The 2019 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships is a day that will be remembered for its fast starts in both the men’s and women’s races, the fog that just kept clinging to the landscape and made for cool running conditions, and the to-the-wire shake-ups in both the women’s and men’s podium races. Through it all, Marin County local YiOu Wang and faraway Frenchman Sébastien Spehler held steady for the win. And chasing them from the Marin Headlands to the finish line across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, it was Canada’s Anne-Marie Madden and Colorado’s Addie Bracy who rounded out the women’s podium with the newly-moved-to-California Darren Thomas and France’s Thibaut Garrivier completing the men’s top three.
A special thanks to The North Face for making our coverage of this race possible!
Thanks, too, to BUFF for supporting our coverage of the TNF 50.
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2019 TNF 50 Women’s Race
Though local YiOu Wang (pre-race and post-race interviews) has performed so well at other 50 milers, including a pair of wins at the not-far-to-the-north Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, she’d not yet nailed the TNF 50… until now. Let’s recap her dominant performance, which seemed to start with patience. In my mind, the early miles of the TNF 50 are tricky. It’s totally dark, the trails are super runnable in surface and yet windy and hilly and ever changing otherwise, and this year the fog was so thick that even headlamps were swallowed by the murk. Despite that, YiOu seemed to keep her calm in the fray of women, staying in contact with the lead but letting others set the pace. When the sun rose and the race strung out a little, this trend continued, with YiOu running within spitting distance of the lead.
Things changed, however, as the race reached its halfway point miles-wise, at Stinson Beach and 27.4 miles into the race, where YiOu basically shared the lead. And then things changed a second time, where YiOu destrominated the rest of the field between there and our next vantage point, mile 33.5. There YiOu cruised, putting more than five minutes on everyone else in six miles. This is the trend YiOu held to the finish, where her 7:21 finishing time was 17 minutes better than everyone else. Her win was greeted with much jubilation in the local trail running community awaiting her in the historic Crissy Field.
Canada’s Anne-Marie Madden (post-race interview) has come to be a familiar face on the TNF 50 over the years. She said after the race that she loves this event and let’s face it, this race seems to love her, too. Anne-Marie’s M.O. was to run her own race despite what the rest of the field was doing, and that meant staying out of early racing packs and moving up in the race’s second half. She also said after the race that she surprised herself to arrive to about mile 30 in third place, feeling as strong as one can feel with 30 miles already in the legs. Anne-Marie held this position until the final descent at around mile 47 when she came upon Addie Bracy (pre-race and post-race interviews). After seeing in her in the distance for some miles before this, Anne-Marie decided to fight for second place, fueling up and hydrating before making a commanding pass. Addie, too, is a fighter and she didn’t go quietly. Anne-Marie really had to work for the extra dollars awarded by finishing second, the pair crossing the line only 90 seconds apart from each other.
If YiOu and Anne-Marie were the podium finishers who hung back a bit in the first part of the race, then Addie was one of the aggressors, pushing the pace and keeping the miles coming quickly. Though this course has been run just once before, in 2017–the race was canceled last year due to wildfire smoke–we had Ida Nilsson’s course-record-establishing splits from then to compare this year to. The women’s frontrunners were right around course-record pace through Muir Beach on the outbound, 17.8 miles into the race. By Stinson Beach at mile 27.4, the women arrived about five minutes behind Ida’s 2017 run. Addie certainly wasn’t alone in pushing the women along, as in the early miles Clare Gallagher (pre-race interview) and Anna Mae Flynn (pre-race interview) were there, too. However, the leaders dropped Clare first and Anna Mae later on, leaving Addie as the remaining early leader still amongst the fray. After the race she said she paid the price for her fast start, and indeed, she ceded first and second place, but ever the competitor, she put nose to the grindstone to hold onto third, crossing the line looking like she’d used all she had.
Abby Hall’s fourth-place run was a helluva’ performance, she at the finish looking so strong and only about four minutes out of podium position. Abby Levene rounded out the women’s top five, though she was a more distant 15 minutes behind fourth.
Just to see a few runners full circle, after her early push, Clare slowed but managed to hang strong in the back of the top 10 to finish eighth while Anna Mae Flynn was a DNF after midway. It also appears that Taylor Nowlin, who we expected to feature in the race, dropped at some point, perhaps due to the flaring IT band she mentioned to us mid-race.
