2014 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Men’s Preview

An in-depth preview of the 2014 The North Face 50 Mile Championships men’s race.

By on November 24, 2014 | Comments

2013 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile ChampionshipsIt’s time for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships again! In 2013, Rob Krar earned the win from among a hyper-competitive field (post-race interview), while Cameron Clayton (post-race interview) and Chris Vargo (post-race interview) took second and third. 2013 was also the year in which a bunch of runners had the flu either before or during the race, so I’m guessing there’s a lot of hand washing going on right now! This year, the men’s field is another step up in competitiveness, making this race easily the most competitive men’s 50 miler in the U.S. of A. with $10,000 prize up for grabs to whomever has the perfect day.

The race takes place on Saturday, December 6 at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time.

The TNF EC 50 Mile is how iRunFar got started with its live coverage in 2009. Sure thing we’re covering the race for the sixth-straight year! Stay tuned.

We’ve also previewed the women’s field.

The Plausible Winners

Here’s how I see it: unless there’s an upset, the winner of the 2014 TNF EC 50 Mile will come out of this group.

Rob Krar

Rob Krar

Really, who’s gonna’ bet against Rob Krar (pre-race interview)? He is so money in whatever he does in this sport right now. Do you remember how he ran this race last year, chilling with the pack and then putting a remarkable eight minutes on the entire field after a surge with a little over four miles to go? Just ridiculous. In 2014, he won the Western States 100 (post-race interview), the Leadville 100 Mile, and the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. At the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile this spring, he finished second (post-race interview), just behind Zach Miller and in front of a bunch of guys who are racing here, too. He just ran the Bootlegger 50k a couple weeks back, a presumed tune-up, winning unchallenged but off his fastest time there by a good margin. If anyone is going to beat this guy here, they will have to run the race of their life.

Sage Canaday - 2014 Speedgoat 50k

Sage Canaday

From his origins as a road runner, Sage Canaday (pre-race interview) has turned into a prolific and highly successful trail and ultramarathon racer. He is so damn talented, with his 2:16:52 marathon and 1:04:32 half-marathon speed, that sometimes I think he races these long, hard races so often that he’s not running to his potential in most of them. Sage’s 2014: Carlsbad Marathon in 2:22:15 for second place in January, a win at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in March (post-race interview), third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile behind winner Zach Miller and second place Rob Krar in April (post-race interview), third at Transvulcania in May (post-race interview), third at the Mount Washington Road Race in June, a win at the Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview) ahead of a ton of guys who will be at this race in July, a win at the Pikes Peak Ascent in August, second at The Rut 50k in September (post-race interview), and fourth at Les Templiers behind third place Alex Nichols in October. I know, I know, he wins much of what he runs, but I can’t help wonder what he could do if he put a solid three or four months of unbroken training in for something. Sage has twice not finished the TNF EC 50 Mile (a DNF in 2012 and a DNS due to the flu in 2013) so he will definitely be in it to not only win but also get a finish here.

Dakota Jones - 2014 Hardrock 100

Dakota Jones

Dakota Jones (pre-race interview) has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile four times, finishing 13th in 2009, fourth in 2010, second in 2011 (post-race interview), and something like mid-pack last year while running with the flu. Dakota has just not had the best of luck with racing lately, finishing 10th and not to his potential at the 2014 Transvulcania (race report), dropping from Hardrock with an ankle injury, and dropping from UTMB. He just proved that he’s real fit and sharp, though, by winning the Moab Trail Marathon in  3:02:05, which is super stout based on the course’s terrain and the fact that it’s about six minutes faster than any other guy has run it, including the likes of Sage Canaday and Mike Foote. If the guy can put mind and body together on the day, he has winner potential.

