2017 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Men’s Preview

The North Face

Can you believe it’s again time for the end-of-year-North-American blowout that is The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships? We can’t.

Big changes are at hand for the 2017 edition of the TNF 50. First, the event takes place several weekends earlier. And perhaps most importantly, the race has a shiny new course. The new route begins in downtown Sausalito before heading over into the Marin Headlands and running many of the same trails as before. The race will end with a fast, paved jaunt across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to a new finish line at historic Crissy Field in San Francisco. The new course rings in at 50.7 miles in length and with 10,400 feet of climb. For perspective, the 2016 course was just over 49 miles long and with 9,300-ish feet of climb. What isn’t changing, however, is the prize purse, a payout of $15,000 for the top-three men, with 10k of that going to the winner.

The race takes place on Saturday, November 18 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S. (That’s Saturday, November 18 at 2:00 p.m. CET in Europe.) Follow our live race coverage come race day.

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 read our in-depth women’s preview.

A special thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible!

Thanks, too, to Jaybird and GU Energy Labs for supporting our coverage of TNF 50.

Previous TNF 50 High Performers

2016 TNF 50 - Zach Miller

Zach Miller

Zach Miller’s (pre-race interview) back! His name was added to the entrants list within the last day or two, and oh yeah I’m excited because he was one of the key players in what has to be the most entertaining race in modern trail and ultra history at this race last year–the wire-to-wire race between he and Hayden Hawks. This will be Zach’s fourth time in a row at TNF 50, as he was 11th in his debut here in 2014, and then he won in both 2015 and 2016 (interview, race report). It’s been a bit of a rocky road for Zach since this race last year as he injured his back and it required a long recovery. In early September, he battled to ninth place at UTMB. He says he’s been training hard, though, and Zach only knows one speed, so watch out.

2016 TNF 50 - Hayden Hawks

Hayden Hawks

We called Hayden Hawks (pre-race interview) something of an ultra prodigy before TNF 50 last year, and he showed that he’d been studying well with his fight-to-the-end second place. In the year that’s passed since, Hayden has ran on some high highs and low lows. Amongst his highs this year, he set a course record at the Moab Red Hot 55k, dueled hard with Max King to finish second at the Chuckanut 50k, and won the CCC in a massive new record time. And his lows of 2017, a blow-up at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon and a death march at the IAU Trail World Championships. His fall training has looked on point, so I suspect this is going to be real interesting.

Miguel Heras won’t be racing the TNF 50 this year. [Updated 11/9] With Spain’s Miguel Heras, you have no idea what you’re going to get. He’s been champ here twice, back in 2010 and 2012And he’s been either a last-minute DNS or an in-race DNF at least four other times at TNF 50. Last fall, Miguel was on fire with wins of Ultra Pirineu and Les Templiers. If I remember correctly, he came all the way to San Fran for TNF 50, but didn’t start the race. Probably his best 2017 performance so far was a second place at the Reventon El Paso, an early season barnburner for Spanish runners on the island of La Palma. Does anyone out there have intel on Miguel?

Spain’s Tòfol Castanyer has one TNF 50 finish, a fourth place in 2014. After closing out 2016 with a bang in finishing eighth place at the IAU Trail World Championships, he’s not had a 2017 that matches his potential. He suffered hard to finish 11th at Western States and DNFed UTMB. While both he and countrymate/friend Miguel are well into the masters category, both have had no issue putting the hurt on younger runners, and I think his absolute potential in this field is top five.

Max King - 2015 US Mountain Running Championships

Max King

There are a lot of things about Max King’s (pre-race interview) athletic feats that I’m never going to understand simply because his diverse success defies logic. World Mountain Running Champion in 2011. Sixth place at the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. 2:14 marathon PR. North American 100k record holder, which he earned in winning the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships (interview, race report). Don’t forget that experimentation phase he had with obstacle-course racing in which he won the 2014 and 2015 Warrior Dash World Championships. But in all these years of watching Max, there is one thing I do know: when he doesn’t get something right, he repeats it until he does. Here we are with TNF 50, a race Max hasn’t yet gotten right. Twice he’s started, and in 2013 he finished an off-par 11th and in 2015 he DNFed. Amongst a strong 2017 season, probably his best performances were his course-record-setting wins of the FOURmidable 50k and Chuckanut 50k.

