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 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.