The 2018 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships are canceled due to air-quality issues from California wildfires. [Updated 11/13]
Wow! This will be our tenth-straight year covering The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships and, therefore, the ninth anniversary of iRunFar’s live race coverage on Twitter. Now, we’re once again back at one of North America’s most competitive 50-mile races.
This year, the race will retain the the revised date (mid-November) and course (start in Sausalito and finish across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco’s historic Crissy Field) that were instituted last year. This course rings in at 50.7 miles in length with 10,600 feet of climb. For perspective, the 2016 course was just over 49 miles long and with 9,300-ish feet of climb. The prize purse, a payout of $15,000 for the top-three women and men each, with 10k of that going to each winner, remains the same.
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.) 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 women’s race. We’ll update this preview if this happens, so check back.
A special thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible!
As it is every year, the women’s competition is deep at this year’s TNF 50. Still, here are the five women who I think have the best shot at winning this year’s race.
From the start of 2016 through the middle of this year, Ida Nilsson was usually the woman to beat if she was in the race, particularly around the 50-mile distance. During that time, she racked up back-to-back wins at the TNF 50 Mile Championships (she’s the defending champ) (2016 and 2o17 interviews), three wins at Transvulcania (2016 and 2o17 interviews), along with one at Ultravasan… and so on. During this span, it took the best from the likes of Ruth Croft or Megan Kimmel to beat Ida. While still undoubtedly running strong, she’s not won her past few races, including taking eighth at Sierre-Zinal, second at Ultravasan, and third at the CCC. Still, as the two-time defending champion at the TNF 50, I once again consider her the woman to beat.
If you’re a believer in specificity, Clare Gallagher has taken fifth and, then, second at the TNF 50 the past two years. That said, she’s not quite had a 2018 that matches up with her 2016 and 2017 seasons. In May, she did finish eighth at the Trail World Championships in Spain before taking ninth at the Lavaredo Ultra-Trail a month later before dropping out of UTMB late in the summer.
If I was previewing this same women’s field for a race on the road, track, or a tow path, well, there’s no doubt that Camille Herron’s name would be first. She’s won both a 50km and a 100km world championships on the road (2015), run 12:42:40 for 100 miles on a non-technical course, and, oh yeah, won the Comrades Marathon last year. It doesn’t get much better than that, but her success on trails is more mixed. Yes, she’s won the Tarawera 100k in 2017 and the Bandera 100k in 2018 as well as having taken fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (2016) and Chuckanut 50k (2017), but she’s DNFed Western States, Les Templiers, and Leadville at least in part due to the races being on trails. With that in mind, it’s hard to know how she’ll fair on the TNF 50’s trails: I could see her winning by 20 minutes or being far from her very high ceiling.
Although Keely Henninger now has a half decade of success on the trails that includes seventh- (2015) and eighth-place (2016) finishes at the TNF 50, I’d have to say she’s taken a step forward over the past year. After taking fourth at last year’s CCC, Keely won both the Chuckanut 50k and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile this spring, with her 7:13 at Lake Sonoma being the second-fastest time in race history. Since then, she’s been fifth at Lavaredo, second at the Under Armour 50k in Bend, and won the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile in 6:37 in early October.
After spending much of a year traveling the world, we’ll get to see where YiOu Wang’s ultra fitness is for the first time since May 2017 before she started the trip. As a reminder, YiOu was a on fire before the trip, winning the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in both 2016 and 2017, placing second at Way Too Cool in 2016 and Chuckanut in 2o17, and winning numerous other races during those two years. While she’s run a couple shorter races during her travels this year and couple speedy half marathons in recent weeks, they don’t shed much light on how she might fair amongst this field.
While the five women above represent the women I think are most likely to win this year’s race, there are certainly a handful of women in this section who could step up and win and I could see any of them running her way into the top five.
Following her fifth place at last year’s TNF 50, Brittany Peterson has had a strong… and busy 2018. In March, she was second at the Way Too Cool 50k where she finished two minutes behind Ladia Albertson-Junkans in the fifth-fastest time on the current course. After that, she jumped all into the Skyrunner World Series with strong results, including a fourth at Transvulcania and Trofeo Kima, third at the Tromsø Skyrace and Glen Coe Skyline, and first at the Pirin Ultra Skyrace.
It’s been a podium-filling 2018 for Taylor Nowlin. She kicked things off by taking third at the Sean O’Brien 100k before running to an impressive second place at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April. In July, Taylor was also second at the Speedgoat 50k.
Washington’s Ladia Albertson-Junkans will be making her 50-mile debut, as best as I can tell. So far this year, she’s seen success at the 50k distance, winning the Way Too Cool 50k in March in the fourth-fastest time on the current course, placing fourth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k in June, and, then, taking third at the Speedgoat 50k in July. Ladia won the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon in October. In 2017, Ladia won the Chuckanut 50k and was 13th at the Trail World Championships in Portugal on a 49k course.
Only two years into ultrarunning, Addie Bracy has established herself as a formidable competitor. Having run just one 50k before this year, she’s won the Quad Rock 50 Mile and Never Summer 100k before taking second at the Leadville 100 Mile in 2018. Addie won Colorado’s Blue Sky Trail Marathon in late October.
Anna Mae Flynn’s 2018 hasn’t quite matched up with her two prior seasons. This year, she’s been sixth at Transvulcania and 13th at the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira. In 2016, she was third at both the Way Too Cool 50k and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, while she won the Speedgoat 50k in 2017 along with placing second at the Pikes Peak Ascent and third at both the Quad Rock 50 Mile and Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k.
While she’s hard for me to place precisely in this preview, Leah Frost’s 6:23:40 to win the 2016 JFK 50 Mile is the third-fastest time ever run on the course. Only Ellie Greenwood and Emily Harrison have run that fast, and both did so in 2012. She’s won a few other ultras this past few years, but not in events that shed much light on how she could rank among this field. With that in mind, we’d love to know some more about Leah and her running!
Anne-Marie Madden has twice run her way into the top six at the TNF 50, taking fourth in 2014 and sixth in 2015. This year, she’s taken second at the Chuckanut 50k (she did the same in 2016), 12th at the Mont-Blanc Marathon, and sixth at the Pikes Peak Marathon.
It was great to see Sandi Nypaver come back from Achilles surgery to have a year starting with the 2016 TNF 50 during which she placed sixth at that race, and then took sixth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k, fifth at the Speedgoat 50k, and second at Moab Trail Marathon, all in 2017. This year, she raced short events before winning The Rut 50k late in the summer.
We’re not sure what caused a sizable gap in Emily Richards’s results between taking ninth at UTMB in 2014 and second at the the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile until this year when she’s won the Tamalpa Headlands 50k and been eighth at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k. Can anyone fill us in?
Back in 2016, Sarah Keyes took 12th at the TNF 50. Since then she’s won the 2017 Ultra-Trail Harricana 125k, placed eighth at the 2018 Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k, and been second at the 2nd 2018 Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, the USATF trail championship at the distance.
Just call it a hunch, but I’m including Abby Levene here. Two years ago, she won the TNF EC 50k in San Francisco before winning the Dirty Thirty 50k and taking fifth at the Moab Trail Marathon in 2017.
And then we have the race’s biggest wildcard in Kenya’s Risper Kimaiyo. The 39-year-old ran a marathon PR of 2:29:16 in Rome back in 2009. More recently, she ran the only ultramarathon result we can find for her, winning the 2016 IAU 50k World Championship in Qatar in 3:22:45.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…