2012 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Men’s Preview

The North Face Endurance Challenge 2012[Update: We’ve posted full 2012 TNF 50 results with links to many other race resources.]

Oh man, this Saturday is going to be a heck of a lot of fun! At 5 am PST on December 1, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships presented by GORE-TEX will once again be run in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco, California. As usual, the men’s field is nothing short of jaw dropping. Although still five days out, the weather forecast calls for rain from this Wednesday through at least next Tuesday, so the course and conditions may favor more robust runners.

For more on this year’s race, you can read our TNF 50 women’s preview, enjoy our video interviews in the coming days, and follow our in-depth live coverage on Saturday via our TNF 50 Live Coverage page (not yet live) and iRunFar’s Twitter feed.

[If you enjoy the trail running and ultramarathon coverage and discussion iRunFar brings you, please consider supporting iRunFar. Purchasing something in The iRunFar Store is one way to help!]

The Domestic Ultra Crowd

Mike Wolfe grit

Mike Wolfe

When the defending champ returns, he’s gotta be at the top of the preview and so we begin with Mike Wolfe. Wolfe’s in great shape as his course record at the Bridger Ridge Run this summer shows… he’s just not put it all together in an ultra since winning last year’s TNF EC 5o (post-race interview) after a heated battle with Dakota Jones, who is not returning to the race this year.

That makes Canada’s Adam Campbell the second highest finishing returnee from last year. Campbell hasn’t raced an ultra since taking second at Ultra Trail Mount Fuji in May due to injury, although he’s recently run a couple speedy road marathons.

Believe it or not, there are only two more returning men from last year’s top 10. Jason Wolfe took eighth at last year’s TNF EC 50 and, just a few weeks ago, beat fellow Flagstaff resident Rob Krar, who’s having an amazing year, at the Bootlegger 50k. Mike Foote (recent iRF profile), who was ninth last year, has stepped up his game to a whole new level this year. Since May, he’s set a course record at the Bighorn 100 (besting his pal Mike Wolfe’s time), taken third at the TNF UTMB (post-race interview), and won the TNF EC Chile (née Ultra Maraton de los Andes) (race report).

[For those keeping track, here are the 2011 TNF EC 50 Men’s Top 10 NOT returning in 2012: 2. Dakota Jones, 4. Timothy Olson, 5. Geoff Roes, 6. Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, 7. Jez Bragg, and 10. Jason Schlarb.]

As you’d expect, there’s another crowd of big-time veteran ultrarunners at the de facto 50-mile championship. Ian Sharman finished just out of last year’s top 10 in eleventh and is quietly having a very strong 2012 highlighted by his fifth place finish at Western States (15:54) in June, fourth at the UROC 100k in September, and fourth at the JFK 50 Mile just a week ago. Although not yet on the elite list, Dave Mackey will be racing. As usual, Mackey only races all out at the most competitive events, so his mix of Top 10 results this year means he’s in shape. Top on his 2012 accomplishments are second at the Bandera 100k, a win at the Miwok 100k, and fourth at Western States in 15:53, a new master’s course record. Hal Koerner has yet to nail the TNF EC 50, but he’s having a strong 2012 with a fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 in April, a victory at the Hardrock 100 (post-race interview) in July, and second at the Javelina 100 in October. Dylan Bowman has been a strong ultrarunner for a few years now, but 2012 is the year he established himself as one of the sport’s best with a fourth at the Bandera 100k, a WS100-entry-earning win at the Leona Divide 50, seventh at Western States (16:03), and second at the Run Rabbit Run 100. Another strong run at the TNF EC 50 will go a long way in bumping Bowman up in the UROY standings.

