2016 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Men’s Preview

2016 The North Face Endurance ChallengeAnother December, another visit to where it all began! It was here, at the 2009 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, that iRunFar’s live race coverage was born. Now, seven years and eight-straight editions of this race later, and we’re back at one of North America’s most competitive 50-mile races.

At last year’s race, the world watched Zach Miller (pre-race interview) certifiably crush it. Well, Zach’s back, and also racing are the couple dudes in our sport who can actually give this kid chase right now… Update 11/30: Jim Walmsley has decided not to race. –including that guy called Jim Walmsley. This is the match-up that many of us have been waiting for: two young guns who both run from the heart and alone off the front, both fully able to run themselves into the ground for the sake of the lead and a win. It would be unwise to overlook previous TNF 50 champ, Sage Canaday (pre-race interview), who also has similarly aggressive racing tendencies and who should be fully capable of the win also. Just yesterday, two-time TNF 50 champ Miguel Heras added his name to the fray, and sure as heck he’ll go for it from the gun, as well. The fun and games will definitely not end with the podium race, as I think there are several men–including guys with budding resumes and on-the-cusp capabilities as well some dudes who’ve been around the block a few times–poised to create fascinating storylines in the rest of the men’s top-10 positions.

The North FaceAll of these men 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 3 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S. (That’s Saturday, December 3 at 2:00 p.m. CET in Europe.)

We are expecting additions and subtractions to the elite entrants list between now and race day, which could very well change the nature of the men’s race. We’ll update this preview if this happens, so check back.

Be sure to watch our men’s and women’s pre-race interview shows, read our in-depth women’s race preview, and follow our race-day live coverage.

Many thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible.

The Force is With These Guys

These guys are the real deal, the ones we can count on to heavily influence the race for the men’s podium. The force is definitely strong in these dudes.

2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships - Zach Miller

Zach Miller

As of this publishing, Zach Miller (pre-race interview) isn’t yet confirmed on the entrants list, but he’s told us he plans to race. The TNF 50 defending champ brings an incredible talent to our sport. He made his first big dent on the scene in winning the 2013 JFK 50 Mile in a fashion he questionably had no business running–off the front in a distance with which he had not an inkling of experience. In the spring of 2014, he took on the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile’s competition in an even-more-aggressive manner, taking away a huge win and cementing himself as a mover and shaker in trail ultrarunning. Since then, he’s gone on to win the 2015 CCC and the 2016 Madeira Island Ultra Trail. He didn’t nail his first attempt at racing 100 miles with his gutsy racing style, however. After leading the 2016 UTMB for almost two thirds of the race, Zach blew up, put things back together somewhat, and suffered big to finish a totally respectable sixthUpdate 11/30: Zach is officially on the entrants list now.

Update 11/30: Jim Walmsley has decided to sit TNF 50 out, saying he’s not ready to race again yet after his course-record run at the JFK 50 Mile two weekends ago. He also says he still plans to be at TNF 50 to watch and cheer, however. Back in the summer of 2014, then-brand-marketer, now-photographer Myke Hermsmeyer told us to watch out for a young man named Jim Walmsley. Since then, Jim’s gone on to win the JFK 50 Mile three times, including a ridiculous course-record victory this past weekend. His other performances this year have been nothing short of sport-progressing: a win in a blazing just over six hours at this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and his two FKTs in the Grand Canyon. He’s got one blemish on his 2016 radar, a hugely aggressive run at the Western States course record that went pear shaped over a simultaneous massive slow down in his pace and wrong turn, which took him out of contention for the record and the win. And he does all this with a no-holds-barred approach that makes for great spectating. Indeed, Jim’s a guy to watch and watch out for. Jim and Zach Miller are on similar trajectories: in their previous performances, their off-the-front racing styles, and their running results including JFK and Lake Sonoma wins and blow-up finishes at their first 100 milers. This is sure to be a fascinating match-up.

Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday’s (pre-race interview) almost five years deep into his trail-ultra career and he’s built quite a resume at a number of distances in trail ultrarunning, but I’d argue that his sweet spot is around 50 miles. Cases in point, three third places at Transvulcania (2014 and 2016 interviews), a win at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and win at the 2014 TNF 50. I’m interested to see what racing style Sage uses here. On one hand, he’s got several more years of experience than Zach Miller and Jim Walmsley, so if there’s anyone in his trio who might go off a little more conservatively, I’d wager it would be Sage. On the other hand, at these faster and shorter ultramarathons, recent years are proving that if you want to win a race, you have to stay in relative contact with the lead. How will Sage race if Zach Miller and Jim Walmsley blast off the line and into outer space? We shall soon see. This is going to be such a fun race to spectate.

And then there’s Spain’s Miguel Heras, whose name just showed up on the entrants list. I’m not surprised, though. After his win at Ultra Pirineu this September, he said he’d aim for another shot at TNF 50 since he was just coming into good fitness again after an injury. Miguel is a two-time TNF 50 champ, having won in 2010 and 2012. He has years of success, including a win at Transgrancanaria (2010), Transvulcania (2011), multiple wins of Ultra Pirineu, and a win last month at Les Templiers. Miguel races with quiet ferocity right from the gun and, at 41 years of age, he will definitely put on a show in racing men one-and-a-half decades his junior.

Hold the phone, we’ve got David Laney racing TNF 50. I feel like I’ve been all over the world to see this guy race, but I can’t recall him ever starting or finishing this event. Am I wrong? David’s got great international street cred, including a third and fourth, respectively, at the 2015 and 2016 UTMBs. He’s been 12th at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships and eighth at the 2015 Western States.

Alex Nichols - 2015 Les Templiers

Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols (pre-race interview) has one finish of TNF 50, a fifth place four years ago. Since then, he’s had a helluva run with this sport. He’s twice won the Pikes Peak Marathon. He’s three times been on the Speedgoat 50k podium. He’s been third and fifth, respectively, at the 2014 and 2015 Les Templiers. He was sixth at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. He won the 2015 Mont Blanc 80k. And he won his 100-mile debut at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile this fall.

As of this publishing, France’s Benoît Cori is not yet on the entrants list, but we hear he’s in the process of registering. Many U.S. readers may not be familiar with Benoît and his running accolades, which include two wins of the prestigious Les Templiers (2015 interview) and a fourth place last month at the IAU Trail World Championships in Portugal. Benoît is at home on fast-ish, flat-ish terrain. In Portugal in October, Benoît ran aggressively near or at the front early in the race, much to the surprise of his French fans and followers, who said his typical style is a bit of a slower start. Update, November 30: Benoît is officially on the entrants list now.

Known and Dangerous Quantities

These are the men who have at least one dangerous-to-the-rest-of-the competition tick mark on their trail running resume, and in most cases, several. One or two may challenge for the podium, and certainly most will be in play for the top 10.

Jorge Maravilla

Jorge Maravilla

Is it safe to say that Jorge Maravilla (pre-race interview) is a near shoo-in for the top 10? He was fourth here last year in what was a perfectly executed race, and he’s been seventh at TNF 50 two times before that. His running in 2016 has been strong, including a second place at the Way Too Cool 50k and 10th at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which served as the USATF 50k Trail National Championships. He’s been racing roads, too, with his best finish at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia in 2:21, which was a PR by almost five minutes, if I recall correctly.

Update 11/23: Ryan Smith isn’t racing due to injury. 2015 was a great year for Ryan Smith, who finished fifth here last year in addition to winning the 2015 Sean O’Brien 100k and taking eighth at the 2015 UTMB. His races this year haven’t been quite as strong–though taking 20th at UTMB is nothing to sneeze at these days–but top 10 is doable for him here, we now know.

Look up ‘up-and-comer’ in the dictionary and there’s Cody Reed’s (pre-race interview) name. The former Northern Arizona University runner has had a helluva’ 2016 including wins at the Miwok 100k, the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, and the UROC 100k. His Tamalpa win, which made him the 2016 USATF 50k Trail National Champion, is particularly noteworthy as the field was stacked.

Dan Kraft

Dan Kraft

Dan Kraft has three TNF 50 finishes to his name, a fourth in 2013–which was most certainly a breakout for him–17th in 2014, and seventh last year. So far in 2016, he’s been fourth at the Chuckanut 50k and second at the Flagstaff Skyrace 55k.