Paddy O’Leary (pre-race interview), of Ireland but living in the U.S., has two previous TNF 50 finishes, 13th in 2015 and ninth last year. Earlier this year, he was a strong sixth at the Way Too Cool 50k and a couple months ago he finished 14th at the CCC. He could go inside the top 10 again, I think.

It sounds like Cody Reed is not planning to race anymore, to focus on future races. [Updated 11/8] Here’s an interesting one, Cody Reed. He seems to be a little hit or miss in general, but when he’s on, he’s on. He was a bit of a miss last year at TNF 50 with a 16th place. His hits in the year since have included a win of the 2017 Way Too Cool 50k and a 15th place at the IAU Trail World Championships. Cody’s Trail World Champs run was fun to watch; on a tough course, he held it together to help represent Team USA. What’s his TNF 50 potential? Honestly, I have no idea.

Yeah, This is a Fascinating Group of Dudes

Tim Freriks

Moving past the men with previous TNF 50 experience, this next group represents fast men who add a fascination factor in watching the men’s race play out, and Tim Freriks (pre-race interview) certainly fits this category. Tim DNFed last year, ultimately not quite prepared to go the distance after trying to negotiate training and life’s other priorities. This year, Tim’s been training steadily, and the results are showing. His best performances this year have been a win of Transvulcania and setting the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim FKT. Before fading out of the race last year, Tim ran with the leaders. We should see him there for much longer this time.

For all the years Mario Mendoza has been trail racing, he’s yet run the TNF 50. [Clarified 11/7] While Mario tends to race in the shorter-distance trail-racing realm, he’s proven his ability in middle and longer distances, too, examples being his third place at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and his 14:41 finish at the 2017 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. He’s had a solid 2017, with his top performances being a ninth place at the IAU Trail World Championships and a win this past weekend at the Moab Trail Marathon.

Chris Mocko, can we let his 2017 be an example of why most ultrarunners probably need jobs? I mean, he had a helluva’ pun-intended run of things: second at the 2017 Way Too Cool 50k, third at Lake Sonoma, and a win of the UROC 100k. At the same time, he wasn’t working, he was running other not-insignificant-distance races, and he was training at high mileage. It was a recipe for implosion, and, unfortunately, that’s what happened at Western States, where he finished but way back. All things Chris seemed to go quiet for a while (how this is possible, we don’t know), but he has recently emerged with what might be a new job in a new state and a steady training program. I am eager to see how Chris does.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is out with an injury. [Updated 11/7] Patrick Smyth gave 50 miles his first shot earlier this year at Lake Sonoma, but dropped mid-race. It looks like he wants to give the distance another run! Apparently his Lake Sonoma bobble was not an issue for the rest of his racing season, as he’s been running well all summer long. In June, he was second at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships. In July, he was seventh at the World Mountain Running Championships. Then, in September, Pat took a super strong fourth at the Marathon Pirineu. With so much success at shorter-distance trail running, it’s just a matter of time before a guy like him nails 50 miles.

Not yet of legal drinking age, Tayte Pollman has been all over the shorter-distance trail scene the last couple years, and on fire in 2017. His best performances this year have been win of the 2017 Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k and a third place at the 2017 World Mountain Running Long Distance Championships. This will be Tayte’s debut at 50 miles, though he’s run some 50k-ish races that run ‘long,’ so he’s practiced in the approximate time on feet. He definitely adds an interesting flavor to the men’s competition.

Mark Hammond - 2017 Western States 100

Mark Hammond

Mark Hammond has three TNF 50 finishes, 25th in 2014, 19th in 2015, and 19th again last year. While 2016 was a strong year of ultrarunning for him, 2017 has been even better. He podiumed at the 2017 Western States in taking third! He also took second at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile for the second year in a row. I could see him running into the back of the top 10 on his best day.

Canada’s Nick Elson is running TNF 50! He has a diverse skill set in generally mountainous terrain. A competitive ski-mountaineering racer, Nick has also twice finished top five at the gnarly and competitive Mount Marathon in Alaska. Nick’s top 2017 results are a third at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k behind first- and second-place Tayte Pollman and Tim Freriks and a win of the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run 30 Mile.

