2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile Preview

A preview of the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile.

By on January 27, 2014 | Comments

Sean O'Brien 50It’s not often that I find myself previewing an inaugural race, but here I am writing about the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile to be run from Malibu, California on Saturday, February 1. Truth be told, this is only nominally a first-race race as long-time SoCal race director Keira Henninger developed the SOB50 to replace the previously competitive Ray Miller 50/50 after the latter course was ravaged by fire last May. So, it’s much less of a surprise that Montrail would include this debut race in Montrail Ultra Cup or that the 50-mile race would attract one heck of a field, particularly on the men’s side, which is where we’ll start.

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Men’s Preview – 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile

Dylan Bowman 2012 Leona Divide 50 Mile

Dylan Bowman

The Names
I feel old when I talk about Dylan Bowman being an established ultrarunning star, but there’s no denying that fact. After Leadville 100 podium finishes in 2010 and 2011, DBo has taken seventh and fifth at–get this–the past two Western States 100s AND the past two The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. (Are third places a certain for him at those races this year?) Dylan’s also stood out in SoCal racing with a win at the San Diego 100 Mile in 2011, Leona Divide 50 Mile in 2012 (beating Timmy Olson, Jorge Maravilla, Jason Wolfe, Jason Schlarb, and more!), and the Ray Miller 50 Mile last year… with that last bit more or less makes him the defending champ this weekend.

A month in the rearview mirror, Timothy Olson’s 2013 seems even more impressive to me. He logged seconds at the Ray Miller 50 Mile and Vibram Tarawera 100k (post-race interview) as well as fourths at Transvulcania and TNF UTMB (post-race interview). Of course, he also won his second-straight Western States 100. The skills and strength needed to pull off the final three on that list are still hard for me to wrap my head around. In reality, he’s been on quite the roll since taking fourth at the TNF 50 Mile in December 2011. Now, it’s Olson’s chance to kick off a third-straight standout season.

Mike Wolfe - JMT FKT

Mike Wolfe

Mike Wolfe’s 2013 season does not stand out like Olson’s. However, (1) I can’t believe he raced at all after he and Hal Koerner set the JMT FKT and (2) his sixth place finish at the TNF 50 was one of the gutsiest races I’ve seen in a long time. On a personal level, I found it even more impressive than when he won the race in 2011. He’s a new papa of less than a month, so we don’t know how much he’s been training… or sleeping.

Over the past two years, Jason Wolfe has logged some impressive ultra finishes in deep fields with a ninth and sixth at the TNF 50 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and seventh at UROC in 2013. Last year, he took second at the Leona Divide 50 Mile and took third at the Bootlegger 50k, the USATF Trail 50k National Championships, a race he won in 2012. Despite the wealth of talent in this race, Jason Wolfe is a guy who could very well find his way onto the podium. [1/30 Update: Jason Wolfe has withdrawn due to illness.]

It would be a stretch for Josh Brimhall to make the podium with this field. However, with more than a decade of strong ultrarunning behind him and no signs of slowing down, Brimhall could shoot for, say, fifth place with top 10 not being a problem if he paces himself.

The New Speedsters
Still don’t know Chris Vargo? Well, you’d better get on it. Having made his ultra debut in November 2012, in 2013 Vargo was second at Way Too Cool 50k, sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and set a course record at the Golden Date Dirty Thirty 50k, all before finishing the year with a third-place at the TNF 50. You’ll be seeing Vargo at a ton of top 50k to 50 mile North American races this year.

Mike Aish - 2013 Leadville 100

Mike Aish

Mike Aish (pre-race interview) is, by far, the most entertaining, skateboarding, Kiwi Olympian on the North American ultrarunning stage. He’s also taken things a bit more seriously after his headfirst dive into ultrarunning with the Leadville 100 (DNF) in 2012. Last year, he headed back to Leadville and, after going out at a Carpenter-esque pace, again had his wheels fall off… but he toughed out a third place finish. With some backing and enthusiasm on his side (both confirmed since writing!), I can see Aish taking some big steps forward in 2014.

A relative newbie without the pedigree of some others, Josh Arthur (pre-race interview) will be a wild card this year. He took second at Cascade Crest 100 (his 100-mile debut and second ultra that we know of) in 2012, won the Quad Rock 50 Mile last spring, and then took fourth at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in September. That’s a pretty good stretch of ultrarunning, especially for a relative newbie.

The Locals
Despite the star power at the front of the field, it’s these guys that are likely to get the most cheers as they pass through aid stations. These runners not only have local knowledge on their side, but they’re darn good runners in their own right.

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

Prior to last year, I would not have been leading off the locals section with Jesse Haynes, but he really had a breakout year. He started things off by taking sixth at Leona Divide before surprising many with his seventh place at Western States. Two months later he was second at the Waldo 100k. I don’t know Jesse well, but I’ve got to think that with his local’s advantage and recent step up in performance that he’ll be keying in on this one. A top-five finish would be another feather in his cap.

Chris Price (pre-race interview) has logged tons of great California results over the past four years, including a win at Angeles Crest and a second at Miwok 100k, both in 2012. Last year, he ran a very strong fourth (26:51) at the Hardrock 100 after also taking fourth at Zane Grey 50 Mile in Arizona a few months earlier. While lower than he’s used to, placing toward the top of the second five would be a very good day for Chris.

