With the warning that weather conditions at higher elevations were treacherous and deteriorating, about 680 runners set off into the murky pre-dawn darkness amid sheeting rain and wind for the sixth edition of The Gore-Tex 50-mile championship trail race at The North Face Endurance Championships in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco.
Severe weather concerns, including torrential downpours and high winds, prompted California State Parks officials to call for a mandatory re-routing of the race course on Thursday. Race director Nick Moore and his crew worked with the National Park System to devise a new, 23.4-mile, figure-eight route that runners completed twice, with Tennessee Valley aid station serving as a central hub.
The modified course still had plenty of panoramic, windswept coastal views and singletrack, but overall incorporated more fire roads, less technical trail and had 2,000 fewer feet of vertical change. A fat $30,000 prize purse ($10,000 for the top male and female, $4000 each for second and $1000 for third) inspired a deep elite field to brave the elements, with front-runners pushing the pace despite slick and muddy conditions.
Jason Matthies (5:40) and Jessica Mastrom (5:41) won the 50K races, while Joshua Dils (3:50) and Penelope MacPhail (4:04) won the marathon races. The 5K, 10K and half-marathon scheduled for Dec. 2 were canceled because of the weather.
Due to the three early leaders taking a wrong turn, Salomon athlete Miguel Heras raced much of the day without knowing his place in the pack, but, by the time the Spaniard passed through Tennessee Valley for the fourth time, he had a commanding lead, winning with a time of 5:33.
“When I was told the three leaders were 18 to 22 minutes ahead after Muir Beach … I didn’t understand,” Heras said of the time discrepancies after the first pass through Muir Beach. The frontrunners realized their mistake and, at the direction of race officials, made up the missed mileage on their second loop around the course.
Heras’ French teammate and 2012 UTMB winner, Francois D’Haene, was “very happy” with his 5:46, second-place finish, just ahead of third-place finisher Cameron Clayton from Colorado.
“At UTMB, you can walk, but here I never walked,” said D’Haene when asked about the course. “It was much faster than I’m used to.”
While Clayton, a senior track and cross country athlete at the University of Colorado in Boulder, wasn’t able to pull a repeat his Run Rabbit Run 50 win from earlier this fall, he raced smart, stayed on course and finished just behind D’Haene in 5:47.
Post race, Clayton, who settled in with the second lead group to help find his way in the darkness said, “I made a thousand mistakes, but learned a lot, most importantly that I need a better headlamp.”
Mike Wolfe, winner of the 2011 Gore-Tex 50-mile championship race, “didn’t have the day he was looking for and felt the worst he’s ever felt in a 50-mile race, hands down,” finishing 11th overall, in 6:09.
Maud Gobert, running for adidas, set a fast pace from the start, and had the other elite using her as a target for most of the day. Stephanie Howe (The North Face) and Emelie Forsberg (Salomon) were the two to reel her in, with Forsberg, taking the lead around mile 36.
Forsberg, from Sweden, found herself with $10,000 in her pocket after crossing the finish line in 6:39. Last year’s women’s winner and fellow Salomon teammate Anna Frost served as Forsberg’s pacer.
“I would have preferred the normal route,” said Forsberg in response to the re-routed course and missing out on tackling 7,600 feet of climbing on Mount Tamalpais. “But I went out at my own pace and felt good all the way.”
Howe, of Bend, Ore, was able eventually able to overtake the Frenchwoman, securing her second-place finish in 6:41. Gobert rounded out the podium with her time of 6:46.
“I thought I could catch Forsberg, but with the race we had, I’m really happy with second place,” Howe said.
The North Face Endurance Championships 2012
Gore-Tex 50-Mile Championships
- Miguel Heras, Spain, 5:33, $10,000
- Francois D’Haene, France, 5:46, $4,000
- Cameron Clayton, Colorado, 5:47, $1,000
- Emelie Forsberg, Sweden, 6:39, $10,000
- Stephanie Howe, Bend, Ore., 6:41, $4,000
- Maud Gobert, France, 6:46, $1,000
For complete results, go to The North Face Endurance Championships results site.