Dylan Bowman - 2013 TNF EC 50

Dylan Bowman

Dylan Bowman (pre-race interview) has twice finished the TNF EC 50 Mile, seventh in 2012 and fifth last year. He’s also finished the Western States 100 three times, seventh in 2012, fifth in 2013, and third this year (post-race interview). These performances represent the upward trajectory of DBo’s running career, and we don’t know where the top of that trajectory lies. Dylan also won the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile (post-race interview), but finished off his potential and ninth at the 2014 Transgrancanaria. This fall, he won the Golden Hills Marathon as a presumed tune-up unchallenged in the third-fastest time of the race’s 12-year history. As a Marin County resident, he knows every curve, hill, and rock on this course.

I’d put Zach Miller higher on this list–after all he’s beaten both Rob Krar and Sage Canaday–but he just raced his guts out twice in the last two months, his fifth place at Les Templiers in October and a ninth place at the IAU 100k World Championships just two weeks before this race. A year ago, Zach arrived on the ultra scene when he ran 5:38 for the win at the historic JFK 50 Mile (post-race interview), the third-fastest time on a course that’s been raced 52 times. Then, in April, he won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview), besting second place Rob Krar, third place Sage Canaday, and lots of other guys on this race’s entrants list. I don’t think it’s possible to win the TNF EC 50 Mile, among this competition, without a perfect day on an almost-perfect set of legs. Can Zach possibly get his legs back in time?

The Rest of the Battle for the Top

Here are some more guys who all have top-10 potential:

Chris Vargo

Chris Vargo

Hot or cold, on or off, in or out. This has been Chris Vargo’s (pre-race interview) MO since he exploded into the highest echelon of American trail and ultrarunning with his podium finish here in 2013. In 2014, he was on when he won the Way Too Cool 50k, off when he dropped with injury from both the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile and the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, on in winning the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile and UROC 100k, and off when he dropped from Les Templiers. What Chris are we going to get at this year’s TNF EC 50 Mile? Chris, how are things going?

Since 2010, we’ve seen top-of-the-line Salomon team athletes run the TNF EC 50 Mile, and this year will be no different. Spaniard Tòfol Castanyer had two solid races in 2014, fourth place at Transvulcania behind third place Sage Canaday and a tie for second place at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (post-race interview). He was the 2012 winner of the CCC, a sister race to the UTMB, and runner up at the 2013 Cavalls del Vent (now called UltraPirineu) but less than two minutes back of winner Luis Alberto Hernando. He’s been mountain running in Europe successfully for at least eight years, but I believe this will be his first time racing in the U.S. and on the highly runnable trails of the Marin Headlands.

France’s Michel Lanne will be another of the Salomon team contenders. So far this year he’s been sixth at the Zegama Marathon and second and a little over two minutes back of Kilian Jornet at the Mont Blanc Marathon, the Skyrunning World Championships SkyMarathon event. In 2013, he was third at Les Templiers and second at the Mont Blanc 80k. Michel started the 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile and ran with the leaders early before dropping.

Mike Aish - 2013 Leadville 100 - finish

Mike Aish

Mike Aish has an enormous and fast engine, as he is a two-time Olympian for his home country of New Zealand and he has a 2:13 marathon PR. If he can figure out how to apply his talent with the right training and race-day tactics, he has all the potential in the world to win a big-stage ultra. He showed up in the trail ultrarunning scene in the summer of 2012, to run the Leadville Trail 100. There, he ran too fast early, blew up, and dropped out. He came back to Leadville in 2013, determined to finish, and did so in third place (post-race interview). This year he was back again and finished second, a half hour back to winner Rob Krar. This year, Mike has also taken second at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile behind winner Dylan Bowman, fourth behind winner Sage Canaday at the Tarawera Ultra, and finished way back in the Western States 100.

Added 12/5: Ricky Lightfoot has won the likes of IAU Trail World Championships and the Zegama Marathon. He’s got the speed, experience, and endurance for a podium finish at the TNF 50. A lot will depend on whether or not he’s been able to train the past month after being sidelined for part of the season with an injury. He DNFed Les Templiers in late October (pre-race interview).

