2012 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Women’s Preview

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

Sorry, guys, but as strong as your race will be, the women’s race looks to be even more exciting at this weekend’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships presented by GORE-TEX, a material that will be needed by at least the media on what’s already certain to be a rainy day. So what’s so compelling about the women’s field? The fact that there’s an immense amount of talent coming from such diverse backgrounds that there will be no telling how it will all play out. Sure, we don’t know who’ll win most races, but the mix of world-class competitors from ultrarunning, mountain running, and the roads is fascinating. Now, read up… and when you’re done, write the names of the 36 entrants on note cards, throw them in the air, and then shuffle them back together. That pile of cards has just about as good a chance of predicting the Top 10 as the rest of us.

For more on this year’s race, you can read our TNF 50 men’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.

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Mountain (and Marathon) Mayhem

Megan Kimmel - Asics

Megan Kimmel

If I may single out two women who could create the most excitement this weekend, they’re Brandy Erholtz and Megan Kimmel. These two women have been among America’s best mountain runners for a couple years now. Both have raced the world’s best in Europe and vied for titles here at home. Their accomplishment lists are long enough that I’m not going to list them. All those accolades run headlong into one gigantic BUT… that is, but neither has raced an ultramarathon. That does not mean they can’t crush it, as former mountain runner Anna Frost’s TNF EC 50 win in 2010 (post-race interview) shows that talent can prevail in an ultra debut. Anita Ortiz, who similarly dominated mountain running, also won her 100-mile debut at Western States in 2009.

Although not quite at Erholtz or Kimmel’s level, fellow American mountain runner Gina Lucrezi will be running her second ultra this weekend after a tough debut at the Speedgoat 50k in July. Gina’s co-worker at Trail Runner magazine, Ashley Arnold, has an established ultra resume, but spent most of 2012 concentrating on shorter mountain races. Still, she just won the TNF EC 80k in Chile and took third at the Way Too Cool 50k this spring. In 2010, Arnold took fourth at the White River 50 and third at the Leadville 100 (race report).

From overseas, youngster Emelie Forsberg already made the leap from mountain runner to ultrarunner more or less simultaneously. For starters, she’s the 2012 Skyrunning World Champion, which included a win at the Pikes Peak Marathon, displaying her skill at marathon and shorter trail races. However, she also jumped into ultrarunning this year and took third in the Ultra Skymarathon Series rankings behind only Nuria Picas and Anna Frost. Forsberg could certainly contend for the win this weekend. Update: We’ve interviewed Forsberg in the days before this year’s TNF 50. She’ll be paced by 2010 and 2011 TNF 50 champ Anna Frost.

While the TNF 50 course isn’t as road runner friendly as the JFK 50 Mile, which saw top marathoners Trent Briney (post-race interview) and Emily Harrison (post-race interview) each taking second under the previous course record time (neither are racing this weekend), it once again showed that folks with fast road running histories can make a splash with their ultra debuts. Colorado’s Paige Higgins, a 2:33 marathoner, will hope that happens on Saturday in the Headlands.

Ultra Experienced

While last year’s top two women – Anna Frost (post-race interview and race report) and Ellie Greenwood (post-race interview and race report) – aren’t returning to this year’s race, last year’s third and fourth place runners are returning to lead a group of experienced ultrarunners. Joelle Vaught took third last year after having been second in 2009 and fourth in 2010. She clearly knows how to run well at this event. In 2012, she’s won the Lake Sonoma 50 (post-race interview), Pocatello 50, and Waldo 100k, while taking third at the Chuckanut 50k. Fourth at TNF EC 50 ast year, Chuckanut race director Krissy Moehl matched that position with fourths at the Western States and Hardrock 100s just a few weeks apart this summer. In early November, she won the Mountain Masochist 50.

Caitlin Smith

Caitlin Smith

Three past TNF EC 50 champions are returning to this year’s race – Lizzy Hawker, Caitlin Smith, and Kami Semick. Hawker won the inaugural TNF EC 50 in 2007, while taking second in the 2010 addition. A single year… or even a single month span of Hawker’s running could yield what would be a stellar lifetime resume for other ultrarunners. For example, in a four-week span between late-August and late-September this year, Hawker won the TNF UTMB (post-race interview), Run Rabbit Run 100 (post-race interview), and Spartathlon 246k race. However, Hawker will be challenged by Caitlin Smith, who won the TNF EC 50 in 2009. Smith ran in this year’s Olympic Trials Marathon before taking third at the Way Too Cool 50k. Between Hawker’s and Smith’s wins, Kami Semick triumphed over the field in the Marin Headlands. More recently, Semick took third in 2010 while she dropped last year. She’s not raced in the US this year other than Western States, where she dropped due to a medical emergency (Thanks for the correction, Ian S), as she’s currently living in Hong Kong. It’s there that two weekends ago, she raced on the winning and course record-setting women’s team at the Oxfam Trailwalker 100k.

