The North Face Endurance Challenge 2010 Championship Men’s Preview

The North Face Endurance Challenge 2010 LogoThis Saturday, the world’s most competitive trail 50 miler, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile, will be run in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco, California. In fact, one could argue that this field could edge out that of the Western States 100 and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc to make it the most competitive trail ultra field in the world this year. Last year, the TNF EC Championship’s stacked field led to an amazing showdown between Uli Steidl and Montrail’s Geoff Roes with Steidl ultimately prevailing. Both Steidl and Roes will return to battle an even deeper field than last year with what might be the best foreign contingent to ever toe the line for an American trail ultra.

Below is iRunFar’s preview of the men’s field. (We’ve also previewed the women’s field.) If you can confirm that any of the runners mentioned below are not running or know of someone who we overlooked, but will be in the mix, please let us know, as we are constantly updating this article. We’ve already noted late additions, including Hal Koerner and Leigh Schmitt, as well as many withdrawals. Keep checking back to get the latest scoop.

I’ll be headed out to San Fransisco to cover the race. I’ll publish interviews and additional information after I meet with competitors. I’ll also be livecasting the race on iRunFar’s Twitter feed, so be sure to follow us. (Updates will also be posted in the iRunFar.com sidebar.)

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile 2010 Championships Men’s Preview
The Top Returnees
The only person to beat Uli Steidl in the three years the TNF EC Championships have existed was Matt Carpenter in 2008… and Carpenter isn’t racing this year. In nearly any other race, that would make Steidl the clear favorite heading into this weekend. Not with this field. Yet, Steidl remains one of the favorites. It will be interesting to see if he’s in top form given that he “only” managed a 2:27 at the Cologne Marathon in October, as that’s well off his marathon PR of 2:13.

No one has outrun Roes in a race since Steidl’s victory at the TNF Championships last December. While it’s true Roes didn’t win at Way Too Cool 50k in March, he did got lost while in the lead. Since then, Roes has had a pretty good run of things. He’s won the American River 50 mile; set course records at the Crow Pass Marathon, TNF EC Bear Mountain 50 mile, and Run, Rabbit, Run; and given the ultrarunning performance of the year when he smashed Scott Jurek’s Western States 100 record. (iRF’s post-WS Roes interview) Following the cancellation of the full Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and a move to Boulder, Colorado, Roes spent much of the autumn without finding his training groove. That’s changed recently. He’s now fired up about running, again.

Last year, Minnesotan Chris Lundstrom shocked many when he finished third at the TNF Championships. It was his first 50 miler and only his second ultra. This year, Lundstrom returns with much more ultra experience under his belt. So far in 2010, he’s run two 50ks under 4 hours, with a second place at the Superior Trail 50k in May and a win at the Afton Trail 50k in July. Later in July, Lundstrom was second at the Voyager Trail 50 mile.

Top Boulder, Colorado Contenders
Boulder, Colorado is now the hotbed of American ultrarunning and many a Boulderite will be making the trip out to California this week.

To start off, there’s Anton Krupicka. At the least, Krupicka is currently the top American ultrarunner not named Roes. In May, Krupicka won the Miwok 100k in a sick course debut time of 8:02. At the Western States 100 in June, he had an epic battle with Kilian Jornet before Roes passed him in the final 10 miles. Despite finishing second, Krupicka (15:13:52) ran well under Scott Jurek’s previous course record. For the second year in a row, he set a new course record at the White River 50 mile (6:25:29, for a six and a half minute record), which once again makes him the USATF Trail 50 mile national champion. With a convincing win this weekend, Krupicka could prove he’s the best American ultrarunner, period.

Speaking of top Americans, Dave Mackey, the best sub-100 mile American trail ultrarunner of the past decade, has moved back to Boulder and is signed up for the TNF championships. We’d be up all night if we were to list all of Mackey’s ultra victories and could fill a page with his course records. That said, here are some career highlights:

  • Miwok 100k course record in 7:53:19 (2008),.
  • In 2004, Mackey ran fastest ever second place finish at Western States until Krupicka’s run this year.
  • Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim fastest known time in 6:59:56.

Last month, Mackey broke Carl Andersen‘s 16 year old course record at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile (6:19:39), so he’s in top form. Mackey finished tenth at last year’s TNF EC Championships. We expect a better finish this year.

