Lookie’ here, the time is nigh for the most competitive 50-mile race on American soil, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. Each year, the women’s field has steadily increased in both its breadth and depth, with a big step up in competitiveness for the 2012 race and what looks to be another step up for this year’s edition. Last year saw Emelie Forsberg besting the rest of the ladies on a wet, muddy, and modified-because-of-inclement weather course, Stephanie Howe breathing hard down her back, and a strong field of women rolling in just behind them. What will happen this weekend? Let’s begin with the ladies lining up who have previously spent time on the TNF EC 50-Mile Championships podium.
We’ll be providing live coverage of the TNF 50 on race day.
Previous Podium Holders
In order of most recent to oldest performances, the previous podium holders who are racing this weekend include:
Emelie Forsberg (2012 champion) (pre-2013 race intervew) – Last year, this trail running femme fatale (I mean this positively. She’s sweet as the sweets she bakes, but she absolutely annihilates almost any women’s field among which she competes.) wore a flower in her hair and a smile on her face despite incessant rain and downright silly mud. Since then, Emelie has done nothing but continue her roll of utter world domination in mountain running. Proof: just two months ago, she was crowned the 2013 Skyrunning Ultra Series Champion, which concluded with a win at the UROC 100k (post-race interview, her report). We wondered about it last year and I’ll say it again, Emelie is a mountain runner at heart so the TNF EC 50 course is not her style and she’s already elbow deep into her ski season. These potential weaknesses didn’t stop her last year so I can’t help but think they won’t bother her again. She’s the women’s favorite.
Stephanie Howe (2012 runner-up) – The last two times that Emelie Forsberg has turned up to race American trails, Stephanie Howe’s been the only woman who could play actual chase. In the 2012 TNF EC 50, Stephanie finished just a bit more than two minutes behind Emelie (post-race interview, her report) and, at this fall’s UROC 100k, Stephanie finished second to Emelie with a bigger gap (post-race interview). Between these performances and her win among the competitive Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview) field this past July, Stephanie has proven her ability to not only perform well among the world’s best, but also to perform under the pressure of a race that’s garnered attention. She’s been all quiet on the racing front in the two months since UROC, so we can only imagine she’s been training her heart out for Saturday’s shootout. Update 12/2: Stephanie Howe has decided not to race this weekend. She’s giving herself a good off season in preparation for 2014.
Anna Frost (2011 champion) – Heaven almighty, if this woman finds her physical health and her passion for racing again, watch out every other trail runner out there. Anna slayed the women’s field at the 2011 edition of the race, when she was, arguably, at her peak (post-race interview, her report). Last year, Anna served as pacer to friend, Emelie Forsberg, in Emelie’s dash to victory, but Anna’s been struggling with her health and her excitement about racing before that pacing gig and since then. I’m not sure of her present situation, other than the fact that she’s just spent five weeks running two stage races in the Himalayas, the Everest Sky Race, a 275k, nine-day stage race (where she took the women’s win and was seventh overall) and the Manaslu Trail Race, a 212k, seven-day stage race (women’s win, second overall). Good grief, she’s either really tired or really fit. And, either way, she’s got a ginormous set of lungs for a sea-level effort after her time among the world’s tallest mountains.
Joelle Vaught (2011 third place, 2009 second place) – Joelle is no stranger to the TNF EC 50. She’s finished the race four previous times, including an sub-par 13th place last year. Many folks would agree that the 50-mile distance is Joelle’s forte, and she’s already pulled off a couple of them this year, including her second place (to Cassie Scallon, who is racing this weekend) at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 and her 9:03 at the 2013 Pocatello 50, which was some 23 minutes faster than her own course record and an absolutely sick performance on that course. Though we can’t forget her aggressive start and eventual blow-up/DNF at the 2013 Western States 100, Joelle’s otherwise had a decent late summer and fall, including a second place at the Waldo 100k and a recent win at the Foothills Frenzy 50k on her local, Boise, Idaho terrain. Fifth place is about where I’d put her finishing among this weekend’s competition.