Jorge Maravilla - 2012 Western States 100

Jorge Maravilla

If Dbo has established himself as an ultra star, there’s another crew that could be paving their way to stardom with their strong 2012s. Admittedly, Jorge Maravilla had a strong 2011, but he both ran more competitive races and stepped his own running up a notch in 2012. He’s being aided significantly by his rapidly increasing confidence. Witness, a sixth at Lake Sonoma, third at Leona Divide, eighth at Western States, and third at UROC. The dude has many reasons to smile. Before this year Joe Uhan was merely an okay ultrarunner – think 40th at WS100 and 17th at TNF EC 50 last year. This year, he’s raced against some of the top fields in the US earning a third at Bandera in January to get into Western States, taking fifth at Lake Sonoma, and, then, running an impressive ninth at States in 16:13. Prior to 2012, Christopher Kollar had won two small ultras and taken 39th at the TNF EC 50, all in 2011. This year, Kollar took fourth at the Chuckanut 50k, second at the Ice Age 50, won the Grand Teton 50k, and set a course record (previously held by Mike Foote) at The Bear 100. Kollar’s lone disappointment this year was a 31st in his 100-mile debut at Western States… although 18:42 rarely gets you 31st at States! Jacob Rydman’s stock continues to grow this year even after taking 14th at last year’s TNF EC 50. In 2012, Rydman has placed third at the Way Too Cool 50k and American River 50 as well as second at the Waldo 100k. Over the previous two years, Jordan McDougal had won a couple TNF EC regional 50 milers (against good comp) and taken 26th at last year’s TNF EC 50 championships. Jordan kicked this year off with a USATF 50 Mile Trail national championship at Nueces in March before winning two more TNF EC regional 50 milers later in the year. He was again running well at UROC when a sprained ankle took him out of the race.

Leor Pantilat is a big wildcard in the field. He’s one of two relative unknowns who could win on Saturday. Calling Pantilat an unknown would sound ridiculous to any NorCal ultrarunner as he’s won two dozen California trail races in the past four years without a loss as far as I can tell. When he’s not winning 50ks (That’s probably his specialty with Way Too Cool wins in 2010 and 2011.), he’s out setting FKTs on sick Sierra Nevada routes and, later, memorializing them on the best blog of those in this year’s TNF EC 50 men’s field. Although extremely well known, Rickey Gates will be another x-factor this weekend. Last year, he won his ultra debut at the Canadian Death Race (125k) before blowing up at the TNF EC 50. In July, he had redemption in winning the Speedgoat 50k after Kilian Jornet was removed from the results. He also placed a respectable 10th – ahead of Joe Grant, Mike Wolfe, and Ian Sharman – at Transvulcania in May.

Addition: I inadvertently left my friend Gary Gellin off my original preview, despite multiple email conversations with him about the race. Of course, I may have subconsciously overlooked him as he’s beyond categorization. He’s not been Top 10 at the TNF EC or become a household ultra name, but he’s no newbie just breaking in as reading his results list is an ultra in and of itself. Unquestionably, the highlight of Gellin’s 2012 (and, possibly, of his running career) is his win at the Way Too Cool this spring.

Some other notable ultra veterans include:

  • Jonathan Allen – A guy who’s usually in the hunt for the podium was fifth at last year’s UROC, ran a 15:19 for fourth at the Umstead 100 this year, and won the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k in early October.
  • Dominic Grossman – Dom will hope to improve on his 27th at TNF EC 50 last year. He’s still looking for his form this year, which includes a ninth at Leona Divide 50, 14th at Hardrock, and 13th at UROC 100k. His mustache will certainly place in the top two ‘staches in the field despite the then-to-be-recent departure of Movember.
  • Shaun Martin – It’s good to see this 50k specialist – lots of wins and a 4th at this year’s Way Too Cool – venturing further from his Arizona home while he ups the distance.
  • Timmy Parr – Timmy Parr was a rising ultra star through spring 2011, but he’s not been hitting his stride since. [DC, how’s Timmy looking?]
  • Justin Yates – This Montanan is a consistent podium placer who topped Karl Meltzer at this year’s Pocatello 50. [KM, is this guy legit?]

Update: As with Dave Mackey, there a number of elites entered in the main starts rather than the elite field, so I might be adding at least Lon Freeman as well a Brazilians Iazaldir Feitoza and Marcelo Sinoca to the preview, if they transfer to the elite start.

