2014 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Women’s Preview
Another year has descended on California’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Last year, the TNF EC 50 Mile saw Michele Yates besting the rest of the women’s field by 10 minutes (post-race interview) on the fast, sometimes wide, and hilly trails of the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco, California. Magdalena Boulet made her ultramarathon debut with a second-place finish (post-race interview), while Emelie Forsberg rounded out the podium (post-race interview).
This year, a new set of women–some familiar faces to this race as well as some fresh ones–will take to the course in search of the $10,000 winner’s prize and the coveted title of winning one of the most competitive ultramarathons on U.S. soil. The race takes place on Saturday, December 6 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S.
The TNF EC 50 Mile is how iRunFar got started with its live coverage waaaay back in 2009, so we’re covering the race for the sixth-straight year! Stay tuned.
We’ve also previewed the men’s field.
The Headline Acts
I get the sense that Magdalena Boulet (pre-race interview) is hungry for the win here. Last year, the TNF EC 50 Mile was her first ultra, and she pretty much banged it out of the park, finishing an impressive second at the 50-mile distance among a competitive field. Magda is an Olympic Marathoner with a 2:26:22 PR, though, and you don’t get that far in your running career when you settle for second. Something tells me that she’s back and searching for more. After last year, she dove nose deep in ultrarunning, winning the 2014 Way Too Cool 50k, taking second at the USATF 50k Trail National Championships, and finishing third at the 2014 Les Templiers (post-race interview), among other races.
Stephanie Howe (pre-race interview) was this year’s Western States 100 champion (post-race interview, race report). She also finished second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview). Really, she won Western States this year, need I say more? Since then, she’s been busy working on her PhD and getting married. She also started but dropped from the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile earlier this fall. She’s finished the TNF EC 50 Mile once before, when she finished second in 2012. She was going to race last year, but decided not to at the last minute to give herself a good off season. She’s probably really ready for ski season up there in her Oregon home, and letting the running season linger long enough for one last race.
Anna Frost has a now longstanding relationship with the TNF EC 50 Mile, having won it in 2010 and 2011, paced Emelie Forsberg to her victory in 2012, and run to eighth place in 2013. After becoming injured during the TNF EC 50 last year, she took time off, and then returned with a huge victory against a big field at the 2014 Transvulcania (post-race interview, race report). She’s also taken second at the Skyrunning World Championships Ultra SkyMarathon event in Chamonix, won the Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview), took third at The Rut 50k (post-race interview), and set a course record in her first 100 miler, the Bear 100 (race report). Since the Bear, the New Zealander has been mostly in the U.S., playing around the trails of the desert southwest. Who knows if this will be a focus race for her, but her fitness should put her on the podium no matter what. [Update 12/2: Anna Frost has decided not to race due to health issues.] Caitlin Smith has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile twice, winning in 2009 and finishing fourth in 2012 behind second place Stephanie Howe. Caitlin, who mixes up road and trail racing at lots of distances, doesn’t race ultras very often, but brings it whenever she does. Earlier this year, she took second at the Way Too Cool 50k a couple minutes behind her good friend, running partner, and coach Magda Boulet. I don’t think she’s raced an ultra since then, though Magda and Caitlin won the women’s division of the TransRockies stage race together this past summer. Earlier this fall, Caitlin took fourth at the 2014 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships. [Update 11/24: It sounds like Caitlin Smith is not racing the TNF 50 so she can, instead, focus on another race.] The two-time UTMB champion Rory Bosio has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile three times, placing sixth in 2007, eighth in 2011, and 17th in 2012. In 2013, she started but dropped because she was sick. I can’t really blame her if this race isn’t a focus for her; with the summer she’s had, I’d be resting on my laurels, too. This year, she’s run and won four The North Face sponsored events, the TNF EC 50 Mile in New York, the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (post-race interview), UTMB (post-race interview), and The North Face 50 Mile Utah event. Phew. [Update 11/28: Rory Bosio’s name is not on the most up-to-date elite entrants list. It looks like she’s no longer planning to race.]
