The North Face 50 Mile Championships 2011 Women’s Preview

A preview of the women’s field for the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships.

By on November 29, 2011 | Comments
Anna Frost Lizzy Hawker Kami Semick 2010 TNF 50 mile

Anna Frost, Lizzy Hawker, and Kami Semick on the podium at the 2010 TNF 50 mile.

The women’s field at this weekend’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships is on par with best 50 mile women’s field ever assembled. It’s competition for that title? The women’s field at the same race last December.

For starters, the top four women from last year’s race – Anna Frost, Lizzy Hawker, Kami Semick, and Joelle Vaught – are back again this year. When you add Krissy Moehl and Ellie Greenwood to the mix, it’s hard to imagine a much more stacked front of the field (although last year’s race did feature Jenn Shelton, Meghan Arbogast, and Liza Howard). With another half dozen strong women on the starting line, depth is where this field might shine through.

Before we dig in, we’ll let you know we previewed the men’s race yesterday. We’ll also be covering the race live on Saturday.

Last’s Year’s Fab Four Fasties
It’s always exciting to see the previous year’s champ return to defend her title and it’s no different with Anna Frost. Frost has long been a terribly strong mountain runner before making her ultra debut in winning last year’s race. This year, she’s battled a bunch of injuries and wasn’t as regular a participant on the mountain racing scene as in 2010. However, she did take quite well to stage racing. In July, Frost won the inaugural Salomon 4 Trails stage race in Switzerland that covered 100 miles and 30,000’+ of climbing in four stages. In late August, she and Salomon-teammate Rickey Gates won the open-mixed category at the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run with only three open-men’s teams ahead of them. After last year’s TNF 50, Frost said “I don’t have any 50 milers planned for next year.” Well, we’re glad this one found its way onto her calendar. (Here’s how it did.)

Lizzy Hawker has twice run the TNF 50, winning in 2007 and finishing second to Frost last year. This year, Hawker added yet another TNF UTMB win to her credentials, just a few minutes off Krissy Moehl’s course record. What does she do less than a month after crushing it in the mountains? She sets the women’s 24-hour road running record with 153+ miles in a day! In October, Hawker changed shoes again to head up into the mountains of Nepal where she intended to run 1,000 miles across the country on the Great Himalaya Trail. When trouble ended that adventure, she turned around to win the Everest Sky Race stage race before smashing her own 200-mile FKT from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu [broken link removed] by three hours. It seems that Hawker’s primed and ready to go on whatever terrain is thrown at her, so the hills of the Headlands should suit her well enough this weekend.

Kami Semick’s been near the front of every race she’s run for going on a decade. Last year, she was third at the TNF 50, a race she won in 2008. Semick’s been selective in here racing this year due, at least in part, to a recent move from Bend, Oregon to Hong Kong. In April, she placed second to Ellie Greenwood at the American River 50 in the eighth fastest women’s time at AR (6:34:47, the fourth fastest non-Ann Trason time). In late June, after edging Nikki Kimball out in a sprint finish, Semick again finished second to Greenwood at the Western States 100 in 18:17:34. This was the sixth fastest women’s time at Western States with only Ann Trason, Greenwood, and Kimball having run faster from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Still, that might not be Semick’s most impressive run of the year. Just a few weeks before WS, she finished third at the Comrades Marathon a mere two minutes off the winner. With the base she showed earlier this year, Semick’s training time on the mountains of Hong Kong could be perfect preparation for the Headlands.

Joelle Vaught 2009 TNF 50 mile

Joelle Vaught cruising at the 2009 race.

If this was the Way Too Cool 50k, Joelle Vaught would be the one to bet on as she’s won the race three times. She’s run nearly as well in two appearances at the TNF 50, taking second behind Caitlin Smith in 2009 before finishing fourth last year. Only Frost and Smith have run the course faster than Vaught. She’s won five ultras in 2011 while placing second at her only other ultra finish (at the Slickrock 50 mile, where she may have gone off course). Vaught did start Western States, but had a rough go of it. With this field, it’s hard to see her winning on Saturday, but she’ll surely put fear into anyone running in front of her.

