2018 The North Face 50 Mile Championships Men’s Preview

The North Face

The 2018 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships are canceled due to air-quality issues from California wildfires. [Updated 11/13]

It’s November and that means it’s time for the 2018 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships! Last year, lots of new changes were introduced to the TNF 50, with both a new race date and course. Those changes stuck for this year. The race begins in Sausalito before heading over into the Marin Headlands and tying into many miles of the original race course. The race ends with a fast, paved jaunt across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the historic Crissy Field finish line in San Francisco. The course sports 50.7 miles with 10,600 feet of climbing. The $10,000 payout to the men’s and women’s winners remains the same as in years past. Last year, men’s and women’s winners Tim Freriks and Ida Nilsson established new men’s and women’s course records at 6:02:26 and 7:07:56, respectively.

The race takes place on Saturday, November 17 starting at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the U.S. (That’s Saturday, November 17 at 2:00 p.m. CET in Europe.) Indeed, we’re covering the race live, so stay tuned!

Late additions and subtractions to the elite entrants list are common at this race and they could change how the men’s race plays out. We’ll update this preview if this happens. Check back.

Be sure to also read our in-depth women’s preview.

BUFF USAJaybird

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

Thanks, too, to BUFF and Jaybird for supporting our coverage of the TNF 50.

Men’s Top Contenders

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley is racing the TNF 50! If I recall correctly, he’s tried to be ready for this race before, but has needed rest or time off at this point in the season. In 2018, he won and set course records at both the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (interview) and the WS 100 (interview). We can’t let that latter mark slide through so casually: on a hot day at the iconic WS 100, Walmsley set a course record, easily the high point of his ultramarathon career so far. After that, there was his big blow-up and drop from UTMB. Where’s he at now, 2.5 months later? According to Strava, he took a few rest weeks and, since then, has been logging big training miles.

Though Tom Evans’s name is still on the entrants list, it looks like he’s decided not to race. [Updated 11/5At the very least, the U.K.’s Tom Evans should podium at this year’s TNF 50. In case you don’t know who this guy is yet, his rise in the trail-ultra ranks began when he surprised a lot of people to take third at the 2017 Marathon des Sables and followed that up with fourth place at the 2017 CCC, one of the UTMB festival of races. This year, his top results have been a third at the 2018 Trail World Championships and, this time, a win of the 2018 CCC. It looks like he’s had strong training all fall. As far as I know, this is his first time racing on the unique trails of the Marin Headlands, with their often-impeccable substrate but steep climbs and descents, so that’s my only question about Evans.

Dylan Bowman - 2015 The North Face 100k-Australia sq

Dylan Bowman

Dylan Bowman is back at the TNF 50. Bowman is a four-time TNF 50 finisher, but the last time he competed in the 50 miler here was in 2015 where he finished in second place. Going further into his TNF 50 history, he’s also finished fifth twice and seventh once. Bowman’s had a great 2018, winning the Tarawera 100k and the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji as well as taking second in the TDS, one of the UTMB sister races. A podium finish here and I have to think he’s in the running for one of the top spots in UltraRunning Magazine’s (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year ranking, if he’s not already. The former Marin County inhabitant moved to Colorado this year, so I’ll be curious as to how his legs fair with sea-level running.

France’s Sébastien Spehler was added to the entrants list on November 6, and he’ll certainly shake up the front of the race. Spehler is fresh off a win of Les Templiers last month in France, and was the winner in 2017 as well. Last year, he was also the winner of the MaXi-Race Annecy. It looks as if this will be his first time racing in the U.S., but he seems to fare quite well on runnable race terrain in Europe. [Added 11/6]

David Laney, huh, he’s back at the TNF 50, too! He took third at the 2016 edition of TNF 50. This year, he’s taken fourth at the Pacific Northwest’s early season barnburner, Chuckanut 50k, was ninth at Lake Sonoma, and 15th at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k. For the first time in several years, Laney was not in Chamonix, France for the UTMB shenanigans, so I have to bet he’s pretty darn fresh, physically and mentally.