Jenn Shelton (2007 runner-up) – It’s hard to get a read on Jenn as she’s not one to hang out on social media aside from her highly irreverent, hilarious, and only peripherally-related-to-running Twitter feed and she’s not been turning up at high-profile events as in her past. What’s Jenn got going for her? Well, she holds the American trail 100-mile record from her 14:57 run at the 2007 Rocky Raccoon 100. She might very well be the only American ultrarunner with a car sponsor, Hyundai. And, she’s done some solid racing in 2013, including second at the Orcas Island 50k, a win at the Kendall Mountain Run 24 miler, and third place at the Pine to Palm 100. She’ll have to turn up highly primed, however, to make a dent in this women’s field. Update 12/2: We’ve learned that Jenn Shelton won’t be racing TNF this year, although we’ve not heard why.
Women with the Biggest Podium Potential
Here are additional top contenders by how likely I think it is that they will, indeed, place.
Cassie Scallon (pre-race interview) – I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens when Cassie meets Emelie Forsberg this weekend. Right now, Cassie could be the U.S.’s best female 50-mile runner. She’s got a 6:31 JFK 50 Mile from 2011, a win at the stacked 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (21 minutes ahead of Rory Bosio and 45 minutes ahead of Sally McRae, both of whom are racing this weekend) (post-race interview), and a 6:24 win at the recent Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile, which also served as the USATF road 50 mile national championships. While she has yet to nail the 100-mile distance, that just doesn’t matter on Saturday. She just raced a 30k tune-up at the Mt. Tam Trail Run in the Marin Headlands, taking first woman and fifth overall on the same terrain she’ll take on this weekend. She’s looking ready to rumble.
Michele Yates – You’ve been hearing a lot about Michele of late, so let’s just recap her 2013: a win at the Bandera 100k (the USATF trail 100k national championships), a win at the Nueces 50 Mile (the USATF trail 50 mile national championships), a win at the Indiana Trail 100 Mile, fifth at the Pikes Peak Marathon, a win at the Run Rabbit Run 100 (post-race interview), third at UROC 100k, and a win at the Bootlegger 50k (the USATF trail 50k national championships). That is a very big year, especially since Michele had done only a little ultraunning prior to 2013, even though she’d had a lot of previous success at road running and shorter-distance trail running. If these performances serve as any marker to her weekend’s work, she should be in the game for the podium. But do those legs of hers have yet another standout performance in them in 2013? Your guess is as good as mine.
Aliza Lapierre (pre-race interview) – On paper, Vermont’s Aliza seems primed for the breakout race of her life. In 2012, she arrived from the top ranks in her New England ultra scene and into national notoriety with a third place at the 2012 Western States 100. Later that summer, she ran to fourth place at the Leadville 100 but unknowingly raced with an obliterated foot bone. Surgery and rehab came in the winter that followed, but she was back enough to finish sixth at the 2013 Western States 100. Since June, she’s finished first woman, fourth overall at the Vermont 50 Mile and she won and finished fourth overall at the Stonecat Marathon. Stonecat’s a trail race with some beefy terrain and she ran 3:16 and change, just 10 minutes back of the men’s winner. That’s just sick. If Aliza can wrap her head around the fact that she’s fit to play with Saturday’s biggest guns, I think she’s got the legs to.
Rory Bosio (pre-race interview) – In addition to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc insanity of late August, Rory’s had a good year, finishing second in 4:07 and change at the Way Too Cool 50k, fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (behind Cassie Scallon and Joelle Vaught and ahead of Sally McRae, who are all racing this Saturday), and fifth at the Western States 100. She’s previously proven that she’s got the legs to race at many ultra distances, but she’s also previously proven her ability to have a bad race at TNF EC 50 as she finished 17th at last year’s edition. Rory has already had the race of her life this year, her win, course record, and seventh-place overall finish at the rip-roaringly competitive UTMB (post-race interview), so I’d forgive her if she wanted to rest on her laurels in her Cali home for, say, a loooooong time.