Dakota Jones doesn’t live in Boulder, but he attends university close enough to join the Boulder folks for runs. While Dakota only managed 14th at last year’s race, this youngster (he’s 19) has improved significantly this year. His most impressive performance was his second place finish at the White River 50 mile behind only Krupicka. Jones’ 6:49:20 was within a minute of the course record … that is, for a guy not named Krupicka or Steidl, and was the sixth fastest time ever run on the course.

It’s worth mentioning that Geoff Roes now lives in nearby Nederland, Colorado and has been running with the Boulder crowd. We also mention two more Boulder runners, Joe Grant and Andrew Skurka, as top runners later in the article.

Other Top American Contenders
As far as we can tell, Erik Skaggs (New Balance) has never finished worse than second in the dozen or so ultras he’s run. In twice setting the Quad Dipsea record (’07 & ’08), he’s shown he’s got plenty of speed in shorter ultras. Skaggs’ most impressive run was his course record win (9:11:05) at last year’s Where’s Waldo 100k. Unfortunately, that run landed him in the hospital for awhile. We’re hoping that he’d back in top form and his “negotiated win” over Max King at the USATF 50k trail championships in September suggests he is.

Less than two and a half years ago, Matt Woods made his ultrarunning debut. Last year, he won three 50ks, placed second at another, and placed third at the JFK 50 mile, his 50 mile debut. This year he’s won the Holiday Lake 50k, the TNF EC 50 mile regional race in Washington, DC, and won the USATF 100k road championship at the Mad City 100k with a time of 7:06:22. That all pales in comparison to his 12th place finish at the 100k World Championships earlier this month when he ran a 6:58:36 for the silver medal US men’s team.

Zach Miller isn’t going to win this race, but he could place very well. He’s won the Mountain Masochist 50 mile (’07) and twice finished second at the JFK 50 mile (’03 & ’07). Miller’s also placed sixth and then fifth the past two Western States 100s.

Nathan Yanko (La Sportiva) is also unlikely to win this weekend, but he’s likely to surprise many folks despite having placed fourth at this year’s Miwok 100k. (iRF post-Miwok Yanko interview) Yanko’s performance at Miwok shows what this Bay Area resident can do on his home turf.

Top Foreign Contenders
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, last year’s top foreign and fourth overall, will not be returning to compete. Despite that, there will be no lack of top foreign competition at this year’s race.

The foreigner best known to Americans who will be hitting the course is The North Face runner Jez Bragg of the UK. Not only was he this year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc champion, he was also third at the 2009 Western States 100. If you care to get more familiar with Jez we’ve interviewed him a number of times, including after his win at UTMB in August.

Salomon is bringing a number of its big guns from around the world to the race. First in our minds is Spaniard Miguel Heras, brother of former professional cyclist Roberto Heras. Miguel impressed us greatly with his run in the early stages of the canceled version of this year’s UTMB. For those familiar with the European race scene, here’s won the Caval del Vent, the TransGranCanaria, and the Sentiero del Grigne. Thomas Lorblanchet of France is the reigning Trail Running World Champion, so he has the talent to compete in short ultras. South African Ryan Sandes is entered; however, as he just capped off winning each of the 4 Deserts 250-km stage races over a two year span by winning the Last Desert race a week ago, we can’t imagine he will be racing this weekend. While we’re personally unfamiliar with him, Christophe Malarde of France has an impressive trail running résumé.

The most intriguing entrant, also from Salomon, is Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand. Wyatt is six-time World Mountain Running Champion. He’s twice run in the Olympic games for the Kiwis, once in the 5,000 meters (1996) and once in the marathon (2004). His PRs range from 4:01 in the mile to 2:13:00 in the marathon with a New Zealand national record in the half marathon (1:02:37). He’s even got a profile page on the IAAF website. We could keep on listing Wyatt’s accomplishments, but we already feel comfortable calling him the most accomplished and, possibly, the most talented runner in the field. However, (and it’s a big however), Wyatt’s never raced longer than a marathon. Will his numerous marathons (at least 8) be enough to win when there are so many experienced ultrarunners in the field?