 Tim Freriks announced his intentions in the world of trail-ultrarunning last April when he finished second to Jim Walmsley at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in the eighth-fastest time on that course. He followed that up with an eighth at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, the USATF 50k Trail National Championships. Update, November 30: We’d heard two days ago that Tim was sitting TNF50 out due to schooling and not training enough, but we just heard that he plans to race despite feeling not as ready as he would like to be.

If memory serves me, Greece’s Dimitris Theodorakakos has intended to race TNF 50 before, in 2014, but ultimately didn’t make it to the start line. His top international performances include sixth at the 2015 Transvulcania and second at the 2016 Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira.

Added 11/29: Mike Wolfe is a late entrant! The 2011 TNF50 champ and four-time TNF 50 finisher last completed this race in 2013, finishing sixth. He claims to be running ‘off-the-couch’ and for fun, though, but we’ll see what that actually means.

Update 11/26: Mario Mendoza isn’t racing due to a calf issue. Mario Mendoza has intended to race TNF 50 a couple times, but I can’t remember if he decided each time not to start or if he didn’t make it to the finish. Last year, Mario was fourth at the stacked Tamalpa Headlands 50k, the 2015 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, and he won the Moab Trail Marathon, which was the 2015 USATF Trail Marathon National Championships. This year, he’s taken second at the Chuckanut 50k and third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. TNF 50’s terrain should suit Mario perfectly, so I’d expect him to factor in the men’s top five if he’s ready for the race. Problematically, he’s only a bit more than a month out from a rough go of the IAU Trail World Championships in Portugal–he finished but was struggling.

Top-10 Sleepers

Sneaky, sneaky, I think these guys have the potential to sneak into the top 10.

Update 11/23: Chris Mocko is not racing in order to focus on 2017 races. A guy who has had a helluva’ 2016 is Chris Mocko. I gotta’ ask, did this guy even race ultras before this year? I can’t remember seeing his name around before 2016, but now he’s racing everywhere. He’s been third at the 2016 Black Canyon 100k, eighth at the 2016 Way Too Cool 50k, second at the 2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100k, seventh at the 2016 Western States, and then 11th at the 2016 Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon, this year’s USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships. Phew.

2012 UROC 100k - David Riddle

David Riddle

David Riddle is back! If you’re pretty new to trail-ultrarunning, you might not know who this guy is, as he had to sit out almost two years of racing due to a severe injury. He’s been slowly rebuilding his racing fitness with 2016 results including a win at the Georgia Jewel 50 Mile and the Pinhoti 100 Mile. The latter event will have taken place just a month before TNF 50, so I wonder if he will be recovered in time?

Update 11/28: Eric Senseman has decided not to race as he recovers from the IAU 50k World Championships a few weekends ago. What Eric Senseman is good at is not necessarily what he always races. The dude can roll on the flat and fast, but I think he likes to play in the mountains. In 2014 he was third at the JFK 50 Mile, five minutes behind the winner, some dude called Jim Walmsley. He’s also gone 3:06 for 50k at Caumsett in 2015. This November, just three weeks before TNF 50 race day, he took 16th at the IAU 50k World Champs in 3:21. Earlier this year he was ninth at the stacked 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k, the 2016 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, on the roll-y terrain upon which this race is run.

Update 11/23: Tyler Sigl is not racing as he recovers from the IAU Trail World Championships in Portugal last month. We last saw a broken Tyler Sigl at the IAU Trail World Championships at the end of October, where he dropped due to physical issues. He was also here at the 2015 TNF 50 and in the lead pack early before dropping. The dude has stellar results, including a 5:32 50-mile at the 2014 Door County 50 Mile and, I believe, three wins of TNF 50 – Wisconsin. One of these days he’s going to nail one of these hillier, highly competitive events.

Update 12/2: Chris Vizcaino is out with an injury. Chris Vizcaino put his name on the trail-ultra map in 2015 with a eighth at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, the 2015 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, and 11th at the TNF 50. So far this year, he’s taken 13th at the Way Too Cool 50k.

It’s a similar story for Paddy O’Leary. Last year, Paddy ran to ninth at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, the 2015 USATF 50k Trail National Championships, and followed that up with a 13th place here. His best performance in 2016 has been a fourth at the Way Too Cool 50k.