Marquis Additions
A late addition to the race, Krissy Moehl has focused her training for this race and when she focuses on a race the sky’s the limit. Moehl’s familiar with the terrain as she’s run the Miwok 100k three times, finishing second once (’06) and third twice (’10 & ’11) and started the race last year before having to drop with an injury. [Edited to reflect last year’s drop.] Moehl’s top performances from 2011 include winning the San Diego 100 (19:41:13), a second at the White River 50 mile (8:35:25), and a third at Miwok (9:55:56). She’s beaten Lizzy Hawker head-to-head at the 2009 TNF UTMB in what’s still the course record time. There’s no reason Moehl’s not capable of beating any and every woman in the field on any day.

Ellie Greenwood 2011 Western States

Ellie Greenwood after winning the 2011 Western States 100.

In my opinion, no woman on this side of the pond has had a better year of ultrarunning than Ellie Greenwood. She’s won the Chuckanut 50k (4:12:22), American River 50 (6:25:43), and the Western States 100 (17:55:29). Her time at WS is the second fastest time in race history… and it was her first 100! The Chuckanut time? A course record. The AR time? Fourth fastest women’s time on the course behind only Ann Trason. On the full-on road side of things, Greenwood had to drop from the IAU 100k World Championships (which she won in 2010) in September, but placed fourth at Comrades in early June, six minutes behind Semick. At last month’s Canadian 50k National Championships, she showed she’s still in top form with a 3:38:01, just 30 seconds off her Run for the Toad 50k course record from last year. She also won the Ultramaraton de los Andes last month. Greenwood showed up for the start but opted not to race. Last month, she wavered on whether to run this year, but is now excited to race. [Edit: Added preceding two sentences.] There are a couple women in the field who could beat a strong Greenwood, but she’s my favorite for the win.

Additional Contenders

  • Ashley Arnold – In 2010 Arnold made a push into the ultra scene, winning the Collegiate Peaks 50 mile, taking fourth at White River, and third at the Leadville 100. Earlier this year, she concentrated on shorter races while placing second in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. Arnold is now running for The North Face. [Edit: Thanks re the TNF team add, Dylan.]
  • Michelle Barton – Barton kills it in the SoCal 50k-and-under scene year-after-year. Can she nail one on a big stage against top competition? [Edit: Barton is running the 50k per Jennifer Benna.]
  • Jennifer Benna – Benna won’t be placing top 5, but she could round out the top 10 after solid second places finishes at the Silver State 50k, Tahoe Rim 100, and Firetrails 50 mile this year. [Edit: Added as I spaced yesterday.]
  • Rory Bosio – Bosio seems quite deliberate in choosing her races. She’s got fourth (’10) and fifth (’10) place finishes at Western States the past two years to show for her patience. In 2007, she was sixth at the TNF 50 in her third ultra.
  • Alison Bryant – A strong, technical mountain runner who’s been pushing into ultras the past few years. Last year, she won the StumpJump 50k and Mountain Masochist 50 mile. She was injured in early 2011, but has run two solid ultra performances this fall with a win at the Odyssey 40 mile and second at the TNF EC-Atlanta 50 mile.
  • Helen Cospolich – Cospolich has won races like Leadville (’08) and the San Juan Solstice 50 mile (’06 & ’09), but she’s had an up and down time at the TNF 50 with an 11th (’08), a fourth (’09), and a 14th (’10). If her 4:30 a.m. treadmill workouts and marathons through foot deep snow in recent months indicate her current fitness, look for her to perform well on Saturday.
  • Ragan Petrie – In September, Petrie had a breakthrough race in winning the UROC 100k following a decade of strong ultra results. She only managed fifth at JFK two weeks ago, but her time of 7:08 was a big PR.
  • Paulette Zillmer – Zillmer’s notched a bunch of wins at local Arizona races before winning the Angeles Crest 100 (23:47:21) in July.

The only top women on the entrants list who I know to not be running is 2010 Western States champ Tracy Garneau.

Call for Comments

  • How do you think the top five will shake out?
  • Who do you think is the dark horse in the field?
  • Any top runners that you know are racing that we forgot?
  • How about women we name who you know won’t be on the line?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.