Megan Kimmel (pre-race interview), I’d love to this see woman nail a 50 miler. She’s given the TNF EC 50 Mile a couple shots, DNFing in 2012 and finishing in 10th place, off her potential, last year. She tears up the shorter-distance trail-racing scene here in the U.S.; she’s won the La Sportiva Mountain Cup every year it’s taken place, for six years. She’s won the Moab Red Hot 33k this year, and she just won the Moab Trail Marathon a couple weeks ago. She says that she’s not super focused on this race this year, but she’s going to give it another shot.
Other Top Runners
Wow, Kami Semick (pre-race interview) is racing! The last time we really saw Kami was when she was forced to drop early in the 2012 Western States 100 because of an asthma attack. Kami’s ultra resume is a little crazy in its awesomeness: second at the 2008 IAU 100k World Championships, winner of both the IAU 100k and 50k World Championships in 2009, third at the 2010 TNF EC 50 Mile, third at the 2011 Comrades Marathon, and second at the 2011 Western States 100, just to name some of the biggies. She’s been kicking ass in the trail and ultra scene for over 10 years, but she’s been a little off the North American radar of late while living in Hong Kong and racing less. Kami says she’s been recovering from some long-lasting health issues, so she plans to run but for fun only.
Sally McRae was 13th at this race last year, second at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, sixth at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and 10th at the 2014 Western States 100 Mile. These races represent a mixed bag of performances, with Sean O’Brien being a race at which she really went for it, Western States being a bit of a sufferfest with injury, and Lake Sonoma just not a great day for her. If she’s on and among this crowd, I would predict her to finish in the range of fifth to seventh.
Between giving birth to her second child and injury, Liza Howard has been a little quiet on the ultra scene the last year or so. This past April, however, she ran a 15:07 huuuuuge course record at the Umstead 100 Mile, which ends up being among the top-10 100-mile performances ever by a North American woman. While she’s zippy at whatever she races, the 100-mile distance on runnable terrain seems to be her forte because she’s also gone 15:33 at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile and 15:46 at the Javelina Jundred. It will be interested to see how she stacks up at a shorter race on terrain much hillier than she can find in her Texas training grounds. [Update 11/24: It sounds like Liza Howard is not running, opting to focus on another race.]
[Added 11/28] It looks like Alicia Shay’s name has been added to the elite entrants list in the last couple days. The road runner turned more of a trail runner in the last couple years seems to have a tenuous relationship with running, mostly due to injury. She’s got a couple solid finishes to her name: a win of the 2013 Moab Red Hot 33k ahead of second place Megan Kimmel and third at the 2013 Chuckanut 50k ahead of sixth place Melanie Bos. She has incredible leg speed, and if she could figure out how to sustainably apply it to our sport, she’d be a force to be reckoned with.
France’s Juliette Benedicto burst into the ultra scene out of nowhere when she finished second at the 2014 Les Templiers, a couple minutes ahead of third place Magda Boulet. She was also the winner of the 2014 Trail du Ventoux in France against solid national field. I believe she’s a former pro triathlete and she’s got solid leg speed, having clocked 35:30 for 10k on the roads this year. The TNF EC 50 Mile course is much more runnable than what she’s used to in Europe, so I am curious to watch how she adapts. [Update 12/3: Juliette Benedicto will not race due to injury.]
Canada’s Melanie Bos was ninth at last year’s TNF EC 50 Mile, and since then she’s finished third at the 2014 Chuckanut 50k and second at the 2014 Bellingham Trail Marathon. Melanie has some ultra leg speed, too, having finished fourth in 6:47 at the JFK 50 Mile in 2012.
Anne-Marie Madden of Canada was the winner of the 2014 TrailStoke 50k in British Columbia. She’s logged several wins at shorter-distance trail races, but I think the 50k this year is as far as she’s yet raced. Anne-Marie has run at least 35:03 for 10k and 1:16:35 for the half marathon, both in 2014. How well will she apply her shorter-distance talent to 50 miles?
It looks like Kimberley O’Donnell started running ultras in 2013 and has prolifically raced 50ks in California since then, cleaning up wins in most and course records in many of them. This fall, she finished what I think was her first 50 miler, the Firetrails 50 Mile, where she won and finished just 23 seconds over Ann Trason’s course record from 1987, what amounts to the second-fastest time in the race’s 32-year history. She appears to be a 2:50-ish road marathoner? [Update 11/29: Kimberley O’Donnell is not racing due to injury.]