Ashley Arnold – Ashley championed the 2013 Leadville 100 (post-race interview) and she basically ends up on the podium of every race she finishes. In the last year plus, she’s also won the Ultra Marathon de los Andes 80k, the Desert R.A.T.S. Stage Race, and the White River 50. The Coloradan has not had good luck with TNF EC 50, though. Last year, she fell, cut open her hand big time, and DNFed early in the race. In 2011, she dropped after running not far off the lead for the first half of the race. Ashley’s got a mountain of talent and, if she can get past her history here, she could have a great day.
Kerrie Bruxvoort – This Coloradan could be the U.S.’s second-best female 50-mile runner right now. Take a look her 50-mile resume: wins at the Zane Grey 50, Quad Rock 50, and Run Rabbit Run 50. Also this year she’s finished on the Moab Red Hot 55k podium, fifth at the UROC 100k, and a win at the Moab Trail Marathon just a month ago. Kerrie seems to thrive most when the terrain gets technical and TNF EC 50’s course is about as runnable as it gets (terrain-wise, not elevation-change-wise). That could be her one vulnerability in this weekend’s set-up.
Super-Fast Women without Much Ultrarunning Experience to Watch
Here are a few women with less ultrarunning experience in random order.
Magdalena Boulet – Now this Californian (but born in Poland) is perhaps the most fascinating female entrant. Without question, she has the most leg speed of any gal racing, and–sorry guys–her PRs are faster than a lot of dudes, too. She represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in the marathon (DNF due to injury) and she possesses a 2:26:22 marathon PR, set in 2010. In July, she did well enough at the Cranmore Hill Climb, which served as the U.S. mountain running national championships to earn a place on the U.S. Mountain Running Team. She then competed in September in the World Mountain Running Championships in Poland, placing 11th as the fastest U.S. woman (and about three minutes ahead of Megan Kimmel, who is also racing this weekend). She’s making a huge leap up in racing 50 miles here; I can’t wait to see what unfolds.
Megan Kimmel – Megan, a short-distance, mountain-running specialist based in Colorado, is a woman with all the talent and fitness to pull off a podium finish. She’s been all over the La Sportiva Mountain Cup races the last couple summers, she was second at last fall’s Moab Trail Marathon (the USATF trail marathon national championships), second at the 2013 Moab Red Hot 33k, and third at the 2013 Moab Trail Half Marathon (the USATF trail half marathon nation championships). But, and this is a big but, she dropped from the 2012 edition of TNF EC 50. If I remember right, her calves broke down in the race’s second half and that led to her pace slowing and her succumbing to hypothermia in the bad weather. If she can crack that ultra-distance nut, watch out, world.
Catrin Jones – With two ultras under her belt, a second place at the 2013 Gorge Waterfalls 50k (16 minutes behind Stephanie Howe) and a win and third overall at the 2013 Squamish 50k, Catrin brings to Saturday a deep road marathoning background. (She just ran and won the Victoria Marathon in October in 2:43.)
Gina Lucrezi – This Coloradan has given the 50k-ish distance a go a number of previous times with success, but I believe this is her first foray into the 50-mile distance. Gina just won the Mt. Tam Trail Run 50k a few weeks back, what must have been a good tune-up being on the same Marin Headlands terrain.
Other Women on the Elite Entrants List
In alphabetical order and with notes as applicable, here are the rest of the women on the elite entrants list:
- Cynthia Lauren Arnold – Cynthia is Ashley Arnold’s sister and she has done well in shorter-distance trail racing, with perhaps her best record as a second place at the 2011 Pikes Peak Ascent. She’s raced ultras very rarely and doesn’t seem to have raced on trails much since 2011.
