Race Preview: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship

Anna Frost won last year's TNF 50 in her ultramarathon debut. Can she turn the trick again this year? Photo: iRunFar.com

It’s going to be a who’s who of ultrarunning all-stars in San Francisco on Saturday.

Written by: Meghan M. Hicks

Anna Frost won last year's TNF 50 in her ultramarathon debut. Can she turn the trick again this year? Photo: iRunFar.com

Call the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship (TNFEC50) an ultrarunning superbowl because it almost is. No doubt, many of ultrarunning’s big guns have come to the trails of San Francisco’s Marin Headlands for Saturday’s stout competition. A couple of these runners will get to stay for the prize money: $10,000 to the men’s and women’s winner, with $4,000 going to second place and $1,000 for third. This is what they call big money in the sport of ultrarunning.

The women’s race is studded with ladies from around the globe. Anna Frost (Australia) was the 2010 TNFEC50 winner. She’s a shorter-distance mountain runner by background, and last year’s win was her first ultra. Turns out, this race will be her second ultra-distance event, but she’s certainly a favorite.

The second, third, and fourth place ladies from last year are all back for more, so keep an eye out for Lizzy Hawker (England), Kami Semick (United States but currently living in Hong Kong), and Joelle Vaught (Idaho). These ladies have really ramped up their resumes in just the last year: Hawker won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and set a new 24-hour road running world record, Semick placed third in the Comrades Marathon and second at the Western States 100, and Vaught won Utah’s Slickrock 50-Mile.

Ellie Greenwood didn’t race TNFEC50 last year, but she’s worth mentioning as a contender for the win this year. Born in Scotland but now living in Canada, her standout performances this year include winning this year’s Western States 100 and a fourth-place finish at the Comrades Marathon. Also in the mix will be Washington’s Krissy Moehl. She won the 2011 San Diego 100 and was second at the 2011 White River 50.

And be sure to look out for these names during iRunFar’s live coverage on race day, as they are all ladies who can do serious damage on the Marin Headlands’ singletrack: Helen Cospolich (Colorado), Ashley Arnold (Colorado), Rory Bosio (California), Ragan Petrie (Virginia), and Alison Bryant (North Carolina).

The 2011 TNFEC50 men’s field is dripping with talent and outstanding racing credentials from all over the world. Jez Bragg is the Great Britain-based ultrarunning phenom. Among his most recent American racing appearances was a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Western States 100. Canada’s Adam Campbell won the 2011 Canadian 50-Mile Championship and was second at the CCC (a 100K race in Italy and France). Watch out for Japan’s Tsuyoshi Kaburaki as well, who was fifth at the 2011 Western States 100.

The American men’s contingent consists of a possible winner and many potential podium finishers. The lineup is as deep as it has ever been at an ultra-distance race on U.S. soil. Here’s a rundown of who’s in town this weekend, along with their most recent racing success:

Geoff Roes (Alaska/Colorado)- Geoff has twice finished second at the TNFEC50, so he’s probably real hungry for the win. He won the 2011 Ultra Race of Champions 100km.

Michael Wardian (Virginia)- This uber-prolific racer has recently finished second at the 2011 JFK 50, second at the 2011 Ultra Race of Champions 100km, and first at the USATF Road 50km Championships.

Rickey Gates (Colorado)- This year, this mountain-runner-by-background has won the Mount Washington Road Run and the Canadian Death Race.

Hal Koerner (Oregon)- He just won the Javelina Jundred three weekends ago and was third at the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100.

Mike Wolfe (Montana)- Mike was second at the 2011 Western States 100.

Ian Sharman (from England but living in Oregon)- He won the 2011 Rocky Raccoon 100 (in 12:44, the fastest a man has run a trail 100-miler in the U.S.) and was fourth at the 2011 Ultra Race of Champions 100km.

Dakota Jones (Colorado)- This year, he was second at the Hardrock 100.

If these ten names in contention for an in-the-money finish aren’t enough, the list goes on. The following men win races all over the country and are capable of racing themselves into the top ten or better on Saturday: Matt Flaherty (Illinois), Mike Foote (Montana), Dave James (Arizona), Timothy Olson (Oregon), Karl Meltzer (Utah), Jordan McDougal (Virginia), Leigh Schmitt (California), and Nathan Yanko (California).

Notable no-shows from the men’s registrant list are Miguel Heras (Spain), Anton Krupicka (Colorado) Sebastien Chaigneau (France), Thomas Lorblanchet (France), and Dave Mackey (California).

Clear skies and a temperature of just over 40 degrees farenheit will greet runners at the starting line at 5am. Once the sun rises, it’ll be sunny day with a high of near 60 degrees.

iRunFar.com staff will cover the race live via their Twitter feed, @iRunFar, starting at 4:30am PST on Saturday.

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Meghan M. Hicks is a Park City, Utah-based writer, contributing editor at iRunFar.com, and trail runner. Visit her website at meghanmhicks.com.

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