The only time Meghan Arbogast (recent profile) ran the TNF EC 50, in 2010, she took sixth. This year, she set a new 50+ women’s 100k world record while taking fourth at the IAU 100k World Championships (post-race interview), while also running in the Olympic Trials Marathon. However, over the past six months she’s not had as strong a set of results on the trails as we’re used to seeing from her, victory at this month’s Bootlegger 50k notwithstanding.

France’s Maud Gobert is a well-established ultrarunner in Europe, but I believe this will mark her American debut. Last year, Gobert had victories at the IAU Trail World Championships at Connemara and Templiers as well as a fifth place at the TNF UTMB. This year, she has a sixth at Transvulcania, third at the CCC, a win at Trail des Aiguilles Rouges, and a fourth at Templiers.

Colorado’s Helen Cospolich is hit or miss at the TNF EC 50 with strong finishes of fourth in 2009 and seventh in 2011, while she’s also taken 11th in 2008 and 13th in 2010. One spot behind Cospolich last year was Rory Bosio. That wasn’t Bosio’s best work as evidenced by her fourth, fifth, and second (post-race interview) at the three most recent Western States 100s, respectively. She was also fourth at this year’s TNF UTMB (post-race interview). Continuing with last year’s order of finish at the TNF EC 50, triathlete Kerrie Wlad was ninth in her ultra debut.

Tina Lewis - 2012 Leadville 100 Champ

Tina Lewis

Two unrelated Lewises have the promise to place well this weekend. Tina Lewis of Colorado has had a great year with a win at Leadville (post-race interview) and the Miwok 100k, as well as taking seventh at Western States. Finishing second to Tina at Miwok was Salt Lake City’s relatively unknown Bethany Lewis. Bethany has won a handful of ultras around the mountain west the past two years and set the women’s Grand Canyon double crossing record (post-run interview) during that time. A top five or even podium finish is not out of reach for her.

Canadian 100k teamm member Mel Bos placed fifth place at Chuckanut and fourth place at JFK 50 this year. Her fourth at JFK just two weeks prior to the TNF EC 50 are likely to slow her. [Updated: Thanks to Ellie G.] [Thanks, Keith I.]

Additional top women who could find themselves in the Top 10 are:

  • Jennifer Benna – Benna took tenth at last year’s race and, this year, has taken fourths at the Miwok and Waldo 100ks. We understand Benna has decided not to run, and that she’ll be pacing Krissy Moehl, instead.
  • Christina Clark – This Canadian has won a Sulphur Springs race on four different occasions and has placed first and second at two TNF EC regional 50 milers this year.
  • Stacey Cleveland – Cleveland followed up her 11th at last year’s TNF EC 50 with a sixth place at the stacked Chuckanut 50k this March.
  • Tera Dube – A long-time ultrarunner with some Top 5s at strong races. She took sixth at the Leona Divide 50 in her lone competitive race this year.
  • Stephanie Howe – Had Howe not suffered a broken hip when she was hit by a car early this year, I’d have said she could go Top 5 this weekend based on her third place at the Lake Sonoma 50 (post-race interview) in April. Still, she did beat Kerrie Bruxvoort and Brandy Erholtz in taking fifth at the USATF Trail Marathon national championships in early November.
  • Sandi Nypaver – After winning the Ice Age and Mountain Masochist 50 milers last year, Nypaver took third at Ice Age this year with a tenth place finish at the Pikes Peak Marathon.
  • Jennifer Pfiefer – A many time podium finisher, including wins at the American River 50. Her sixth at Lake Sonoma 50 and 15th at Western States suggest Top 10 would be good day for Pfiefer.

Added: Curious Main Field Starters

A late night perusal of the main field entrants list has yielded the likes of Kerrie Bruxvoort, Megan Laib, Helen Lavin, and Brazilian Manuela Vilaseca. They would need to be integrated into our elite preview if, in fact, they’ll be racing in the elite start.

The Rest of the Elite Field

Here is the remainder of women’s entrants in the TNF EC 50 elite start:

  • Verity Breen
  • Candice Burt
  • Diane van Deren
  • Cheri Fine
  • Shelly Gellatly
  • Verena Koenig
  • Rea Kolb
  • Sarah Lavender Smith
  • Alison Naney (née Hanks)
  • Jenny Uehisa [Not in the elite race, per herself.]

Ps. In case you think I missed her, Devon Yanko (née Crosby-Helms) is not racing the TNF 50 this year.

Call for Comments

  • Which women do you think will make the podium? Who will win?
  • Anyone you think will be a big surprise on race day?
  • What has you most excited about this race?
  • 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?

Last Updated: 11/29 1 am PST