More Fast Men’s Entrants

Whoa, Australia’s Blake Hose is on TNF 50’s entrants list? Can anyone comment and let us know how he’s been doing the last couple years? The last we saw of him was more than two years ago when he took third at Transvulcania in 2015.

Midwestern speedster Tyler Sigl has years of super-fast runs around his home turf, but he hasn’t yet reached his potential beyond his region. He started but DNFed last year’s TNF 50 and this year’s IAU Trail World Championships. Notably, he ran well to a fifth place at this year’s stacked Chuckanut 50k.

TNF 50 is almost an annual adventure for Bob Shebest, as he has at least five finishes. Among his 2017 of racing, he’s been third at the Georgia Death Race, a winner at the Canyons 100k, and a winner again at the Tahoe Rim 50 Mile.

Scott Trummer will be a DNS with an injury. [Updated 11/16] I’ve yet to watch Scott Trummer race, but I am looking forward to it after seeing his name all over California race results in recent years. He seems to be a shorter-distance specialist, though he’s ventured to 50 miles at least once in winning the American River 50 Mile earlier this year. Before that, he was also third at the 2017 Way Too Cool 50k behind winner Cody Reed and second-place Chris Mocko.

Still More Men to Watch

  • Mathieu Blanchard (Canada) — Winner 2017 TNF 50 – New York
  • Reed Breuer — 4th 2017 Tamalpa Headlands 50k
  • Kris Brown — Winner San Diego 100 Mile; 2nd 2017 Tamalpa Headlands 50k
  • Cody Callon — Winner 2016 Zion 100k
  • Lee Cordova — 5th 2016 Leadville Trail 100 Mile
  • Matt Daniels — Winner 2017 Flagline 50k
  • Masazumi Fujioka — 23rd 2016 TNF 50; 3rd 2017 HURT 100 Mile
  • Tyler Fox — Winner 2017 Never Summer 100k, 8th 2017 The Rut 50k
  • Mario Fraioli — 4th 2014 TNF 50k – San Francisco
  • Colton Gale — Winner 2017 Waldo 100k and 2017 Vermont 50 Mile
  • Brian Gillis — 18th 2016 TNF 50
  • Ron Gutierrez — Winner 2017 Zion 100k
  • Lindsay Hamoudi — Winner 2017 Cascade Crest 100 Mile
  • Daichi Inoue – 2nd 2017 TNF 50 – Massachusetts
  • Moises Jimenez — 5th 2016 Flagstaff Skyrace 55k
  • Kei Kikushima (Japan) — 2nd 2016 Hasetsune Cup
  • Keita Kobayashi (Japan) — 9th 2015 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
  • Hal Koerner — You know, it’s Hal Koerner; 12th 2016 JFK 50 Mile [Added 11/13]
  • Keith Laverty — 9th 2017 Chuckanut 50k
  • David Lenahan — 19th 2016 TNF 50
  • Dirk Marple — 2nd 2017 TNF 50 – Wisconsin
  • David McKay — 4th 2015 JFK 50 Mile
  • Clark Messman — Winner 2016 Mountain Masochist 50 Mile; 2nd 2017 Never Summer 100k
  • Jack Sikkema (Canada) — Winner and 2nd, respectively, at the 2016 and 2017 Run for the Toad 50k
  • Allan Spangler — 9th 2015 TNF 50; lots of successful shorter-distance trail racing in his Alaska home
  • Adrian Spencer — 2nd 2017 TNF 50 – Washington D.C. [Updated 11/7]
  • Stephen Wassather — Winner 2016 Sean O’Brien 100k; 4th 2017 Bandera 100k

On the Entrants List but Not Running

  • Dakota Jones

Call for Comments

  • Who will win the men’s race? And who will fill the rest of the podium?
  • How do you see the race playing out?
  • Who will break out on the big stage?
  • Is there anyone who is particularly fit? Or someone you know not racing? Leave a comment and let us know!
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor 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.

There are 43 comments

  1. Fernando B.

    Miguel Heras broke Marco de Gasperis course record in Sant Antony de Portmany’s “Ibiza Trail Marathon” in 3:31 this last October. ;D
    Fernando B.

  2. Adrian Spencer

    While it’s very nice to see ones name on a list like this, even as a teeny footnote*, I’m gutted to say that I’m not running this year as I’ve spent most of my fall recovering from an awful, freak, very bad, no-good, terrible-but-could-have-been-way-worse knee injury at ES100.