Speed Injection

Sage Canaday - 2012 UROC 100k

Sage Canaday

This year has seen a continued injection of speedsters into the ultrarunning ranks, and a hefty herd of them will be present this weekend. Boulder, Colorado-resident Sage Canaday has led that charge with a course record at the White River 50 and strong second-place finishes at the Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview) and UROC 100k (post-race interview). (Oh yeah, Canaday also won the Mount Washington Road Run this year.) (Update: We’ve interviewed Sage about the upcoming TNF 50.) Former University of Colorado runner Cameron Clayton made his ultra debut at the Run Rabbit Run 50 mile, where he crushed fellow UC alum Zeke Tiernan by half an hour and took two minutes off Geoff Roes’ course record. Colorado’s Joel Hamilton, a 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, by way of a 1:03:57 half marathon, also made his ultra debut in September with a course record at the Bear Chase 50k. Joel’s younger brother (thanks for the confirmation, Heather U) Paul Hamilton was two minutes behind Joel at the Bear Chase 50k, also in his ultra debut. Continuing the list of blazing Coloradans is Chris Siemers, who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon with a 2:18:48 at last October’s Denver Marathon. That 2:18:48 was good for the Colorado state marathon record and is equivalent to the low 2-teens at sea level. Siemers will be making his ultra debut.

From up in Oregon, Mario Mendoza kicked off his ultra career his a pair of 50ks in September, winning McKenzie River and taking second to Max King (and besting Ryan Bak) at the Flagline 50k. (Racing XTERRA per Running Times) Rogue Valley Runners employee and former Southern Oregon University runner (15:06 5k) Ryan Ghelfi held the Half Dome FKT before Rickey Gates broke it. Ghelfi jumped up to ultras this year, winning three of his races: Takoma Wildflowers 50k, Siskiyou Out Back 50 Mile, and Weaver Basin Trails 50k.

Alex Nichols has been running shorter trail races for years to go with two 50k finishes. At quick glance, his trail running resume on Ultrasignup prior to this August would be lackluster at best. It also wouldn’t tell Alex’s story. Some folks might know Alex as Anton Krupicka’s pacer at multiple Leadville 100s, but Alex also happened to be legitimately leading (not just taking a flyer off the front) midway through last year’s TNF EC 50 championships before an ankle injury stopped him in his tracks. Then this August, he took second to Kilian Jornet at the Pikes Peak Marathon… three minutes ahead of Max King and a full half an hour up on seventh-place finisher Dave Mackey. He’s also been in the Top 10 at the Pikes Peak Ascent five times – 9th, 4th, 5th, 5th, and 9th respectively between ’07 and ’11. If you want to bet on a dark horse, this might be your guy.

Of course, there are a bunch of folks who’ve come from similarly speedy road running or mountain running backgrounds, but have since added a couple ultras to their resumes. Chris Lundstrom is at the forefront of this group. Aside from a bunch of Olympic Trials Marathons to his credit, including this year, Lundstrom took third at the 2009 TNF EC 50 championships and followed that up with seventh at the race in 2010. He did not race his best in taking fourth in 6:16:58 at the American River 50 this spring. Galen Burrell, who has a Pikes Peak Marathon win (’04) to go with two seconds there (’05 and ’06) made his 50-mile debut at the TNF EC 50 race last December. His 18th place there is not indicative of his capabilities.

International Talent

François D'haene - 2012 TNF UTMB champ

François d’Haene

The TNF 50 always attracts top talent from overseas. This year, the two most exciting international entries are François d’Haene and Miguel Heras. In case you missed it, d’Haene won this year’s TNF UTMB (post-race interview) to highlight his strong season and long ultrarunning career. His Salomon teammate Miguel won the TNF EC 50 two years ago (post-race interview) before being unstoppable through most off 2011 when a knee injury forced him to drop from UTMB and prevented him from defending his TNF EC title. (He did win the Cavalls del Vents between those two races.) His knee injury continued into this year, although he has won the TNF 100k – Taiwan and taken second at Templiers a month ago.

Update: We’ve interview Miguel Heras and François d’Haene ahead of this year’s TNF 50.