Paul Hamilton - 2014 Speedgoat 50k

Paul Hamilton

Paul Hamilton seems to be on an upward trajectory with his running, as we’ve seen some super solid results from him, including second place at the 2014 Moab Red Hot 55k behind winner Alex Nichols and ahead of third place Mike Foote, second place about 20 minutes back from winner Sage Canaday and ahead of a passel of guys in this race at the Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview), and, then, fifth at The Rut 50k behind second place Sage Canaday. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s got a couple finishes and a couple DNFs at the 50-mile distance, so he’s familiar with this distance.

Alex Nichols finished fifth here in 2012, and dropped last year. Alex’s 2014 highlights include a win at the Moab Red Hot 55k ahead of Paul Hamilton and Mike Foote, third place at the Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview) behind winner Sage Canaday and second place Paul Hamilton but in front of lots of other guys entered in this race, and a third place at Les Templiers ahead of fourth place Sage Canaday and fifth place Zach Miller. [Update 11/24: Alex Nichols has decided not to run this year.]

A three-time TNF EC 50 finisher (ninth in 2011, 25th in 2012, and 32nd in 2013), I don’t think Mike Foote has come close to running his potential in this race. I can bet that, after his last race, a DNF at the UTMB, he’d like to have a good race. The rest of his 2014 has been strong, with a third place at the 2014 Moab Red Hot 55k behind Alex Nichols and Paul Hamilton, and second at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

Rickey Gates

Rickey Gates

Rickey Gates, come on, Rickey! I’d love to see this guy have a good race here. He’s twice finished the TNF EC 50 Mile, but way off his potential both times. This year, he’s finished fourth at the Mount Marathon Race in Alaska; fourth at the Speedgoat 50k behind Sage Canaday, Paul Hamilton, and Alex Nichols; and sixth at The Rut 50k behind second place Sage Canaday and fifth place Paul Hamilton. [Update 12/3: Rickey Gates has decided not to race due to a lingering injury.]

Daniel Kraft was fourth here last year in an incredible run, and there’s nothing that makes me think he can’t have as good a day this year as last. In 2014, he’s finished third at the Chuckanut 50k ahead of some guys racing here, seventh at The Rut 50k, and first at the Flagstaff Skyrace 55k.

Alex Varner - 2014 Western States 100

Alex Varner

Alex Varner came onto my radar last fall when he won the Bootlegger 50k, which served as the USATF 50k Trail National Championships, beating guys like Mario Mendoza and Dylan Bowman. This March, Alex finished second to Chris Vargo at the Way Too Cool 50k by a few seconds. In April, he was fourth but a good 12 minutes off the podium action of Zach Miller, Rob Krar, and Sage Canaday at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. In June, he ran a steady seventh place in his debut 100 miler at Western States. He dropped with an injury from the Squamish 50 Mile in August. I believe this will be his first go at this annual Marin Headlands showdown.

Jorge Maravilla has four finishes of the TNF EC 50 Mile, ninth in 2009, 19th in 2011, 16th in 2012, and seventh last year. I think that seventh place represents a best-case scenario for Jorge in this year’s competition, as well. In 2014, Jorge won the Bandera 100k, was way off his potential at Transgrancanaria, eighth at The North Face 100k – Australia, and again off his potential at the Western States 100. His social medias indicated he had a little injury scare with his training of late, but that he seems to be back running again. Jorge, how are you doing?

Dave Mackey has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile four times, 10th in 2009, third in 2010, 25th in 2012, and eighth last year. Last year, just a week before his best finish at this race, he won the Quad Dipsea. Dave’s registered for this double again. Since last December, Dave finished eighth at the Hong Kong 100k, way off his potential at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, and second at the Leadman competition.

Twice a finisher at the TNF EC 50 Mile, 13th in 2012 and 10th last year, Ryan Ghelfi seems like another guy whose running has been on an upward swing the last 18 months or so. In 2014, Ryan was fourth at the Chuckanut 50k behind third place Daniel Kraft, sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile where he finished ahead of ninth place Daniel Kraft and others, and fourth at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile.

More High-Potential Runners

A couple of these guys I could see going top 10, and I think all of them have top-20 potential.