    Can’t wait to follow the coverage! So many incredible runners to watch! Thanks for everything you do!

    *Hoping to do some awesome stuff in 2018 that’ll compel a sentence or two in this preview next year :)

  3. Dan DeLion

    Either side of his UTMB DNF, Tofol Castanyer won the Swiss Alpine 78k in July (a race that Jonas Buud has won for the past hundred or so years), then also popped up with an October win at the Majorca marathon in 2.25

    I was in those races, and never saw him once!

    1. Sebastian

      Saw him at the SwissAlpine, awesome win. Not to forget, this dude is 45 years old with three little kids – the Jeff Browning of Mallorca, if you will.

  4. Rich

    Thanks for the preview, Meghan.

    I just want to note that Tyler Sigl has performed well **outside his region.** In June 2016, he won the US 50m trail championships at Cayuga Trails (Ithaca, NY) in a course record of 6:44, topping the times of Sage, Flaherty, Vargo, Burdick, Mendoza, and Bowman. Not too shabby. He’s definitely struggled in a couple west coast and European races, but the potential is there.

  5. Ben

    I’ll predict Miller, Hayden, Smyth, and Freriks form the lead pack. Two fall back and/or blow up while two battle for the win late. Everyone else is chasing hoping for blowups.
    As always this should be an amazing race with so many top, top speedsters at the 50 mile distance.

  6. Anders

    Miguel Heras is running the Marato del Montseny in Catalunya (Spain) this weekend (I will be there too, but not to compete for the win..), will be a definite test of his form, since despite the fact the competition is not a fierce as TNF, it’s a mountaineous 45K with some 9000 feet of climbing

        1. Nick

          Right… his history of DNF/DNS provides ample evidence of his being made of stone. It’s a shame because he clearly has the ability to be among the best.

  7. John XC

    I think that race has 4 guys that are clearly above the rest for that combination of distance/terrain/current shape: Miller, Hawks, King and Freriks. I think if those guys run their own race and do not kill each other too early that they will be top 3-4. The next group would be Mocko, Mendoza and Smyth. Those would be around the 5th place. And then we have everybody else.

  8. dooder

    Hawks has to be the favorite going into this. The kid hasn’t raced poorly once if his training is looking good. Only hiccup was a poor shoe choice against Max at a muddy Chuckanut and still went under the CR.

      1. dooder

        Yeah, I agree completely. But that just speaks to Hayden’s quality. Dude beat the CR, just behind Max, in the mud, with ROAD FLATS on.

  9. Moose

    Blake Hose has spent several years trawling the overage nightclubs of Geelong, Victoria asking if anybody would you like to come to his Mummy and Daddy’s house to see his collection of snakes (he has 5).
    It’s been a long 2 years for the boy but he’s rolling again.

  10. Gary Gellin

    How hard is the pace at the start of this race (one might wonder)? The first climb on the traditional course, Bobcat Trail, is a 7% grade for 2.0 miles. Hayden Hawks ran up it at 6:41 mpm pace. Picture that effort with 6 more hours of running still to go.

  11. Myke

    Underrated in terms of background talent is Matt Daniels – 3:59 miler, 13:50 5k, 1:03:43 half marathon. Focused on shorter distance trail races without much of an ultrarunning history. Don’t think has ever run 50 miles, but his recent Flagline 50k time is mixed in good company near 2014 Tollefson/Bak/Laney and 2011/2012 King. Was 2nd behind Joe Grey at the 2016 USATF 30K and beat Hayden in both of their first mountain races (2016 USATF Mountain Running Championships) just a week or two before Hayden had his breakout race at Speedgoat. He’s been floating between Boulder and Texas the last year but is now settled in Hawaii. Don’t know what his training has been like there but if he’s fit I can see him running towards the front and it would be awesome to see him have a breakout race.

  12. Sam Robinson

    Insider NorCal comment: Paddy O’Leary has run some blazing fast efforts at a few local cross country races. Obviously, there is a big difference between a cross meet and an ultra, but it is worth noting that Paddy has been rubbing shoulders with some NCAA All-Americans and sub 29-minute 10K guys. He is fit!