More Women to Watch
- Lyne Bessette – Lyne is a former pro road cyclist who retired to adventure racing, trail running, and other hobbies. She was signed up for the 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile, but broke her kneecap before the race and couldn’t start. This year, she’s back again. Among her forays into trail running so far was a win of the 2014 Stone Cat Marathon in 3:33. She did the Vermont 50 Mile back in 2010, so she’s not unfamiliar with this race distance.
- Caroline Boller – Caroline was eighth at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, 10th at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 mile, and the winner of the 2014 Who’s in El Moro 50k ahead of second place Sally McRae.
- Tracy Bowling – A California runner who appears to have been at this sport for a couple years, and she wins much of what she runs in her home state. She was fourth at the 2014 American River 50 Mile behind winner Ashley Laird.
- Kelsie Clausen – A very young, Bay Area woman with loads of potential. Fifth at the 2013 Bootlegger 50k, which was the 2013 USATF 5k Trail National Championships.
- Lisa Hughey – Winner of the 2014 Miwok 100k ahead of second place Bree Lambert, Lisa ran 131 miles in 24 hours, winning the 2014 San Francisco Summer Solstice 24-Hour outright.
- Riva Johnson – A winner of at least two 100 milers this year, the Thunder Rock 100 Mile and the Burning River 100 Mile. She was also fifth at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile.
- Ashley Laird – Fourth at the 2014 Way Too Cool 50k and winner of the 2014 American River 50 Mile.
- Bree Lambert – A strong NorCal ultrarunner, her recent top performances include fifth at the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, second place at the Miwok 100k behind winner Lisa Hughey, and fourth at the 2014 UROC 100k.
- Christi Nowak – Christi has ultra wins in the upper Midwest. I think she’s a former(?) competitive Nordic skier, and she’s been an ultrarunner since at least 2011. She won the 2013 Cascade Crest 100 Mile and the 2014 Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile.
- Luanne Park – At 54 years of age and with a more-than-20-year trail ultrarunning history, Luanne is one of our community’s matriarchs. She was seventh at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile behind sixth place Sally McRae and ahead of eighth place Bree Lambert, second at the 2013 Quad Dipsea, and sixth at 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile behind fifth place Bree Lambert and ahead of eighth place Caroline Boller.
- Kristina Pattison – Kristina had a couple strong performances at U.S.-based Skyrunning events in 2014, including sixth place at The Rut 50k behind third place Anna Frost and second place at the Flagstaff Sky Race 55k. She also finished ninth at the more runnable 2014 Chuckanut 50k behind third place Melanie Bos.
- Jennifer Pfeifer – Another solid NorCal runner who has previously finished 14th here in 2012. She was third at the 2014 Way Too Cook 50k behind first and second place Magda Boulet and Caitlin Smith, and ahead of fourth place Ashley Laird, and seventh at this year’s stacked Lake Sonona 50 Mile. Jennifer has been running ultras for at least 17 years.
- Tyler Stewart – Former pro triathlete and road cyclist, she was fifth at the 2011 TNF EC 50 Mile, and second at the 2012 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile ahead of third place Stephanie Howe, fifth place Rory Bosio, and sixth place Jennifer Pfeifer. She ran 2:44:04 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
- Rebecca Walter – A mystery entrant, sort of. She’s a former University of Michigan track and cross-country star, a former assistant distance coach at Indiana University, and, now, a co-founder of UGo Bars. I understand she started but didn’t finish the 2014 UROC 100k, but that she’s perhaps finished a 50k before? On the roads, she’s run at least as fast as 1:22 for the half marathon and 2:53 for the marathon.
- Yiou Wang – Yiou should be very interesting to watch. In August, she won the 33-year-old Skyline 50k, setting a course record 21 minutes faster than a woman has ever previously run in the race’s long history. She runs on the roads, too, and has gone at least 1:15:40 for the half marathon and 2:38:46 for the marathon. She was 15th at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships this year, a couple spots back from 12th place Magda Boulet. I am not sure she’s run longer than 50k before.
Notable Women on the Elite Entrants List but Not Racing
- Ashley Arnold
- Kerrie Bruxvoort
Call for Comments
- Which woman is going to win? And who do you think will land on the rest of the podium?
- Who do you think is particularly primed for this race and what makes you think so?
- Who could have a breakout performance?
- Did we miss someone you think should be included? Let us know who and why.