Timothy Olson - 2014 TNF TransGranCanaria

Timothy Olson

Overall, Timothy Olson (pre-race interview) has had a bit of a rough go of 2014. This year, he’s finished eighth at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, third at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview), and 12th at Hardrock. He also dropped from UTMB. I dunno’, if I were Timothy, after being wrecked and wrecked again by Hardrock and UTMB, I’d be more inclined to pack up the season and dig in with rest and re-building for 2015. Then again, maybe he’s already gotten enough of that in the two months since UTMB?

Dimitris Theodorakakos is a Greek runner who was picked up by Salomon over the last couple years. He wins basically every trail race he enters in Greece, but hasn’t faced much competition outside his home country. In July, however, he ran the four-stage Salomon 4 Trails race in Germany, beating Iker Karrera solidly. [Update 12/3: Dimitris Theodorakakos will not start the race.]

Tim Tollefson will be interesting to watch. He put his 2:18 marathon PR speed to good use earlier this fall by winning the 2014 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, his first ultra. He enjoyed it enough, apparently, to turn around and race another one just a couple weeks later, winning the Who’s in El Moro 50k without challenge. He was snatched up quickly by the Nike Trail Team, probably because he fits their present mold of sponsoring young road-trail crossover runners.

I’d put Galen Burrell higher as he’s got enormous talent at shorter-distance trail racing, but he’s finished the TNF EC 50 Mile twice and neither time represents his potential, 18th in 2011 and 21st in 2012. This year, we watched Galen run to ninth at the Speedgoat 50k (he was running much higher most of the race, but went off course in the final miles).

Frenchman Martin Gaffuri was 13th here last year. Earlier this year, he was sixth at the Tarawera Ultramarathon behind winner Sage Canaday and fourth place Mike Aish. He ran to 16th place at the 2014 Skyrunning World Championships UltraSkyMarathon event, and he recently came second at the Bootlegger 50k but about 27 minutes back of winner Rob Krar.

Mike Wardian - 2014 Tarawera 100k

Mike Wardian

Mike Wardian is the ever-present racer of all distances. He’s finished the TNF EC 50 Mile four times, finishing as high as fifth. Last year he was 16th. It doesn’t really matter that he’ll only be two weeks out from running the IAU 100k World Championships, and I’m sure he’ll have raced a couple times since then anyway. The jack of all trades could poke his way into the top 10 on a stellar-for-him day.

Jason Wolfe has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile once, taking sixth place in 2012. In 2013, he won the Imogene Pass Run and took third at the Bootlegger 50k behind winner Alex Varner but ahead of fifth place Dylan Bowman, sixth place Zach Miller, and eighth place Justin Ricks. He was eighth at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile earlier this year.

I believe Gary Gellin has finished the TNF EC 50 Mile once, ninth place in 2012. In 2014, Gary’s been 11th at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, the Miwok 100k winner, 16th at the Western States 100, and winner of TNF EC 50k – Utah where he finished ahead of Timothy Olson.

[Added 11/28] Mario Mendoza is an interesting name that’s been added to the elite entrants list in the last couple of days. Mario specializes in shorter-distance trail running and has race super successfully up to the 50k distance. This will be his debut 50 miler, I believe. Mario was named the 2013 USATF Trail Runner of the Year, and in 2014, he’s won the Gorge Waterfalls 50k, the Flagstaff Skyrace 39k, and he was second at the USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships ahead of fourth place Justin Houck.

Greg Vollet – 5th 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon; 14th 2012 TNF EC 50 Mile; 10th Skyrunning World Series SkyMarathon event behind second place Michel Lanne; 7th 2014 Trofeo Kima.

Justin Houck – 2nd 2014 Don’t Fence Me In 30k ahead of 3rd place Justin Ricks; winner 2014 White River 50 Mile in the third-fastest time in the race’s 22-year history and 10 minutes off Sage Canaday’s course record; 4th 2014 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships.

Bob Shebest – Four-time TNFEC 50 Mile finisher with an 18th place last year; 10th 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; winner at both the 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile and Pine to Palm 100 Mile.