Our neighbors to the north will be sending down a contingent with quite a bit of talent. Ryne Melcher of North Vancouver, BC, Canada has been running ultras for more than a decade and is having a great season. Most noteworthy is Melcher’s 15 minute course record (5:54) at this April’s Mount Si 50 Miler. Adam Campbell of Victoria, BC is much newer to the ultra scene with half a dozen races over the past four years. His third place finish at this past March’s Chuckanut 50k (3:53) show he’s ready to take on top competition.

Ian Sharman will be our final fully profiled contender, mostly because we’re not sure the correct section in which to place this Brit living in California. Regardless, he may very well put himself near the front of the field before Saturday’s done. Sharman’s run nearly a dozen ultras in 2010 with a handful of wins and at least one course record. However, his best performance might be his eighth place showing at Western States in June.

Last Minute Entrants [Added 10 a.m. MST Nov. 29]
Top women’s competitor Devon Crosby-Helms tipped us off that there were a few of last minute entries… and they’re good.

Two-time Western States 100 champion Hal Koerner will be stepping into the fray. Koerner’s yet to put it together at the TNF championships, but is having another solid season with highlights including second at the Miwok 100k (big personal best on the course) and a course record at the Canadian Death Race.

Leigh Schmitt, who recently moved to the Bay Area, had one of if not the best East Coast 50 mile runner for many years.

Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau will be crossing the pond to race this weekend. He didn’t fare well at last year’s TNF championships, but does have a second place finish at the 2009 UTMB and a win at the 2009 Libyan Challenge to his name.

It’s early Friday morning and we’ve just heard that American Dave James, who’s run a 14:20 100 miler at Javelina, is in off the wait list. We know a few other runners are in, we just need to find out who they are. As soon as we do, we’ll let you know!

Other Notable Names
If we were talking about most ultras, any of the following runners would be listed among the contenders for the win or at least a top three placing; however, this is the TNF EC Championship. Still, these guys are worth watching.

  • Yassine Diboun – Fifth at this year’s White River 50 Mile
  • Ty Draney – The longer and harder the better for this Wyoming runner
  • Joe Grant – Second 2010 Bighorn 100
  • Jason Hill – TNF Product Manager who finished second in the TNF EC 50k Championships last year
  • Nikolaos Kostopoulos – Greek runner
  • Luke Nelson – With two 50k wins, he’s El Vaquero Loco
  • Tom Nielsen – Multiple time winner of Angeles Crest 100 with a handful of Western States top 5 finishes
  • Tim Olson – Second to Erik Skaggs at 2010 Siskyou Out Back
  • Michael Owen – He’ll be running TNF two weeks after his final collegiate race, NAIA XC Nationals. He’s got a 15:13 5k PR, a 24:42 8k XC PR, and a plan to “stay with the leaders for as long as possible.” [Added: 11/30 5 pm]
  • Brett Rivers – Second at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in 2010
  • Andrew Skurka – World’s best long hiker who finished second at the Leadville 100 in 2008 and has run the Grand Canyon R2R2R in 8:02
  • Zach Thomas – Only one ultra, but ran a significant course record at the Old Pueblo 50 mile (6:58:42) in March. (Tip o’ the hat to Justin Mock on identifying Zach.)

Notable Entrants Who Are Not Running

  • Adam Campbell – Law school exams
  • Sebastien Chaigneau – International travel issues
  • Yassine Diboun – Reason Unknown
  • Joe Grant – Reason Unknown
  • Eric Grossman – Hernia
  • Anton Krupicka – Calf Injury (confirmational blog post)
  • Ryne Melcher – Illness
  • Luke Nelson – Injury
  • Gary Robbins – Broken foot
  • Ryan Sandes – Resting after race season
  • Ian Sharman – Lack of training, but is running 50k instead
  • Zach Thomas – Leg injury
  • Jonathan Wyatt – Injury
  • Nathan Yanko – Illness

Other Resources
We like sharing other great resources, so here ya go. We’ll add others as we find them.

Call for Comments
As mentioned above, we’d love to know of other top runners we missed, runners we mentioned that we may have underrated, or top entrants you know not to be racing this weekend.

Who are your picks for the top three spots?

If you’ll be out at this weekend’s races, which distance will you be running? Are you excited for the race?