2015 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Women’s Preview

The North Face Endurance Challenge - TNFECThe end of the year approaches and so it must be about time for California’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, which has emerged as one of the most competitive ultras in North America.

At last year’s edition, the TNF EC 50 Mile saw Magdalena Boulet take the win (interview) after a long battle with second-place Megan Kimmel (interview). Both are back for another round on the fast, sometimes wide, and definitely hilly trails of the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco, California. Along with them come a full half of last year’s top 10, but they will be challenged by many other talented women. This year, of note over recent years, the women’s entrants list is largely composed of North American athletes, with just a few runners joining us from across the various ponds. Also of note for December is that there’s a pool of fresh women, ladies who haven’t raced much yet this year or who’ve already taken a break from running and are beginning their 2016 seasons now, which should affect the racing dynamic.

All will be in search of the $10,000 winner’s prize and the coveted title of winning one of the most competitive ultramarathons in North America. The race takes place on Saturday, December 5 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S. (That’s Saturday, December 5 at 2:00 p.m. CET in Europe.)

The TNF EC 50 Mile is how iRunFar got started with its live coverage in 2009. We’re not going to miss covering the race for our seventh-straight year. Remember to follow along with our live coverage this weekend.

Be sure to check out our in-depth men’s preview, too.

Podium Favorites

This is the list of women who I think the women’s podium is most likely to emerge from:

Magdalena Boulet - 2014 TNF 50 - sq

Magdalena Boulet

Magdalena Boulet (pre-2015-race interview), she’s so hot right now. Really, you gonna’ bet against her after the year or two she’s had with ultrarunning? She’s now run this race twice, finishing second in 2013 (interview) and winning last year (interview). In between her 2014 win and now, she’s basically won everything she’s raced, including the 2015 Chuckanut 50k, the Canyons Endurance Runs 100k, and, uh, the Western States 100 (interview). We did see her finish second at her first Euro trail ultra, the CCC, the shorter sister race to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, where she finished behind Ruth Croft who is also on the TNF EC 50 Mile entrants list. This Olympic marathoner’s got serious turnover, and she knows how to use that leg speed on the trails, and she’s seemingly got her nutrition nailed, and she lives in the East Bay so she gets to hop over and train on the race course.

If there’s anyone who will give Magda a run for the money, it’s Ellie Greenwood (pre-race interview). Having 50 miles of landscape to play with, the Marin Headlands’s runnable terrain, and her relative freshness after some early season physical issues that kept her from racing much, Ellie will definitely be playing for the win. About a month-and-a-half ago, she won Les Templiers (interview and race report) while still working on returning to full fitness. An on-point Ellie is not something many (any?) women in our sport can contend with.

Megan Kimmel - 2014 TNF 50

Megan Kimmel

Somehow I’m both surprised and not surprised to see Megan Kimmel’s (pre-2015-race interview) name on the entrants list. While she’s long been a force on the national, shorter-distance trail scene, she’s really taken things to a new level in the last year with both ultra-distance and international races. Megan’s got a long history with this race, a DNF in 2012, 10th place in 2013, and second place after a strong battle with Magda last year (interview), where she ultimately finished just under 10 minutes back. Since then, she’s had some success racing in Europe including a win at the Dolomites Skyrace. A couple weekends ago, she won the Moab Trail Marathon, the 2015 USATF Trail Marathon National Championships, looking like she was out for a Sunday jog. The only reason I’m surprised Megan is signed up is because she’s already raced a ton this year. Will her legs be fresh enough to deal with the competition she’ll face?

I wouldn’t put money against Cassie Scallon at the 50-mile distance. In the last year, she’s taken third behind Magda at the 2015 Chuckanut 50k, second at the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (interview), won the 2015 Squamish 50 Mile, and finished fourth and about 30 minutes behind Ellie at Les Templiers.