Jeremy Humphrey – Winner 2012 Cascade Crest 100 Mile; winner 2013 Bear 100.

Justin Ricks – 18th 2012 TNF EC 50 Mile; winner 2014 Moab Red Hot 33k ahead of 2nd place Jordan McDougal; 3rd 2014 Moab Trail Marathon, five minutes back of winner Dakota Jones.

Brett Rivers – 2nd 2014 Quad Dipsea behind winner Dave Mackey; 4th 2014 Way Too Cool 50k behind winner Chris Vargo and 2nd place Alex Varner; 9th 2014 Western States 100 (post-race interview).

Brian Tinder – 13th 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile; winner 2014 Bootlegger 25k.

Jordan McDougal – 2nd Moab Red Hot 33k behind winner Justin Ricks; 2nd TNF EC 50 Mile – New York 15 minutes behind winner Dylan Bowman.

Lars Kjerengtroen – 6th 2014 Speedgoat 50k ahead of 9th place Galen Burrell; 6th 2014 Leadville Trail 100 Mile.

Franklin Tenorio – Ahem. You still with me? Want to meet the guy who will have the fastest marathon PR at the starting line? That’ll be Ecuador’s Franklin with his 2:10:22, but from way back at the 1998 Rome Marathon. He’s 45 years old now, and I think he lives in Boulder, Colorado? He ran a 2:17 as recently as 2011. I can’t find a record of him in any trail races. Can anyone fill in the gray areas?

Josh Arthur – According to his sponsor, Altra, he is racing, though we’ve not seen his name on an entrants list. This year, Josh has won the Run Through Time Marathon (in almost the race exact time he won it in last year) and taken second to Rob Krar at the Run Rabbit Run 100. [Added 11/24]

Other Men to Watch

Alphabetical order here, the men’s elite list is huge and has loads of regionally talented runners on it. Here are some more men to watch.

  • Eric Ahern
  • Ben Bartley
  • Scott Breeden – 20th 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile
  • John Burton – 5th 2013 Quad Dipsea
  • Andrew Catalano – 6th in 2012 and 5th in 2013 at the Leadville Trail 100
  • Brian Condon – 3rd 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
  • Christopher DeNucci
  • Masazumi Fujioka – 9th 2014 Chuckanut 50k; winner 2014 Bellingham Trail Marathon
  • Michele Graglia – Winner 2014 UltraMilano-Sanremo Race, a 175-mile road race in Italy; 2nd 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile; winner 2014 Grand to Grand stage race
  • David Le Porho – 5th 2012 UROC 100k; winner 2013 Vermont 50 Mile
  • Justin Maxwell – 2nd 2014 Highland Fling 53 Mile
  • Ed McCarthy – 5th 2014 Chuckanut 50k; 5th 2014 Squamish 50 Mile
  • Van McCarty – 3rd 2013 Quad Dipsea
  • Andrew Skurka – You know, the famous long-distance thru-hiking guy; not much racing to go on, but he was 17th at the 2010 TNF EC 50 Mile. He’s got wheels according to his training logs for this race, and he’s been putting in serious mileage. Long shot for top 20.
  • Ford Smith – Finished the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in 8th place, 16:09 as a 17 year old
  • William Tarantino – 6th 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile
  • Joe Uhan – 9th 2012 Western States 100; 14th 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, 2nd at 2014 Waldo 100k
  • Oliver Utting – 8th 2014 Chuckanut 50k
  • James Walsh – 3rd 2014 Who’s in El Moro 50k 14 minutes back of winner Tim Tollefson
  • Kalib Wilkinson 
  • Jeremy Wolf

 Call for Comments

  • You made it. What a group of men! Okay, who is going to win this thing and how do you think they will do it, strategically?
  • Who will make up the rest of the podium?
  • Who is really fit and ready? Give an example of why you think so.
  • Who could have a breakout performance?
  • Did we miss someone you think should be included? Let us know who and why.
Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.