced longer than a trail marathon/3.5 hours before. This is gonna’ be fun to watch.
So, I’m a big fan of previous success on a course and/or on similar terrain in predicting future success. That’s one reason I’ve got Clare Gallagher at the top of this list, as she was fifth here in 2016 before improving to second in 2017, the last time this race was run. Uh, then there’s the fact that she’s also won the Way Too Cool 50k and Western States 100 this year. Another factor in her favor is that unlike many of her competitors, I don’t believe Clare’s raced since June, so she should be quite fresh.
Illness will be keeping Ruth Croft from running this year’s TNF 50. [Nov 7 Update] I’m really excited to see Ruth Croft finally take on the TNF 50, again. After a few years mostly crushing the Skyrunner World Series, she’s focused on the Golden Trail Series the past two years, which included a win at the Mont-Blanc Marathon, a second place at the Dolomyths Skyrace (22k), a fourth place at Sierre-Zinal (30k), and a ninth place at the Annapurna Trail Marathon so far this year. In 2019, Croft’s also taken second at the Trail World Championships (44k) and won the OCC (56k). Going back a few years, she took fourth at the TNF 50 in 2015 and third in 2016. Croft’s most recent 50-ish mile race was Les Templiers in 2017, which she won.
So, just in case you didn’t know, Anna Mae Flynn is fast. Like winning the Speedgoat 50k in 2017 and 2019 and this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile fast. In the past two years, she’s also been second at the 2017 Pikes Peak Ascent and sixth at the 2018 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Still, it’s that win at Sonoma back in April that most suggests she has the potential to win here.
In 2014 and early in her ultrarunning career, YiOu Wang made an unsuccessful attempt at the TNF 50, before injuries kept her from starting in 2015 and 2016. Ah, but she’s since seen great success elsewhere at the 50-mile distance. She won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in both 2016 and 2017 before taking second this year. Earlier this year, she was second at the Black Canyon 100k before stumbles with a DNF at Western States and a 53rd at Sierre-Zinal. It’d be fun to see this local runner nail the TNF 50.
Lake Sonoma is a pretty good analog to the TNF 50, and Taylor Nowlin has a second– and a seventh-place finish at the past two Lake Sonoma’s. Since this year’s Sonoma, she’s also been fourth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k and second at the Speedgoat 50k before winning both the Imogene Pass Run (17 miles) and the Flagstaff Sky Peaks 50k in the past two months. I believe this will be Nowlin’s first run at the TNF 50.
Following a very successful 2018, it’s been a quiet year for Keely Henninger due to a bone stress injury and a patient recovery from it. Looking back at last year, she crushed her faster races, winning the Chuckanut 50k, Lake Sonoma, and the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile, the latter of which was the USATF 50 Mile Road National Championships. Last year, she was also fifth at both the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Ultra-Trail Cape Town. Going further back, Henninger has twice run that TNF 50, taking seventh in 2015 and eighth in 2016.
Brittany Peterson has put up some great results in the past two years. Starting with her fifth place at the most recent TNF 50 in 2017, she was also second at the Way Too Cool 50k and fourth at the Transvuclania Ultramarathon in 2018. This year, Peterson has won the Bandera 100k and taken second at Western States. She did have a rough race at this year’s CCC, where she finished 19th.
In interviewing Yngvild Kaspersen before her second-place finish at this year’s Pikes Peak Marathon, I learned the Norwegian prefers less technical, more runnable terrain. She did win the rugged Zegama Marathon in her breakout race in 2016, but her other best results include that second at this year’s Pikes Peak and her second at Les Templiers in 2016. I believe that 2016 Les Templiers (48 miles) finish may be her only race longer than the marathon, so we’ll see how she fares at the 50-mile distance after a few years away.
If last year was the year that Addie Bracy went all in on ultrarunning, then this is the year she doubled down. Her busy schedule has included placing fifth at the Bandera 100k, second at the Way Too Cool 50k, third at Lake Sonoma, first at the Quad Rock 50 Mile, and ninth at Western States. Since then, she’s limited herself to a half marathon and marathon (where she broke her own course record at the Blue Sky Trail Marathon a few weeks ago) and should be well rested for the TNF 50.
Just a few weekends ago, Devon Yanko won the USATF 50 Mile Road National Championships in a course-record time at the Tussey Mountainback, which frequently hosts these national championships. In recent years, she’s raced the Comrades Marathon twice, taking 10th in 2017 and seventh in 2018, won the Leadville Trail 100 Mile and been second at the Caumsett 50k in 2017, and taken 22nd at this year’s IAU 50k World Championships. Although a long time Bay Area resident, I think this might be Yanko’s first go at the TNF 50.
Anne-Marie Madden of Canada is a runner from whom you expect a strong finish at the TNF 50. She took fourth here in 2014 and sixth in 2016. She’s had a solid 2019 so far, taking third at the Way Too Cool 50k, eighth at Lake Sonoma, and sixth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k.
Ladia Albertson-Junkans has gradually worked up in racing distance over the past few years. She had her best result over 50k in taking second at the Bandera 100k back in January before an emotional 31st place running her first 100 miler at Western States in honor of Gabe Grunewald, her close friend who’d just passed away. Albertson-Junkans has plenty of speed to crush a course like this one, having won the Chuckanut 50k in 2017 and Way Too Cool 50k in 2018.
Amanda Basham has been a strong trail ultrarunner since she hit the scene about five years ago, but in the last couple of years she’s performed well in national- and international-level competitions. Over the past year and change, as examples, she’s taken fourth at last year’s Western States and been second at this year’s CCC. Basham has run at the TNF ECS-California event before, taking tenth at the 50 mile in 2015 and winning the marathon in 2016.
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