The high-school track standout turned trail ultrarunner Ashley Erba is just a couple months into her second year of racing trails. She’s been either hot or cold with her performances in the last year. Her strong moments of the last year have been winning the 2015 Moab Red Hot 55k, taking third at the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (interview), and winning the 2015 Audi Power of 4 50k. She’s also turned up injured/physically unable to contend at a couple crucial times–during the 2015 The Rut 50k and at Les Templiers’s starting line. If Ashley can race healthy, she’s a podium contender. [Update November 23: Ashley Erba is rehabbing an injury and won’t be racing.]

We’ve seen Rory Bosio (pre-race interview) race the 50-mile or 50k distances at this race over and over, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen her start the 50-mile distance primed to give it her best shot. I think that’s often because Rory’s raced hard earlier in the year and is already in her off season at this race. Honestly, I have no idea what kind of Rory we’re going to get this weekend, as she’s been relatively quiet on the trail and ultra scene this year, instead opting to participate in obstacle and multi-sport races and film a reality show. If we get a readied Rory, she can race to the podium.

[Added November 27] Italian mountain runner Elisa Desco was just added to the entrants list. I don’t believe she’s raced longer than 46k before, I do think this is her first race in the U.S., and I know this will probably be the flattest trail race she’s participated in, but she is a likely podium favorite. She’s been a regular on the international Skyrunning circuit for years, and this year she finished third in the Sky division of the Skyrunner World Series, including a win of the just-over-a-marathon’s-distance Matterhorn Ultraks. From 2010 to 2012, Elisa served a two-year ban from the IAAF after she tested positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.

Top-10 Potential

I’m really excited about this year’s women’s race and how deep the competition is. Take a look at the ladies who I think will be workin’ it toward a top-1o placing:

Anne-Marie Madden (pre-race interview) was the first gal off last year’s podium. She finished fourth, but a full 35 minutes back of a podium spot. I don’t believe she’s on the elite entrants list yet, but she’s definitely racing. Since her fourth place here last year, Anne-Marie’s finished fourth at the 2015 Chuckanut 50k behind winner Magda and third-place Cassie. And we should not forget that Anne-Marie’s run 1:16-and-change for the half marathon. The lady’s got legs as well as experience with the 50-mile distance and this race course. Can she bridge last year’s longer gap to the podium this year?

Ruth Croft is my darkhorse podium pick, but saying this doesn’t really do her story full justice. We really shouldn’t be surprised if this New Zealander who lives in Taiwan shows up and blows things out of the water. I mean, she’s beaten two superstars this year, Núria Picas at the Tarawera Ultramarathon when Ruth was second (interview) and Núria third, and Magda at the CCC, when Ruth won by 67 minutes (!!) over second-place Magda.

Larisa Dannis

Larisa Dannis

What a year Larisa Dannis has had. Just about a year ago, she broke her leg and had several setbacks in trying to get healthy again in the first half of 2015. She now reports that she’s healthy, but maybe not aerobically back to where she was pre-injury. A couple weeks ago, she ran 2:49 at a road marathon. In September, she took second at the UROC 100k, 22 minutes behind winner Magda. She lives in the area and trains regularly on the course. Perhaps a fresh Larisa might be a very good thing?

It has been fun to watch Nicole Studer expand herself into new-to-her types of races in 2015, including her sixth place at Western States, a 13th at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, and a 10th at Les Templiers. I think the more runnable trails of TNF EC 50 Mile race course are more in her current wheelhouse than what she’s seen in Europe this year, but she’s also raced a heckuva lot already in 2015. She’s definitely top-10 potential if she’s recovered.

In a lot of ways, shorter-distance Bay Area trail star YiOu Wang reminds me of Megan Kimmel circa two years ago. She gave this race a go last year, her first shot at 50 miles, but dropped at mile 30. Then she tried the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April, and that didn’t work out either. One of these days, YiOu is going to nail running 50 miles, and when she does, we should all watch out. In shorter distances this year, she’s finished third at the Way Too Cool 50k and fourth at the 2015 Lake Padden Trail Half, which was this year’s USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships. [Update December 4: YiOu Wang got hurt in a fall last weekend, had to have stitches, and isn’t recovered enough to race. She said she won’t be starting.]