2019TNF 50 Women’s Results
- YiOu Wang (Under Armour) – 7:21:57 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Anne-Marie Madden (Salomon) – 7:38:03 (post-race interview)
- Addie Bracy (Nike) – 7:39:31 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Abby Hall (adidas Terrex) – 7:43:05
- Abby Levene (adidas Terrex) – 7:58:09
- Felice Kelly – 8:08:23
- Sarah Bergeron-Larouche (Salomon) – 8:10:21
- Clare Gallagher (Patagonia) – 8:12:25 (pre-race interview)
- Keely Henninger (Nike) – 8:28:14 (pre-race interview)
- Kristyn Kadala – 8:28:22
2019 TNF 50 Men’s Race
Going into the TNF 50, you had to think France’s Sébastien Spehler (post-race interview) was coming in prepared to race for the win. I mean, he took second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April and so he was coming to California for the second time in seven months. Indeed, Seb was all business in leading the race from early on, using an almost-polar-opposite strategy from the women’s race winner. At miles 13, 17, 27, 33, 39, 43, and 47, he led. From the start to Stinson Beach at mile 27.4, Seb set roughly the same pace as 2017 champion Tim Freriks, but after that he slowed relative to Tim. But despite him slowing relative to Tim’s course-record-establishing run, Seb still looked strong and gained significantly on the field. From miles 27.4 to 33.5, he put more than five minutes on everyone. And from miles 33.5 to 39.5, he increased his lead to 14 minutes. It seemed like the game was almost over.
Then it all changed, and fast. We waited for Seb at mile 43.5 for quite a while, and we even thought we’d either somehow missed him among the runners from the event’s other simultaneous races or he’d somehow taken a wrong turn. Finally, he arrived, heavily favoring his left leg and looking like he was having a hard time. He would say after the race that he had cramps and pain, but that they abated on the final downhill and allowed him to run well to the finish. That said, between miles 39.5 and 47, Seb gave back eight minutes of his lead. Though he looked well when we spotted him at mile 47, we still couldn’t help but wonder what would happen in the final miles. Well, Seb crossed the line as the 2019 champion with plenty of daylight between him and the rest of the field. Funny thing was, because of simultaneous races and a man he could see in front of him from another race as well as a self-admitted language barrier, he didn’t know he’d won the race for a while afterward!
Now, let’s talk about Darren Thomas (post-race interview) and his second place. Simply said, I think we should have seen this one coming a bit more clearly than we did. The dude’s been pumping out super-strong performances in the last couple of years, such that the pump seemed primed for a breakout race on a big stage. In the race’s first miles, Darren featured in the lead group, shadowing other pace setters before settling in just 1.5 minutes off the lead at mile 16.8 and in sixth place. Though his gap to the lead increased by several minutes between there and Stinson Beach at mile 27.4, he stayed in the same sixth place. Then, on the long uphill after Stinson Beach, Darren caught and passed three men, moving himself into podium position by mile 33.5. He said after the race that uphills are a strength and passing other runners gave him motivation for forging forward. Suffice it to say that he wasn’t done moving forward and that he came upon France’s Thibaut Garrivier (pre-race and post-race interviews) around mile 43.5, where he passed him also and moved into second place, finishing like he still had gas in the tank. Call it an incredibly impressive run and I certainly won’t be overlooking him in the future.
Thibaut said before the race that the rolling and runnable terrain of the Marin Headlands would be a challenge for him, but that he’d trained especially for it, thought he would do well until the 50-kilometer point, and then who knows what would happen after that. What happened was that Thibaut also ran amongst the leaders and then in contact of the lead through mile 16.8, before lapsing back to the middle of the top 10 around the race’s halfway point. However, the steepest and most technical miles of the TNF 50 come in the middle of the race, and this terrain allowed Thibaut to use his strengths to move up from seventh place at mile 27.4 to fourth place at mile 39.5. From there he managed to move from fourth to second, but then was soon passed by Darren and bumped back to third, where he would stay to round out the men’s podium.
I can’t help but think of several similarities between the women’s and men’s races, the super-strong finishes of second places Anne-Marie Madden and Darren Thomas, the hang-on-and-hold-it third places of Addie Bracy and Thibaut Garrivier, and the wow runs of fourth places Abby Hall and Drew Holmen. A lot like Darren, Drew also seemed primed for a breakout race, and indeed he earned himself one with his fourth place which was only a minute and change out of podium position. Scotland’s Robbie Simpson (pre-race interview) crossed the line in fifth place, saying it was a difficult day in his debut ultramarathon but with a smile at the same time.
To note, expected and early frontrunner Matt Daniels (pre-race interview) was a late DNF.
2019 TNF 50 Men’s Results
- Sébastien Spehler (Salomon) – 6:27:13 (post-race interview)
- Darren Thomas (Salomon) – 6:32:37 (post-race interview)
- Thibaut Garrivier (Hoka One One) – 6:35:06 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Drew Holmen – 6:36:15
- Robbie Simpson (adidas Terrex) – 6:48:38 (pre-race interview)
- Dylan Bowman (The North Face) – 6:55:10 (pre-race interview)
- Anthony Costales (Altra) – 6:56:59 (pre-race interview)
- Michelino Sunseri – 6:58:06
- Ben Stout – 7:02:54
- Eli White – 7:08:58
Thank you so much to iRunFar’s office team of Ellie Greenwood and Casey Szesze. Thank you also to our field team which was composed of Jonathan Lantz, Chris Thoburn, David Von Stroh, Olivia Rissland, Adam Gerard, Samitha Reddy, Melissa Frayer, Corrine Malcolm, and Stephen Ettinger. We honestly cannot do what we do without the volunteer support of our community. Thank you!