On Saturday, April 28, the Leona Divide 50 Mile will be the second of three ridiculously competitive 50 Mile races in a five weekend stretch, following the Lake Sonoma 50 (results) two weeks ago and preceding Transvulcania by two weeks. Yes, there are plenty of other competitive 50 milers during this span – Bull Run Run, Zane Grey, Fruita 50, TNF Bear Mountain, and Quad Rock, just to name a few – but these three are over the top.
With a great course and guaranteed early season access to the mountains, Leona Divide has long drawn a good field. However, like Lake Sonoma, its field has taken a big step up this year and likely for the same two reasons: a tireless race director and inclusion in the Montrail Ultra Cup. On the RD side, Keira Henninger has brought together a $2,800 prize purse this year and coaxed top runners to make the southern California in April (a hard sell, I’m sure). As for the Montrail Ultra Cup, it continues to spur crazy competition both for its coveted Western States 100 entries to the top 2 men and women who place in the top 3 who don’t yet have a spot in the race as well as growing interest in the men’s overall title with Timothy Olson and Dave Mackey both going for it.
Given our recent slew of race coverage I promise (really) I’ll keep this one (relatively) short, but I’d be remiss not to mention the race at all.
2012 Leona Divide 50 Mile Men’s Field
I’ll start out north of the border with the Canadian contingent converging on California. Jason Loutitt likes to go out like a bat out of hell. He did so a few weeks ago at the Chuckanut 50k, where he led late in the race before quickly fading to ninth, and led again early in last weekend’s IAU 100k World Championships before dropping out. Yes, Loutitt was planning on this double even before dropping. Joining him is fellow Canadian Aaron Heidt. Every time I preview a big race with Mr. Heidt’s name on the entrants list, the Canadian crowd calls out that he’s the man. Unfortunately, if I recall correctly, he’s not made it to the line of some of those races. With a fifth and an eighth at White River 50 Mile and a fifth at the Miwok 100k, he’s clearly strong at mid-distance ultras, but it’s yet to be seen if he can beat the top dogs. Chuckanut 50k winner Adam Campbell is on the entrants list, but he didn’t mention the race when we chatted after that Chuckanut win, so I’m not sure he’s racing. Update: Looks like the Americans have found a way to start leveling the playing field: keep all the top Canadians from showing up! ;-)
Next up, the Californians. Southern California’s Jorge Pacheco owns the fourth and fifth fastest times at Leona Divide with that fifth fastest time coming last year in 6:32:14. In total, Pacheco has four of ten fastest times on the course. Chikara Omine is one of the “fastest” guy in the race when he’s healthy. He’s been hitting the ultra race scene less of late, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s race fit and how he races when well rested. Jorge “More Smiles” Maravilla will also be bringing his excellent attitude to the race. If he’s recovered from Lake Sonoma two weeks ago, look for him to better his sixth place finish there if he’s a bit more conservative early. Dominic Grossman is chomping at the bit to race Leona. His win at the Angeles Crest 100 mile last year shows he can blast the SoCal trails.
Evan Hone has fifth at last year’s Leona Divide, which bodes well, as does the fact he was fifth at this year’s Zane Grey 50 mile… except that Zane Grey was last weekend!
One more “C” field to cover with the Coloradans.
Dave Mackey is entered. If he’s there in pursuit of another Montrail Ultra Cup title, he’ll be in contention for the win. He always is. To do so, he’ll have to beat Jason Schlarb, who’s running very well now that he’s back in the States. His third place finish at Chuckanut shows just how well. If he’s not burning himself out on training and Green Mountain FKTs, he could surprise some folks with a win this weekend. Dylan Bowman is traveling the American West on a road trip/vision quest. He really impressed me with his tight fourth place finish at the Bandera 100k in January and the hills of Leona can only help this Aspen resident. Dan Vega has wildly inconsistent results, but is capable of a great showing when he’s on such as his 15:31 win at last year’s Antelope Island 100 mile and fifth place at this year’s Nueces 50 Mile. Scott Jaime will travel to California for the second time in two weeks to see if he can better his 15th place showing at Lake Sonoma. Now for my official dark horse pick, Alex Nichols. Until last December, Nichols was most familiar to the ultra crowd as Anton Krupicka’s pacer, but that was before he led midway through the TNF 50 Mile before destroying his ankle. Look for him to be up front at least through half way.