Since finishing fifth and about an hour off the win here last year, Caroline Boller won the 2015 Black Canyon 100k, took fifth at the 2015 Way Too Cool 50k behind third and fourth places YiOu Wang and Anna Mae Flynn, and finished eighth at the 2015 Western States 100. However, Caroline DNFed the Chicago Marathon in October, reporting possible overreaching/overtraining symptoms. Given that wasn’t so long ago and the great success she’s had in the last year, I’m surprised she’s committed to racing next weekend.

Brandy Erholtz - 2012 TNF EC 50 Mile sq

Brandy Erholtz

Brandy Erholtz fans, correct me if my memory is wrong, but I think we’d seen her race here (and the 50-mile distance) just once before, where she finished seventh in 2012. We normally see Brandy kick the pants off competition in shorter-distance trail races. Among her strong 2015 performances, she’s won the U.S. Snowshoe National Championships, taken second at the Mount Washington Road Race, taken fifth at the US Mountain Running Championships, and finished second and fifth respectively at the back-to-back Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. She has the talent to race well next weekend if she can get the extra variables of the 50-mile distance right.

Amanda Basham seems to be strong whenever she turns up to race. This year, she’s been fourth at the Speedgoat 50k, the winner of the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, which served as the 2015 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships, and second at the 2015 Leadville Trail Marathon. In 2014, she cracked the top 10 at this race, finishing ninth, under the name Amanda Brown.

Kerrie Wlad finished this race in 2011, in ninth place, but a lot has changed since then, including a massive increase in women’s competition. Her best performance this year was a fourth at the stacked 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, which indicates pretty massive potential at this race. Also this year, she went 18th at Western States and she won the TransRockies Run6 solo race.

This is going to be Anna Mae Flynn’s first 50 miler, have I got that right? A few weekends ago, she took third at the Moab Trail Marathon a half hour behind winner Megan Kimmel. In theory, this should translate to about an hour for a 50 miler, if Anna Mae keeps her wheels rolling at this new-to-her distance. Given the past couple years, an hour back gets you top 10. Elsewhere this year, she’s been fourth at the Way Too Cool 50k, second at the Audi Power of 4 50k behind winner Ashley Erba, and fifth at The Rut 50k.

Jodee Adams-Moore is one of those enigmatic runners. You never know where she’s going to turn up or exactly how she’s going to run. After a relatively quiet start to 2015, we watched her race to eighth place at the 2015 Les Templiers behind winner Ellie and fourth place Cassie.

Emma Roca - 2015 Western States 100

Emma Roca

Despite her fifth place at Western States this year ahead of such runners who are also racing this weekend like Nicole Studer and Caroline Boller, as well as her win of the 2014 Leadville 100 Mile, I’m listing Spain’s Emma Roca behind them here. Incredibly strong on mountain terrain, we haven’t really seen her race a course as short, flat, and fast as that of the TNF EC 50 Mile. If I were to predict Emma’s race, it would be her starting a bit back, picking up carnage in the latter stages of the race, and finishing right around the 10th-place mark.

I don’t recall Darcy Piceu running the TNF EC 50 Mile before, can anyone confirm or deny? She’s had a big year with lots of racing miles, including a win at the 2015 Red Hot Moab 33k, a win at the 2015 3 Days of Syllamo stage race, a second at the Hardrock 100 (interview), and fifth at the UTMB.