- Melanie Bos – The British Columbian has gone 6:47 at the JFK 50 Mile, which was good enough for fourth place in 2012. This year, she was second at the HURT 100 and sixth at the Chuckanut 50k (eight minutes back of Cassie Scallon and just seconds behind Kerrie Bruxvoort, women who are racing this weekend). It’s hard to get a feel for how Melanie will do among this mostly American contingent, though she seems to clean up at the Canadian races she attends.
- Christina Clark – She was 16th at the 2012 TNF EC 50. She apparently enjoys the TNF EC races, as she’s raced three of the regional races in the last 18 months, taking a respective second, first, and first at TNF EC Washington D.C. in 2012, TNF EC Madison in 2012, and Washington D.C. in 2013.
- Added 12/4: Molly Culver – She won the 2013 TNF EC 50 Wisconsin and was added to the elite start today.
- Silvia Correa Jimenez – From Mexico.
- Lauren Dils
- Sheri Foster
- Brandi Garcia – Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, she won the 2013 TNF EC 50 Atlanta.
- Jaime Gile
- Kelsey Gray
- Rachel Hanson
- Charmaine Horsfall – She finished 20th at the 2013 Transvulcania Ultramarathon.
- Andrea Jarzombek-Holt – She’ll be interesting to watch. She’s got a long list of wins at races in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s from. This included a win and course record at the 2013 Hagg Lake 50k (where she beat Joelle Vaught by about three minutes).
- Anna Jefferis
- Megan Laib – In 2012, Megan took second at the Way Too Cool 50k in about four hours flat (besting such fasties as Ashley Arnold and Rory Bosio by a respective seven and eight minutes, women who are also racing this weekend). Last year at TNF EC 50, she finished 12th and I can’t find any results for her since. Anyone know what she’s been up to? If she’s got the same fitness as 2012, she’ll be in the mix.
- Sarah Lavallee
- Sally McRae – Californian Sally’s best result is probably her sixth place at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (45 minutes behind Cassie Scallon, 30 minutes behind Joelle Vaught, and 24 minutes behind Rory Bosio, who are racing this weekend). She just won the Cayamuca 100k.
Simone Moro[Editor’s Note 12/2: Simone Moro was listed on the women’s elite entrants list we received but he is male and we transferred him to our men’s preview. Thanks to @unknowndest for the tip.]
- Erica Namba – From Berkeley, California, she just finished second and 17 minutes behind Gina Lucrezi at the Mt. Tam Trail Run 50k. She was 19th at the 2012 TNF EC 50.
- Maggie Nelson
Rachel Paquette – She was third at TNF EC 50 New York this year.Update 12/5 – Rachel Paquette is out per her Canadian friends.
- Amy Phillips
- Diane Van Deren – Diane won’t compete for the win but she will compete for our hearts. This long-time trail ultrarunner has publicly spoken about the lobectomy she received to treat her epileptic seizures.
- Manu Vilaseca – Brazilian, eighth at the 2013 UTMB, seventh at the 2013 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and fourth at the 2012 Ultra Marathon de los Andes 80k (about 75 minutes behind Ashley Arnold). She was listed on the men’s elite list.
- Katie Wadden
Gals Who Aren’t Racing but Who are Still on the Elite List
Women who are still on the elite list provided by the race administration but who aren’t racing, in alphabetical order:
- Jennifer Benna – She says she’s already had a big year, so she’s not planning to start.
- Lyne Bessette – This bad-ass cyclist would have been a fascinating woman to watch in this 50-mile showdown, but she broke a kneecap three or four weeks back, so I can’t imagine she’s racing on Saturday.
- Tina Lewis – Tina is still working on healing her bum foot, but looks forward to a healthy 2014.
Call for Comments
- Among these women, who is primed and who isn’t? Whose training has been going well? Have we missed a crucial piece of results? What do you know that we don’t? Let us know!
- Who do you think will win this weekend and why do you think so?
- Do you know any women on this list who aren’t running? Let us know.
- And, who do you think will round out the three-deep prize purse/the podium? Tell us why!