Paddy O’Leary (Ireland but lives in the USA) has not only improved by leaps and bounds over his couple years of trail-ultra running, but he genuinely seems to have a good time whilst kicking ass. O’Leary has run the last three TNF 50s, finishing fifth in 2017, ninth in 2016, and 13th in 2015. His best 2018 results have probably been in taking third at the Chuckanut 50k and sixth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

Ryan Bak also returns to the TNF 50 to follow up on his one previous finish here, a third place back in 2015. He doesn’t race that often, and is pretty quiet on social media, but he seems to be ready to compete whenever he starts a race. His top race so far this year, I think, is a fifth place at the Chuckanut 50k. He also won the 2018 Peterson Ridge Rumble, among a few other races.

China’s Yan-Qiao Yun makes an interesting TNF 50 entrant. Interestingly, it looks like he’s actually run TNF 50 before, taking 28th back in 2009, in what appears to be his first year of racing ultras. The only 2018 result I can find for him is an 11th at the TDS, but he’s been a mainstay at the front of Chinese and beyond trail-ultra racing since about 2013. His top results at internationally competitive ultras over the years are wins of the 2017 and 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.

What I love about the TNF 50 each year is seeing those who’ve had tremendous success at other kinds of running give trail-ultra racing a shot among top competition. Here we have Ethiopia’s Mohammed Temam Husien, who has had almost a decade of international road-racing success, including in several road ultras. In 2015, he took second at the Comrades Marathon. It looks like he has 1:06 half-marathon (in 2012) and 2:12 marathon (2011) PRs. In 2017, he ran at least two 2:14 marathons. If he’s run a trail race or trail ultra before, I can’t find record of it. 

Jorge Maravilla

Jorge Maravilla

Jorge Maravilla is also back at the TNF 50, wow! From 2011 to 2016, he raced TNF 50 each year, with fourth-place finishes in 2016 and 2015, seventh place in both 2014 and 2013, and finishes in the teens at his first two turnouts. What is fun about Maravilla is that he loves all sorts of races, from short cross-country races to long mountain ultras, whether or not they are in his wheelhouse. As the past has proven, TNF 50 is definitely in his wheelhouse.

Patrick Smyth is out due to a foot injury. [Updated 11/9] One of these days, Patrick Smyth and 50 miles are going to click, and he’s going to end up on the podium at one of these things. I believe he’s endeavored to race 50 miles twice before, dropping from the 2017 Lake Sonoma and DNSing TNF 50 last year due to injury. By my research, Smyth has had a quieter 2018 of racing than last year, with his top result on the trails as a second at the Chuckanut 50k.

Don’t Overlook Anyone on This List

Only five of 2017’s top-20 TNF 50 finishers are returning this year, and one of them is Allan Spangler (profile interview), who took 11th. The Alaskan also turned up at the TNF 50 in 2015, squeaking into the top 10 with a ninth place. Social media shows that Spangler’s on an extended lower-48-states road trip. A couple weeks ago, he ran the Blue Sky Trail Marathon, presumably as a tune-up, taking fifth.

Mark Hammond - 2017 Western States 100

Mark Hammond

Mark Hammond has racked up another strong year of trail ultrarunning with top results of a third place at the 2018 WS 100 and second at the 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. Hammond has four previous TNF 50 finishes with a 12th place last year, 19th in 2016 and 2015, and a 25th in 2014. With his ascendant TNF 50 runs through the years, can he crack the top 10 this year?

Chris Mocko is a current trail-ultra man of mystery. The dude had incredible racing in 2016 and 2017, but has been more hit or miss in 2018. Probably his top results this year so far are winning the Leadville Trail Marathon and taking second at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50k. He recently dropped halfway through the Javelina Jundred, citing on social media that he didn’t have the fight in him for another 50 miles. Mocko finished 13th at last year’s TNF 50.

Matt Daniels is a shorter-distance trail specialist giving 50 miles a go, though I am pretty sure this is his second shot after starting but dropping from last year’s TNF 50. Earlier this summer, Daniels took fourth in the 2018 U.S. Mountain Running Championships at the Loon Mountain Race, but followed that up with an off-par 44th at the 2018 World Mountain Running Championships in Andorra. A couple weekends ago, he tuned up for 50 miles by taking second at the Sage Burner 50k.

Let’s keep on the theme of shorter-distance trail runners with David Sinclair, who I believe is debuting at 50 miles. His top 2018 results have been in winning the Speedgoat 50k and taking fifth at the competitive Pikes Peak Marathon. He also took 30th at the 2018 World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Championships. Even if he’s hunting for his first 50-mile finish, Sinclair’s Speedgoat 50k win gave him 5.5 hours on his feet, so he only needs to bridge the time-on-feet gap by 30 minutes for the TNF 50.