Jo Meek of the U.K. could really do some damage on a course like this. She popped onto the trail-ultra radar some two-and-a-half years ago when she took second at the 2013 Marathon des Sables. Since then, among her races, her best performances have come on the roads with a fifth and a fourth respectively at the 2014 Comrades Marathon and 2014 IAU 100k World Championships. She was injured for the first half of 2015, but seems to be on the right track again. She’s fresh off a second place at the Everest Trail Race, a 100-mile, multi-day stage race in Nepal, which will have finished about two-and-a-half weeks before TNF EC 50 Mile. She picked up a respiratory infection there, but if she turns up healthy here, watch out.

More Women to Keep Your Eyes On

Here are more women who’ll we will see at the pointy end of the field:

Emily Peterson is a local speedster who trains on the race course. She won the the 50k distance at this event last year and was 10th at the 2015 Way Too Cool 50k. We are told by locals to keep our eyes on her, so here’s notice for us all.

Marianne Hogan has two diverse races on her 2015 racing palette, an eighth place at the 2015 NACAC Mountain Running Championships and a win of the 2015 Leadville Trail Marathon ahead of Amanda Basham. She’s a former San Diego State runner.

Word from New England is that we should have our eyes on Liz Gleason. Some of her recent results include a second at the 2015 Ultra-Trail Harricana 65k in Canada, a third at the 2015 Cayuga Trails 50 Mile behind winner Amanda Basham, and a win at the 2014 Mountain Masochist 50 Mile.

As best as I can recall, Meghan Arbogast hasn’t been at this race since her sixth place here in 2010. Meghan’s seventh place at the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile makes me think she’s already called a spot somewhere around 10th place or just beyond the top 10 next weekend. If I were you, I wouldn’t hedge your bet on where Meghan is at mile 5 or 25, but watch for her to move up as the race progresses.

Canada’s Melanie Bos has twice finished this race, a 14th last year and a ninth place the year before. The only time we’ve seen her this year is when she raced off her potential at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. Does anyone have beta on Melanie’s prep ahead of the TNF EC 50 Mile?

Still More Women to Watch

Phew. It’s an entrants list that just doesn’t give up. Here are still more women to watch next weekend:

  • Jen Benna — One previous finish of the TNF EC 50 Mile, 10th place in 2010. Winner 2015 American River 50 Mile, 2nd 2015 Angeles Crest 100 Mile.
  • Christina Clark — 12th 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile, 16th 2012 TNF EC 50 Mile
  • Natalie Ghelfi — Winner 2015 Siskiyou Out Back 50k, which was her first ultra, I believe. This is her 50-mile debut, but she’s married to and has no doubt been getting lots of advice from the more experienced Ryan Ghelfi. [Update November 25: Natalie Ghelfi is not running due to injury issues.]
  • Keely Henninger — Winner 2015 White River 50 Mile, 4th 2015 Moab Red Hot 55k, 3rd 2014 JFK 50 Mile
  • Leslie Howlett — 2nd 2015 Wasatch Front 100 Mile, 6th 2015 Bandera 100k
  • Sarah Kjorstad — 2nd 2015 La Sportiva Mountain Cup
  • Cindy Lynch — Winner 2015 Cuyamaca 100k, 11th 2015 Way Too Cool 50k
  • Kimino Miyazaki — From Japan, winner 2015 STY (shorter sister race to Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji)
  • [Added December 4] Simona Morbelli — From Italy, winner 2015 Zugspitz Ultratrail, 3rd 2015 EcoTrail de Paris
  • Rachel Paquette — From OntarioQuebec, Canada, winner 2015 TNF EC 50 Mile – Ontario
  • Rachel Ragona — Winner 2015 Leona Divide 50 Mile

On Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Hillary Allen – In her off season
  • Kaci Lickteig – In her off season, preparing for 2016 racing
  • Michele Yates – Says she’s tired, ready to shut it down, and prepare for next year.

Call for Comments

  • Who will win? And who do you think will fill out the rest of the podium? Give us your 1, 2, 3 guesses.
  • Who do you think is particularly primed for this race and what makes 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

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.