Here’s a look at some other top international runners toeing the line:

  • Thierry Breuil – Breuil is a three-time trail running champion of France (’08-’10). He has concentrated on short to middle distance trail races, but did win the 50 mile Paris Eco Trail in 2010.
  • Martin Cox – I’m assuming that the Martin Cox entered in the elite field is the UK runner who has won the Snowdonia Marathon (’08) and the Man Versus Horse Marathon (’09) and taken second at the Jungfrau Marathon (’08). He’d also have road tripped the US with Rickey Gates in 2010. [I assumed wrong or no Martin Cox is running this race. Thanks, Matt.]
  • Greg Vollet – The Salomon marketing manager is a former international-level mountain biker who has shown he can also rock the trails on foot. For instance, Vollet was fifth at this year’s Pikes Peak Marathon. He also led last year’s TNF EC 50 early before dropping out.

Call for Comments

  • Who do you think will challenge for the win this weekend?
  • Anyone you think will be a big surprise on race day?
  • It’s late in the season and a few no-shows are expected. Do you know of any how’s listed here but not racing?

The Rest of the Elite Field

The rest of the elite men’s field as of early last week:

  • Dan Barger
  • Andrew Bock
  • Bradley Bogdan
  • Jesse Boisaubin
  • Brian Dalere
  • John Fiore
  • Tyson Fisher
  • Kevin Fletcher
  • Micky Gilbert
  • Regis Guilloux
  • Ron Gutierrez
  • Jesse Haynes
  • Giles Healey
  • Aaron Heidt
  • Travis Hobbs
  • Tony Huff
  • Josh Korn
  • Moses Lovstad
  • Robert Murphy
  • Eric Peterson
  • Brad Poppele
  • Sean Ranney
  • Paul Rapinz
  • Jim Rebenack
  • Glen Redpath
  • Mark Redpath
  • Justin Ricks
  • Bob Shebest
  • William Tarantino
  • Hayden Teachout
  • James Walsh
  • Scott Williams
  • Matt Wilson
  • Lucas Wojciechowski

Last Updated: 11/29 1 am PST

There are 72 comments

      1. Collin Anderson

        Has he ever run longer than 50k? 50k and 50 mile are very different races. Also, he simply doesn't have the same level of fitness as Sage. I think Leor will finish top 10, but no higher than 3rd or 4th.

            1. Pete

              I am not positive there but he has some serious speed. Look at his times at way to cool for example. Regardless I think since this is his back yard that has to count for something. This course is by no means easy either there is nothing flat about it.

  1. Mic

    Rickey Gates has been quiet for a bit, which means he's ready for an explosion. I fancy him to finish in Top 5, but even with all the hype on the top dogs, I think it's Sage Cannady is due for a win. He's been hanging with Max King a lot and learning how to "race" ultras, I think he's going to do awesome.

  2. The "M"

    For a race within the race, who will be the top finisher from Missoula, Montana? With M. Wolfe, Foote, Kollar, and Yates it's looking like we got a pretty good field assembled. Since none of them showed up for the local turkey trot this year I'm guessing they'll be fresh.

  3. Collin Anderson

    I think it would be silly to predict anyone other than Sage. Max King seems to be the only guy that can beat him in a trail 50 right now.

  4. Neal Gorman

    All I have to say is good luck to Karl in coming up with odds for this one.

    Bryon, *incredible* pre-race run down- on the men's and women's sides. I'm scratching my head also at who will finish at the top.

  5. Aaron Newell

    Siemers, Nichols, McDougal sit with Canaday and they just pull away from everyone at mile 30. Siemers and McDougal blow up and Foote walks into third.

  6. Alex from New Haven

    My only response to the field is : dizzying.

    Euros, 2:teen marathoners, ultra-vets, mountain runners… Someone will be is going to end up being damn proud of cracking the top-10… yikes

  7. gontxal

    My bet is for Miguel Heras.After a lot of injuries,He is finally in shape and he had won last week in patagonia- Argentina very easy.He knows well the course and won 2 years ago against big talents like G Roes and Dakota

  8. Andrew Guitarte

    I'm betting on the road runners. Once they've mastered technical downhill running (without falling off a cliff), there's only one word to describe what will happen next. Domination.