  13. Amanda

    LAME on the shiny new course. For those of us who started trail running in the Headlands, having the start in Sausalito and the finish across the GG bridge and in SF negates the whole trail running community feel. A few years ago I did a 20 mile run on my own from SF over the bridge and around the Headlands and back… and I never did it again. Start and finish in the Headlands, not in some high-profile area where you can get more advertising due to spectators in ritzy areas at the start and finish. I’m primarily bashing on the North Face here for selling out.

    iRunFar is awesome. Thank you for all the coverage.

    1. Sebastian

      Can already see where this is heading: Let´s have the TNF Indoor Classic 50K on a stock-car track with two fantasic water hazards and a replica of the giant sequoia. Sunday Special – all tickets get a stylish trucker head for free.

    2. random runner

      The course change was due to permitting, no? That’s what I heard when I was in the Bay Area a few months ago. I know it’s particularly tricky to secure permitting when a race crosses multiple park jurisdictions.

      Not sure if that’s the case but someone else might be able to follow-up. I definitely wouldn’t want to be in a full out track meet on the bridge to the finish.

    3. Stoke factor

      I actually think a few miles of bridge will be an uplifting way to cap off the 50.7 and it’s not as if the headlands are a remote wilderness or anything. Plus the bridge could provide an interesting sprint finish for the elites. I’m just happy that the race is happening at all, due to permit issues it sounds like the choice was the new route or nothing. It’s gonna be great!

      1. Amanda

        If you’ve ever run over the bridge on the pedestrian footpath (much less tried to bike it), it’s a total mob. There will be no sprinting involved at the finish…

    4. Tropical John

      The GGNRA is no longer allowing the event to use the area where the finish line has historically been, hence the change. I don’t the reason for this change in policy. Finding staging areas for a finish line of an event of this size is not easy.

      Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of the race will be a blessing and a curse. For those from outside the area, crossing the bridge on foot is iconic, and the views are truly world-class. But – and this is a huge but – on a typical Saturday afternoon the east sidewalk is chockablock with gawking tourists who will have no idea how to get out of the way of a steady stream of runners. This will especially be a problem for the leaders, who are sure to be running sub-6-minute miles here. I have no idea how the organizers are going to try to provide clean passage, it’s a daunting task to be sure.

    5. Jared

      As a mid-pack runner I’m happy about the course change. I’ll miss the gorgeous section out to McKenna Gulch and back, but won’t miss the 4 miles of oncoming traffic. While I agree the bridge running may suck if it’s crowded with pedestrians (especially for the leaders running sub-6:00 miles at the end), I’m optimistic it will give a nice mental lift at mile 47. IMO the Fort Barry location was not conducive to a race of this size and stature, the finish line “festival” was a joke last year. Facilities were lacking, you had no cell reception to try and meet back up with friends/family/rides after. Seemed like everyone just finished and left, not much in the way of community. I welcome the new Crissy Field finish and hope if provides for a true community finish festival that a race of this caliber deserves. I wouldn’t be back if the course and date hadn’t changed, so props to North Face for making the changes regardless of motivation.

      As for the race itself, my money is on Tim Freriks, but it will be one hell of a battle at the front to be sure. Here’s hoping Jamil gets some good footage since I’ll be a few hours back of the action!

  14. Guy Cheney

    I can understand why bay area locals may not love the bridge finish, but for runners from out of state, it’s actually a pretty cool idea. Maybe one time across the bridge is enough, but for many, the end of this race will be that one opportunity.

  15. Kerrballs

    Blake Hose rumoured to have been trying his hand at many a different challenge. From a 10:30pm pull at Beavs to a 3am Hail Mary at Eureka. Two years, well spent, done it all. Like a horse with blinkers should be far more focused on the racing now. And lighter for the experience.

      1. Moose

        I think the key thing to take from Kerrballs is that Blake has matured significantly since his fun run at Transvulcania. No longer is he a cute little boy, he’s now a competitive bear of a man.

  16. StrongField

    My money is on King. He’s had a hell of season. I also think Pollman could surprise people. Broken arrow is a beastly race, and he beat a lot of greats there.

  17. bob

    Social media posts by Max would show that he has been battling a cold as late as just last week, so will he be healthy enough to even start?

  18. Dimitri M

    I will closely support Cody Callon. He has the potential for a top 10 finish and has put on some very good training lately. Also Lindsay Hamoudi is up for it too!

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