Brett Hales, from Utah and a former Weber State University runner, will be interesting to watch. He’s gone 1:04:31 for the half marathon, he won the 2014 XTERRA Trail Run National Championships, he was second at the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, and he took seventh at the 2016 World Mountain Running Championships. But does he have any ultra experience? I can’t find any results.

Good things come from Utah? Hayden Hawks (pre-race interview) will add some color to the men’s race. The recent Southern Utah University grad has had quite the 2016 of trail racing: he’s taken fourth at the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, he won the 2016 Speedgoat 50k, and he was fourth 2016 World Mountain Running Championships. I don’t think he’s raced longer than 50k, though.

Last year, Mark Hammond snuck inside the top 20 here, taking 19th. And what a year he’s had since then. He won the 2016 Squaw Peak 50 Mile, took second at the 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, and won at the 2016 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile… but that final race was just a month ago.

More Fast Dudes to Watch

  • Dan Berteletti — 10th 2015 Speedgoat 50k; 4th 2015 TNF 50k – California; 5th 2016 Red Hot Moab 55k
  • Noah Brautigam — 4th 2016 Power of Four 50k; 11th 2016 The Rut 50k
  • Brian Condon — 7th 2014 Bandera 100k; 3rd 2014 Ice Age 50 Mile in 5:58; 24th 2015 TNF 50
  • Brian Gillis — 3rd 2015 TNF 50k – California; 7th 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k
  • Tyler Green — Winner 2016 Waldo 100k; numerous Pacific Northwest podium finishes in past two years
  • Lindsay Hamoudi — 35th and 42nd at TNF 50 in 2013 and 2015, respectively; 11th 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile in 15:19; 2nd 2016 Pine to Palm 100 Mile
  • Vlad Ixel — 12th 2016 Transvulcania; 3rd 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k; 12th 2014 Ice Trail Tarentaise Added 11/30
  • Moises Jimenez — A Chilean who spent the summer racing the U.S. Skyrunning Series in the U.S., 5th 2016 Flagstaff Skyrace 55k; 10th 2016 The Rut 50k
  • Kiril Nikolov — Better known as a high-level Bulgarian orienteering racer; 2nd 2016 The Rut 28k; 3rd 2016 Limone Skyrace; appears he’s run at least one 70k ultra
  • Dylan Peterson — 10th 2016 Way Took Cool 50k
  • Jim Rebenack — 5th 2016 Pikes Peak Marathon; 4th 2016 Flagstaff Skyrace 55k
  • Gustavo Reyes — 12th 2015 Leadville 100 Mile; 1st 2016 La Mision 100 Mile; winner 2016 TNF 50 – Argentina
  • Justin Ricks has decided not to race. Updated 11/29 Justin Ricks — 1st 2016 Run Through Time Marathon; 4th 2016 Flagstaff Skyrace 39k
  • David Ryland — 3-time Buckeye Trail 50k winner; appears to be from Ohio but is post-collegiate after running for the University of North Carolina – Asheville
  • Scott Spillman — 2nd 2016 Moab Red Hot 33k; 8th 2016 Pikes Peak Marathon
  • Benjamin Stern — 1st 2015 Miwok 100k; 7th 2015 Tamalpa Headlands 50k; 4th 2016 Black Canyon 100k; 6th 2016 Gorge Waterfalls 100k; 17th 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k
  • Riccardo Tortini — 3rd 2016 Pine to Palm 100 Mile; numerous podium finishes in Pacific Northwest
  • Brendan Trimboli — Winner 2016 Telluride Mountain Run; winner 2016 Squamish 50k
  • Stephen Wassather — 4th 2016 Bandera 100k; winner 2016 Sean O’Brien 100k
  • Coree Woltering — Just ran a blazing 5:30 at the Tunnel Hill 50 Mile a couple weeks ago after running 6:18 there a year ago; I think the guy is on his way up in the sport

On Entrants List, But Not Racing

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Who is going to win The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships this year?
  • Who will make up the men’s podium?
  • Who will surprise with a breakout performance?
  • Anyone you know on these lists who isn’t racing? Let us know!
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.