  9. Larissa

    Leor has won the Quicksilver 50m with the CR by over 14 minutes and the ITR Marin Ultra in July that had close to 12k feet of climbing in it. He's definitely got some experience in racing distances over 50K and as Pete said, he's spent a considerable amount of time on his feet on some insane FKT attempts. I've seen the training runs he's done on Strava too. He's in great shape and he'll do well if he can hold on.

  10. Matt

    "The" Martin Cox is running The Kepler over here (NZ) this weekend with Vajin Armstrong (American River/White River), Jason Schlarb and Martin Lukes (6:48 100k)

  11. eric clifton

    i enjoyed your men's and women's picks but i have to disagree w/ your calling the race the " de facto 50-mile championship". there is a definite process for picking the national 50 mile championships and as yet tnf 50 has not done so. just because a race has a competitive field does not make it a championships, de facto or otherwise. there have been many years that boston, new york, rotterdam, chicago and other major marathons have had more competitive fields than at the olympics and yet none of them has the cojones to call themselves the "de facto olympics". i do not understand why people continue to call one race or another the "de facto championships" of whatever distance when there is a definite real championships that are open to ALL athletes in existence. calling another race a de facto championships denigrates both the rds who work hard at getting the true national championships designation and the athletes who take part in and win said championships.

    1. Carey

      As a fan, I try to follow the races with the most competitive fields. The winners of those races, I tend to think of as champions.

      For myself, I tend to call those most-competitive-field races the "de-facto championships." I do this in my own head — you are of course free to dissent and do it differently yourself.

      As for "the RDs who work hard at getting the true national championships designation and the athletes who take part in and win said championships": we call those the "de jure championships."

    2. Alex from New Haven

      Mr. Clifton: Given your body of work and time in the sport, your opinion carries a lot of weight. I will say this though: there seems to be a particularly large disconnect in trail/ultra between the "important/competitive" races and the official national championships. I'm not in a position to say who's "fault" this is. I'm a pretty serious fan and participant of the sport (that does NOT mean fast) and sometimes haven't even heard of the race that's hosting the "national championships".

      If USATF and MUT want people to care, then they need to get some money and convince the athlete's sponsor companies that this is something important. Otherwise I don't see anyone changing their behavior. I would love to see these two sets of interests aligned, but right now National Champion doesn't mean much in ultra.

      1. Mike Hinterberg

        I don't knowledge of picking winners in the race, but enjoy the semantics:

        "calling another race a de facto championships denigrates both the rds who work hard at getting the true national championships designation"

        I agree with Bryon's diction, which is likely informed by a legal background, and Carey's clarification.

        de facto: "in practice or actuality, but not officially established."

        contrast with de jure: ""in law"

        A "de facto" championship doesn't necessarily denigrate the efforts of "de jure" championships, but merely shows the contrast and suggests a competitive field. Now if people don't think the field is competitive enough to merit that claim, that's another argument, but the use of "de facto" here seems appropriate to me.

  12. Carey

    Mr. Newell, as I read it, you're predicting Sage, Nichols, and Foote on the podium.

    I concur.

    The people who will mess it up for me are Rickey Gates and Adam Campbell.

  13. Zootown Ultrafan

    Missoula should finish high in the team standings – runners are fresh and hungry, and fans are thirsty (a beer a mile? how long is this thing?). Look out – Zoo is loose!

  14. Rydman

    See you all out there this Saturday. Unfortunately, I won't be racing, I'll be out there as a die-hard fan of this sport (+supporting Mr. Joe Uhan!). 2012 was an awesome season for me where I'm realizing my potential, but a tough/long season on the body/mind, nonetheless. Deciding to rest up for 2013 so that it can be even better (Can't wait for Western States!). Thanks for the good words Bryon:)


  15. Gary Gellin

    Clearly, it is nearly impossible to pick the eventual podium for the men's race. How about a guess as to how many guys won't get chicked? I hope to squeeze in to that category which could be 30th place or even lower this edition!

  16. Rob Digga

    I saw him running out on Miwok trail the other day. He was moving pretty quick. I say he is definitely a top 3 contender. miles 33 to 50 will be where he will have to figure out a new gear to pull off the win.

    good luck to everyone …

    1. Aaron Sorensen

      Well Max said in his interview that he was still unsure as to whether or not he had another gear for that distance too and we all know what happened with that.