On to Arizona for one last geographic group. James Bonnett won Leona last year with the second fastest time (6:24:46) in race history, just three minutes of Ben Hian’s 16-year-old course record that is in danger of going down this weekend with temps forecast to top out at only 75F. Jason Wolfe’s ninth place at last year’s TNF EC 50 Mile put him on the radar. Michael Smith has run well at shorter, smaller ultras, so it’s time to see if he can step up his ultra game.
I’d call Utah’s Seth Wold a secret darkhorse as he’s a talented runner who’s just getting into ultras, but he just ran 2:36:57 at the Salt Lake Marathon last weekend. Oregon’s Yassine Diboun is always a threat for a top 5 finish at a big race and has been racing well so far this season. Master’s runner Steven Moore finished two spots behind Diboun to finish tenth at the competitive Bandera 100k back in January.
After his inspiring article – My Path to Contentment: From Addict to Awakened Ultrarunner – published on iRunFar yesterday, Timothy Olson gets his own paragraph this time around. Of course, Olson also earned that distinction with his second place showing two weeks ago at Lake Sonoma (post-race interview).
2012 Leona Divide 50 Mile Women’s Field
I’ll start off with some unknown women who’ll content for the win at Leona Divide.
Hong Kong’s Claire Price will be completely unknown to the Americans, but not likely for long. Price was second at the TNF UTMB’s CCC sister race last year and was second women at the Hong Kong 100k in January, where she was only 22 minutes slower than Lizzy Hawker’s run there in 2011. She’s over in the US getting in a practice run before tackling Western States in June. Megan Laib is toeing the line for her first 50 mile, but demonstrated her speed at ultra distance with her second place finish in 4:00:42 last month at Way Too Cool. In December, Laib won the OTHTC High Desert 50k in 3:52:10. Melanie Fryar isn’t well known outside of Texas, where she has many wins at the likes of the Bandera 100k, Nueces 50 mile, and Rocky Raccoon 50 mile. Fryar has also run an 8:18 road 100k (Mad City ’10) and 6:51 50 mile (Lean Horse ’11).
There’s another crew ready to battle for the women’s win. Michelle Barton owns the Leona Divide 50 women’s course record by more than six minutes with her 7:19:04 in 2010. Barton also has countless ultra wins, especially at 50k.
Darcy Africa is on the entrants list, so maybe she’ll be back in California for the third time in less than two months after placing seventh at both the Way Too Cool 50k and Lake Sonoma 50 mile. Jenn Shelton is a threat to win any race she enters and she ran well (4:22) at the Gorge Waterfalls 50k after dropping from Chuckanut in March. Heather Fuhr ran 6:51:51 to win the Avalon 50 in January 2011. Fuhr also ran a 3:39:42 50k in 2010 finishing second overall and beating Jorge Pacheco in the process.
Although unlikely to win, another group of fast women could make it on the podium should they race well. Paulette Zillmer was second at last year’s Leona Divide (7:59:07) and won Zane Grey last weekend. Jenny Capel is in better shape than her early season racing (7th at Chuckanut) shows. SoCal’s Angela Shartel excels in difficult terrain and has finished as high as ninth at Western States (21:28:06 ’10). Bree Lambert has numerous ultra wins and strong showings against the best women. Top 5 would be a strong showing from her. Already this year Orgeon’s Ashley Nordell has won the 3 Days of Syllamo stage race and Santa Monica Mountains 50k. After not racing ultras in 2011, Sally McRae won the Rocky Road 50 Mile in 8:24 in February.
The women’s field has half a dozen with lots of wins at shorter trail races or local 50ks: Nicole Guimarra, Kristina Pham, Shawn Chapley, and Sarah Bird. Normally, I’d omit them, but that’s be a mistake in this case as they have some noteworthy performances. For instance, Kristina Pham ran a 3:47:02 to finish third overall at the Pemberton Trail 50k in February, while last October, Shawn Chapler took fifth overall at the Rock’n River 50 Mile in 8:10.
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win at Leona Divide?
- Who else will have a breakout performance?
- Do you know of anyone noted about who’s definitely not racing?
- What do you think the Montrail Ultra Cup is adding to the US ultra scene?