Jackson Brill is another runner who has largely focused on shorter trail races thus far. He won the 2018 Quad Rock 25 Mile ahead of second place Chris Mocko, won the 2018 Dirty Thirty 50k again ahead of Mocko, took ninth at the 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon, won The Rut 50k, and then took third at the Sage Burner 50k behind second-place Matt Daniels. Brill has already finished a 50 miler, too, taking third at this year’s San Juan Solstice 50 Mile.

Brian Condon is a tw0-time TNF 50 finisher, taking 10th in 2016 and 24th in 2014. His 2018 results include finishing third at the Dirty Thirty 50k behind first- and second-place Jackson Brill and Chris Mocko, taking eighth at the Pikes Peak Marathon, and finishing second at the Blue Sky Trail Marathon ahead of fourth-place Allan Spangler.

Speedster road runner Justin Grunewald is running the TNF 50! The 1:04 half marathoner (in 2010) and 2:24 marathoner (2012) appears to have run one ultra, winning the 2018 Afton Trail Run 50k this summer. He’s also run at least a couple shorter trail races, taking second at the 2017 Birkie Trail Run Festival Half Marathon and fourth at the 2013 Moab Trail Half Marathon, both of which were those years’ USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships. Fun fact, his Twitter handle says he’s trying to qualify for the WS 100, so it sounds like we’ll be seeing more of Grunewald in some later WS 100-qualifying ultra.

Fast road runners turned ultrarunners? Sure, let’s talk about another one in Australia’s Vlad Shatrov. The 1:08 half marathoner (in 2011) and a 2:18 marathoner (2015) has been running trail ultras for several years. He won the 2018 and 2017 Six Foot Track in Australia, was sixth at the 2018 Tarawera 100k, and took 21st at the 2018 Comrades Marathon.

I believe that Ryan Kaiser has finished TNF 50 just once, back in 2015 when he was sixth. Kaiser’s top 2018 result has probably been his second place at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile. Last month, he tuned up in winning the inaugural Wy’east Howl 50k on a bad-weather day.

Ben Koss first caught my attention in the lead-up to the 2015 TNF 50, where he took 14th. Since then, he’s twice finished in the top 10 at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile with an eighth in 2018 and seventh in 2016.

Still More Men to Watch

  • Olin Berger – 1st 2017 White River 50 Mile
  • Noah Brautigam – 2nd 2018 Squaw Peak 50 Mile, 2nd 2017 Moab Red Hot 55k
  • Patrick Caron – 3rd 2018 Cayuga Trails 50 Mile
  • Dustin Franta – 2nd 2017 Flagline 50k
  • Masazumi Fujioka –2nd 2018 The Bear 100 Mile, has finished every TNF 50 since 2011 with his best of 23rd in 2016
  • Keith Laverty – 7th 2018 Chuckanut 50k, 21st 2017 TNF 50
  • Anthony Lee – 2nd 2018 High Lonesome 100 Mile
  • Stephen Kersh – 1st 2018 Tamalpa Headlands 50k; 1:04 half marathon PR (in 2015)
  • Patrick Parsel – 1st 2018 Castle Peak 100k, 3rd 2017 Moab Trail Marathon
  • Zach Perrin – Recent University of Colorado Boulder Buffalo graduate, believe he has PRs of 3:59 in the mile and 13:37 in 5,000 meters, I can’t find a record of him running a trail race or ultramarathon yet
  • Adrien Prigent (France but lives in Canada) – 1st 2018 Tarawera 100 Mile
  • Misha Shemyakin – 3rd 2018 Miwok 100k
  • Catlow Shipek – 1st 2018 Cave Creek Thriller 50k
  • Ben Stout – 2nd 2018 Moab Red Hot 55k, 6th the 2017 The Rut 50k
  • Darren Thomas – 3rd 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon; 2nd 2018 Jemez Mountain 50 Mile
  • Stephen Wassather – 4th 2017 Bandera 100k
  • Shihan Wijeyeratne – 2nd 2018 Bull Run Run 50 Mile
  • Tyler Wolfe – 2nd 2018 Tamalpa Headlands 50k

On the Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Tim Freriks – Last year’s TNF 50 champion is 99% sure he won’t race due to a foot injury. He’s planning to attend and support friends who are racing. If his status changes, we’ll update the preview.