At 46, you’d expect Jorge Pacheco to be falling out of contention, but just two years ago he was second at Ray Miller 50 Mile, sixth at a stacked Leona Divide 50 Mile, and second at the Angeles Crest 100. On December 1 last year, Pacheco ran a 3:32 at the OTHTC High Desert 50k, a race he’s run man times. He was nine minutes off his fastest ever time, but within the cluster of faster times he ran a decade earlier. Anyone in the back half of the top 10 should be afraid of this guy!

Dom Grossman and friend

Dom Grossman

Adding a bit of local color with be Dom Grossman, who won the Angeles Crest 100 last July. His ninth at Leona Divide 50 Mile in 2012 may be indicative of where he could place at Sean O’Brien.

Kyle Robinson has frequented the podium at local 30 to 50k trail races, but has yet to run longer than that as far as we know.

Ricardo Ramirez is in the same boat with both more experience and, perhaps, a slightly better results.

[Author’s Note: A quick shout out to two of my ultra mentors, 62-year-old Scotty Mills and 54-year-old Tommy Nielsen who are also running the 50 miler. Out on the trail, they’ll shock a heck of a lot of folks a good deal younger than they are.]

Others to Watch Out For

  • Gerad Dean
  • William Tarantino
  • Chris Wehan (also entered in the Rocky Raccoon 100 on the same day…) [2/1 update: Chris Wehan did not start the race.]
  • Tristan Williams

Women’s Preview – 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile

While there aren’t as many headliners as in the men’s race, the women’s race has deepened as race day nears.

The Out of Towners

Cassie Scallon ultrarunner

Cassie Scallon

I think it’s fair to say that this is Cassie Scallon’s (pre-race interview) race to lose. Really, the only North American woman to have as much success as Cassie at 50 miles last year was Michele Yates, and she’s running the Rocky Raccoon 100 this weekend. Scallon won at Lake Sonoma with is deep field was impressive, as were her course record at the Ice Age 50 and her 6:24 in winning the Tussey Mountainback 50 in October to take the USATF 50 Mile Road National Championship.

Meghan Arbogast continues to run strong. Highlights from her 2013? A win at the Way Too Cool 50k, fifth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and fourth at Western States. She won the Bandera 100k a few weeks ago to kick off her 2014 and notch a Montrail Ultra Cup win. Me thinks she’s making a run at the MUC title.

Denise Bourassa

Denise Bourassa

Denise Bourassa won’t run away from this field, but a podium or top-five finish is certainly in play. In 2013, Denise tended to run right around top 10 in deeper race fields. Witness: an eighth at Western States, ninths at Chuckanut and Leadville, and 12th at Leadville. Bourassa was second at the MUC’s Ice Age 50 Mile last May, but more than an hour behind Scallon.

The biggest wildcard out-of-stater might be Colorado’s Ironman triathlete Kerrie Wlad. She was ninth at the 2011 TNF EC 50 Mile Championships. We haven’t a clue about her running fitness coming into the event. (Anyone from the Front Range want to shed some light here?) [2/1 update: Kerrie Wlad did not start.]

Las Vegas’s Stephanie Weigel has been on the podium at every ultra she’s finished… but she’s never run against a field like this. She was second at the Ray Miller 50 Mile last year, but 40-plus minutes behind Amy Sproston against a non-equivalent field.

The Locals
While I’m no expert on the SoCal running scene, there are three local women who stand out as potential podium finishers: Sally McRae, Michelle Barton, and Angela Shartel.

Given the distance and individual’s progressions, I’ve got to give Sally McRae (pre-race interview) the nod here. In relatively light racing in 2013, McRae was sixth at Lake Sonoma, won SoCal’s Cuyamaca 100k, and was 13th at the TNF EC 50. Nike has enough faith in her to name her to their recently formed trail running team.

Michelle Barton has long raced a ton locally (as well as elsewhere) and has plenty of speed. Given that she most frequently races from the half marathon through 50k, I was surprised to see her entered in the 50 mile. She did win the 100k outright at the Javelina Jundred late last October. [1/30 Update: Michelle Barton has dropped down to the 50k.]

While maybe not as ‘speedy’ as McRae and Barton, Angela Shartel (pre-race interview) has tons of strength. In 2012, she was fourth and fifth, respectively, at the Ray Miller and Leona Divide 50 Milers. In 2012, Shartel also took second at the Angeles Crest 100… a feat she improved upon in winning AC last summer. No matter how hard the 50-mile course, expect Angela to finish between just under eight to nine hours… and to finish strong.

After turning 40 in 2012, Tera Dube had one of her best seasons in recent years in 2013. She was fifth at Way Too Cool and second at American River 50 Mile. In August, she ran one of the 10 fastest women’s times at the 30+ years of the Skyline 50k: 4:27.

Others to Watch Out For

  • Francesca Conte
  • Amber Monforte
  • Luanne Park

Call for Comments

  • Who’s gonna take men’s and women’s wins here? What about the rest of the Montrail Ultra Cup Western States slots (top three)?
  • Anyone we missed? Know of anyone definitely not racing who we previewed?
  • Locals, what’s the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile course like? Any tips for those who’re racing this weekend?
  • Readers, which of you ARE running one of the Sean O’Brien races this weekend? What’s got you excited? Nervous?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.