Over the past few weeks, the women’s field at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships has steadily improved. The race now features the past two women’s winners, another former multi-time podium finisher, two top foreign runners, and a heck of a lot of depth behind them. Finishing in the top ten will be quite the feat for anyone, while there’ll be quite the fight of the podium spots, which feature $15,000 in combined prize money for the women.
Always fast for the leaders, this year’s course looks to be a bit faster with some of the early singletrack replaced by dirt road. Still, everyone will still have to climb (and descend) more than 11,000 feet (3,300m) over the 50 miles through California’s Marin Headlands northwest of the San Francisco Bay.
The race starts on Saturday, December 3 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’ll, of course, be covering it.
It’s worth noting that there are likely to be numerous folks on this list who don’t make it to the start line. Looking back at our 2014 women’s preview, of the initial thirteen women in the two highest tiers of our preview six didn’t start, while we did have one addition by way of a late entry. There was a bit less DNS action atop our preview last year, but there were a few. On the other hand, there’ve been a few notable additions to the race in the week ahead of us publishing this preview with more to possibly come.
Many thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible.
It’ll be pretty awesome to watch the past two women’s winners take on a bunch of other women who are headliners in their own right. Here’s who I think could challenge for the win and the $10,000 top prize.
Over four years, Megan Kimmel (pre-race interview) steadily worked her way up from a DNF to 10th to second and on to a win at last year’s TNF 50. And as good as Kimmel’s 2015 was, she’s had at least as strong a year this year with wins at the Yading Skyrun, Power of Four 50k, The Rut 28k, and Limonextreme. She’s also been runner up at the Zegama and Moab Trail Marathons. The last race, which is also her most recent may be her biggest hiccup, as she ran 3:43 on a course where she’s run 3:27 each of the past two years. If that was merely an off day, Megan’s surely had a season that suggests that she could repeat as TNF champion.
Magda Boulet’s (pre-race interview) 2016 has not matched up with her success over the preceding year and change. In part, that’s because of the hard comparison she created for herself. In late 2014 and 2015, she won the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships, Chuckanut 50k, and Western States 100 (interview) while taking second at the CCC. However, she’s dropped out of last year’s TNF 50 as well as this year’s Western States 100. While she has some wins at smaller races, Magda’s fifth place at UTMB in August is arguably her best performance so far this year. She also battled through a sprained ankle to take third at the Speedgoat 50k in July. Let’s not forget that Boulet was also second at the TNF 50 in 2013.
Over the past year and a half, Ida Nilsson (pre-race interview) has shown her breadth of ultrarunning skills from taking second in the fast and flat Ultravasan 90k last year in her ultra debut to winning much more mountainous The Rut 50k in September in dominating fashion. Her best ultra performance to date came in winning the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in May, while she also won the Mont Blanc Marathon in June.
Although she was runner up at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2015, Ruth Croft (pre-race interview) really put herself on the ultra map when she bested Boulet to win the CCC last year and cemented her position as a top ultrarunner with her fourth-place finish at last year’s TNF 50. This year, she’s gone on to take third at Transvulania, second at Trofeo Kima, and first at the MSIG Hong Kong 50k. I still consider Croft’s star to be ascendent.
After an amazing run of things in 2014 and 2015, Stephanie Howe Violett (pre-race interview) has been largely absent since taking eighth at last year’s UTMB. The good news is Stephanie’s feeling strong again, having won the Elk-Kings 50k in last October. As she’s no stranger to the TNF 50 course, having taken second in 2012 and third in 2014, her quiet 2016 could leave her rested and extra eager come race day. Remember, she also won the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile just last year.
While I’ve long thought of Cassie Scallon as at her best at 50 miles, I know have to say 50 miles to 100k, as this spring she won the Bandera 100k for the second time, running 21 minutes faster than her 2012 win, while placing second at the 90-kilometer Ultravasan in Sweden in August. She didn’t run up to her potential in placing 12th at the 76-kilometer Les Templiers in October, a race she placed fourth at last year. Cassie’s also won (2013) and been second (2015) at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, so a podium is well within her range on the right day.
We’ve not crossed paths with Kasie Enman at an ultra since she took second at The Rut 50k back in September 2014. While she’s had a couple good runs at the White Face Skyraces in New York the past two summers, her runner-up finish at the surprisingly strong Tamalpa 50k field in the Marin Headlands in late August is a better indication of her relative fitness. While I could be wrong, I believe this will be Kasie’s first go at a race longer than 50k. If that’s correct, I think it makes a win less likely, but I wouldn’t put a podium finish past Kasie.