      I see Leor on the same page.

      Go Leor!

  17. Tropical John

    The weather is going to be crap. Heavy rain Wednesday through Saturday (race day), the current forecast is for 2 inches of rain on race day. Who's the best mudder?

    Leor and Sage appear to have the high end gear it will take to win. Cameron Clayton could be a wild card.

    With six of last year's top 10 not returning, does anyone besides me think this race is too late in the season?

    1. Bryon Powell

      I always used to love seeing which runners fared best in mudfest cross country meets. Also gave a boost to the strength-based guys like the steeplechasers and the mid-distance runners. Just as entertaining to see how it shakes up a trail ultra. Of course, in an ultra the prolonged exposure to the elements can multiply the chaos and further benefit the more muscular runners. If Mike Foote still has his legs under him at this point in the season, I'd guess the conditions will play in his favor. (No, that's not me picking him for the win, just saying the conditions could play to his strengths. Look at UTMB this year.)

    2. Paul

      Forget murders, who are the best swimmers? If the forecast is right, many of those trails are going to be creeks by Saturday morning.

      And it's supposed to be really windy, too.

  18. Speedgoatkarl

    Rickey Gates…..

    And yes John, it's too late in the season in my opinion too, but if it were in September, or October, it would be too close to Run Rabbit Run 100 and UROC.

    Real ultrarunners race year round anyway. :-) Or maybe just freaks like me. I'd like to be there to watch the madness up front, at least for a little while, but I'm hoping this "storm" makes it to us, so we can luge it up….

  19. Kieran

    That's a serious list of speedsters with legit off-road/mountain credentials (Pantilat, Siemers, Canaday, Clayton, Gates, and the Hamiltons). I suspect at least a few of them are going to break this one wide open early, much like what happened at UROC. Some will fade, but not all of them.

    This would be a fun one for the prediction contest, Bryon! Wide-open field.

  20. swampy

    Marin Headlands, in addition to being jaw-droppingly beautiful, has some pretty technical terrain that should not be dismissed so easily.

  21. Aaron Sorensen

    Ha ha, ultra talk didn't even have Leor on the who's who list of runners. After this weekend his name is going to be Leor Who? All kidding aside, the bay area knows exactly what will happen in our back yard this weekend.

  22. JCC

    I hope Leor brings it hard, and shows the ultra world what he is capable of. The only reason he isn't a household name outside of NorCal is because he'd rather spend his summers taking photos 20 miles deep into the High Sierra, than running some out-n-back dirt road somewhere.

  23. Brian

    Agree. if Leor brings it hard, a podium finish if not outright win for him. Heras, M. Wolfe, Canaday, Gates and Foote will all be there too. It's going to be a mud fest and this will favor the stronger mountain runners for sure.

  24. Speedgoatkarl

    I think it's fair to say that the North Face, calls there race the NF Championship. That's what it is, the "NF Championship". They have a series, this is the final dance, then they'll do it all over again next year. Different if they didn't have a series, or if they called it the "National Championship" and it being one race…..but it's not.

    USATF championships have a minimal amount of merit in ultras, they are great for track and road racing when a distance or event matters. Ultras don't matter much, it's just running.

  25. eric hodge

    i'd like to be saying i pick geoff roes for the win. but instead, we'll all be wishing geoff a short and full recovery as he battles on-going health issues.

    beyond geoff, i'd like to pick max king. but he is surely recovering from his stunning JFK run, putting his legs on ice after a stellar season and won't be running either.

    so, i think it's going to be the same guy who came out on top in this race (due to geoff's unfortunate wrong turn):


    who will challenge sage canaday for the win.

    but what the heck do i know?

    surely it'll be fun to follow, no matter who wins!

    1. Gary Gellin

      re: my pick for the top woman to be 30th place overall in that inconsequential competition

      Yes, my guess was almost as close as Bryon's spot on picks for 1st man and 1st woman overall, but then again there were 135 DNF's in the race and 305 DNS's!

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