Call for Comments

  • How do you see the race strategically playing out?
  • Who will win the men’s race? And who will fill the rest of the podium?
  • Who do you think is ready for a breakout race?
  • 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, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 41 comments

  1. Steve

    I think Stephen Kersh is a sleeper pick for a podium here. 64 minute half marathon PB and has been training with some cowboys here in Flag who might be able to give him some insight into what it takes to do well at a big 50 mile race. It is a tough race to predict as there are a good 25 or so men in this race who are capable of a top 10.

  2. Will

    Seeing Smyth’s name on any entrants list always makes me a little uncomfortable. Hope Dr. Brown has been able to get his thyroid under control…

  3. Joel

    I believe Sébastien Speher, who won “la grande course des Templiers” for the second year in a row some weeks ago, is announced too. If he runs with the same level of performance in California, a top 3-top 5 is possible.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Joel,

      I agree that he would definitely be an important addition to the front of the men’s race, but he’s not (yet?) listed on the entrants list. We’ll for sure add him to the preview if/when it becomes official that he’s racing.

      1. Sebas B

        Cool to see that Seb Spehler is finally racing this ! How does TNF 50 compare with the Templiers course, Meghan ? Just to give us euros an idea…

        1. Bryon Powell

          Sebas,
          I think the two courses are relatively similar… although I’ve only run some sections of each course (probably more of Les Templiers!) Each has many ups and downs, more on TNF than Les Templiers, and with similar overall elevation figures (slightly more for Templiers in a bit less distance), that means longer (probably steeper) climbers at Templiers. Each course has fast sections… I think more at TNF 50. From what Ive heard there are a few slightly technical sections on the TNF 50 course (or at least the old course), but I think the most technical sections of Templiers are more technical and more significant. All in all, Les Templiers is the most similar European course that I’ve seen to the TNF 50, but they’re still two different courses. :-)

          1. Sebas B

            Thanks for your reply Bryon ! So yes, this sounds like a course that could suit Spehler really well. Rolling courses with runnable hills are his sweet spot. He is a “hit or miss” type of runner and I think he has not raced yet in the US, so you never know, but if he has a good day he could mix it up at the front, maybe even push Jim a bit (with who he shares an aggressive racing style).

  4. Sam

    Joom joom go boom boom? or bang bang? I’m hoping bang bang CR. Sounds like there are some other fast guys running but he hasn’t lost a race under 100 miles since 2015, so, easy pick

  5. SageCanaday

    It’s interesting you note last years performances as “course records.” While I think Tim and Ida probably did run the best performances ever at this event (Very top notch and dominating!), I think it is hard to compare times to previous years as hasn’t pretty much every year (in the past 6-7 years!) the course been different!

    1. SageCanaday

      actually disregard my comment above….(I should check my reading comprehension)….I see it was written “established new course records [for the new course I’m assuming].” Best of luck to all those racing!

  6. Gordon

    Anyone living in the bay area have a view on the fires / air quality situation? TNF posted on the website ~1 day ago that there is still no intention to cancel.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I’m not out in the Bay Area yet, but the World Air Quality Index map is great for tracking air quality: https://waqi.info . Here’s the real-time air quality info from nearby San Rafael, California: http://aqicn.org/city/california/marin/san-rafael/

      For those who’ve not seen it, here’s the TNF ECS’s November 10th tweet about the status of next weekend’s races: https://twitter.com/thenorthfaceECS/status/1061399899449815042 . The most relevant part “At this time, we do not have plans to cancel the Endurance Challenge Series Championships scheduled for this coming weekend, Saturday, November 17th and Sunday, November 18th, but are closely monitoring the situation and air quality levels to ensure we do not put any of our runners, spectators or volunteers at risk.”

      1. anon (living in bay area)

        air quality is awful right now — you can’t really go outside. as of today (monday) it’s forecast to get a little better by thursday. (however, note that up until sunday, the forecast was that it would be better by tuesday, so the date for ‘better’ is being pushed out…). if we get wind from the ocean late in the week, and if the fire stays about its current size, my guess is they’ll hold the race anyway. but those are both big ifs.

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