Up and Comers
This year’s TNF 50 might be a good chance for one or most of the sport’s rising talents to make herself more of a household name. Here are some of the women with that potential.
I probably underestimate Anna Mae Flynn as I’ve not seen her best efforts. For instance, the past two years she’s been fourth and, then, third at Way Too Cool. Last year, she was second at the Power of Four 50k, fifth at The Rut 50k, and third at the Moab Trail Marathon. She ran what was arguably her best ultra to date in placing third at Lake Sonoma in April. On the other hand, she did drop from Western States in June.
Update 11/28: Emily Peterson won’t be running this year’s TNF 5o.
Last year’s TNF 50 looks to have been Emily Peterson’s breakout race. Yes, she’d won a bunch of 50ks in Northern California and been 10th at the Way Too Cool 50k in March, but taking fifth at The North Face Championships was huge. Peterson’s continued on her roll this year, placing fifth at the Lake Sonoma 50, seventh at the Broken Arrow Skyrace, and sixth at the Tamalpa 50k.
If you’ve heard of Clare Gallagher, it’s most likely from her win at the Leadville 100 in August in an impressive time of 19-hours flat. Before that she’d run only a handful of ultras between 50 and 66 kilometers, but all with solid results. At only 25 years old and barely a year-and-a-half (and five races?) into her ultra career, we’re unlikely to have see what Clare’s capable of yet.
At only 24, Keely Henninger has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with. In fact, she did that out of the gate in running 7:19 to place second at the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile in 2013, which I believe was her ultra debut. A year later, she followed that up with a third at the JFK 50 Mile. She really came into her own last year, when she was fourth at the Moab Red Hot 55k, won the White River 50 Mile, and capped the year with a seventh-place finish at the TNF 50. She’d continued that momentum into this year with a fourth at the Chuckanut 50k and a third at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k. Her lone stumble this year was placing ninth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace.
Update 11/23: Amanda Basham won’t be running this year’s TNF 5o. She’ll be running the marathon instead (per Amanda’s comment below).
There are only two women’s in this year’s TNF 50 who have been in the top ten the past two years: Megan Kimmel and Amanda Basham, who was ninth in 2014 and tenth last year. (Anne-Marie Madden was also top ten both years, but isn’t registered this year.) Amanda’s had strong results in 2016 with a second at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k and a fourth at the Western States 100. Her 26-hour sixth place at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in September isn’t on par with the rest of her recent accomplishments.
Unregistered but hoping to race, Lindsay Tollefson certainly has the speed to find success in the Marin Headlands. She’s been sixth and fourth in the past two runnings of the Way Too Cool 50k and took fourth at the unusually competitive Tamalpa Headlands 50k in late August. As far as we know, she’s only run one 50 miler, having taken sixth at Lake Sonoma last year.
Since winning the Vermont 50 Mile in September 2014, Sarah Keyes has been on the rise. Last year, she was most notably third at the Whiteface SkyMarathon and fourth at the Flagstaff Skyrace. This year, she’s won the Broken Arrow Skyrace, again placed third at the Whiteface Skyrace, won the Power of Four 50k, and been second at the Flagstaff Skyrace. Along the way and amongst many other races, she finished her first 100 miler at Cascade Crest in August.
While Laura Kline has been winning ultras for a couple years now, she first ran against higher level competition in taking fourth at the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile last June. This year, she was second at the Caumsett 50k in 3:40 before improving to third at the Cayuga Trails 50, cutting 23 minutes from her time along the way.
Julia Stamps — Yes, THAT Julia Stamps if you’re runner of a certain age — is back to run the TNF 50 for the second time. Two years ago she made her ultra debut at the race and took at strong seventh in 8:24. Early this year she took on the 50-mile distance again at Lake Sonoma where she finished sixth in 8:05.
Update 12/2: Rory Bosio is not racing.
If we’re honest, the TNF 50 ain’t Rory Bosio’s bowl of rainbow jello. She’s run the 50 miler at least three times after the race’s inaugural year (she was sixth in 2007) with her best finish being eighth back in 2011. Since then she’s been 17th in 2012 and 19th in 2015. She races ultras less frequently of late, having been 14th at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in June and third at the TNF 50k in Utah in September. That said, Rory’s cranked out enough top finishes at UTMB, Western States, Lake Sonoma, and Way Too Cool… just to name a few, that a motivated Rory could readily find herself on the podium.
When I think of Nicole Kalogeropoulos (formerly Studer), I tend to think of 100 milers, largely because of her 15:42 at Rocky Raccoon followed by her American-record 14:22 there the following year to go along with her sixth at Western States in 2015. That said, she did run 6:27 at the Brazos Bend 50 Mile last year and she’s already won the Marin Ultra Challenge and Hells Hills 50 Milers in 2016. This autumn, she’s taken third at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and 13th at Les Templiers.
Sandi Nypaver had a strong run in ultras between 2010 and 2014, including a 12th at the TNF 50 in 2012, second at the Cayuga Trails 50 in 2013, and a win at the Ice Age 50 Mile in 2011. Then, Sandi lost her 2015 season to rehabilitative Achilles surgery before coming back strong. She was fourth at the Kendall Mountain Run in July, third at the Flagstaff Skyrace in October, and, recently, fourth at the Moab Trail Marathon less than three minutes behind Megan Kimmel.
Other Women to Watch
- Jenn Benna — It’s been another steady year for Jenn with third places at the Sean O’Brien 100k and Leadville 100.
- Tara Berry — In 2016, 10th at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, 2nd at Fat Dog 120, 2nd Overlook 50k
- Anne Bouchard — A late addition to the entrants list, 6th 2016 TNF 50 Mile-New York, 22nd at the 2016 UTMB Added 11/30
- Alexis Braun — Improved to second (7:56) at White River 50 Mile in 2016 from sixth (9:30) in 2014.
- Megan Chamoun — TNF 50: 12th in 2012 and 25th in 2014; Sean O’Brien 100k: 7th in 2015, 4th in 2016; winner 2015 Ray Miller 50k; 2nd Way Too Cool 50k 2012
- Molly Culver — Four-straight wins at TNF EC-50 Mile in Wisconsin. 21st at TNF 50 Mile Champs in 2013.
- Rachel Drake — 25 y/o who’s been 1st or 2nd at her three 50ks in Oregon
- Karen Holland — Cayuga Trails 50 Mile: 5th in 2015 and 8th in 2016; 6th JFK 50 Mile 2015; 3rd Ultra-Trail Harricana (125km) 2016
- Annie Jean — 1st Ultra-Trail Harricana 65km 2016
- Kristyn Kadala — 24 y/o prolific racer with lots of podium finishes in the Bay Area; 17th TNF 50 2015; 10th Broken Arrow Skyrace 2016
- Felice Kelly — 5th Way Too Cool 50k 2016
- Cindy Lynch — Frequent SoCal ultra winner in past two years; 10th and 11th previous two Way Too Cool 50ks; 3rd 2016 San Diego 100 Mile
- Kim Magnus — 1st 2014 Squamish 50 Mile (interview); 1st 2015 Squamish 50k; plenty of other wins in British Columbia
- Leah Maher — 1st 2016 KTA Trail Challenge 50k; 2nd 2016 Blues Cruise 50k
- Helene Michaux — 12th 2015 TNF EC 50 Mile; 1st 2016 TNF 50 Mile-DC; 2nd 2015 TNF 50 Mile-NY
- Rachel Paquette — Late addition to the entrants list, 2nd 2016 TNF 50 Mile-DC, 16th here last year Added 11/30
- Paige Pattillo — 3rd 2016 White River 50 Mile; lots of trail wins in Pacific Northwest; 7th 2016 UD Dirty 30 Mile
- Ellie Pell — 25 y/o who’s won her first two 50ks in the Mid-Atlantic
- Amy Phillips — Frequent podium finisher in NorCal ultras; 14th 2016 Western States 100; 22nd 2012 TNF 50
- Elizabeth Simpson — 24 y/o with three ultras: two wins and a second, including a 7:11 50 mile
- Denali Strabel — 7th 2016 The Rut 50k; 5th 2015 Mount Marathon Race; 4th 2016 Whoos in El Moro 50k
- Anne Wheatly — Lots of podium finishes in the Southeast; 8th 2016 Speedgoat 50k; 12th 2016 Broken Arrow Skyrace
- Arden Young — 5th 2016 The Rut 50k
Entered But Not Racing
- YiOu Wang – Injury
Call for Comments
- Who’s going to end up on the women’s podium at the end of the day?
- Which woman is most likely to surprise everyone at this year’s TNF 50?
- Please let us know if you we’ve listed someone who you know won’t be racing.