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Following Arizona tune-up, Jim Walmsley targets historic Olympics trials

By Larry Carroll

When it comes to sports, sometimes stepping outside your lane can be seen as a major affront. Which is strange, because as anyone from a world-class athlete to your run-of-the-mill gym rat will tell you: The best exercise is the one your body doesn’t expect, something that pushes you outside your routine and forces the body to adapt.

Which is why one of the more fascinating stories in the ultra-running community these days is Jim Walmsley’s quest to try his luck with next month’s U.S Olympic Marathon Trials. As Walmsley trains to go down in distance, from being an ultra-runner to a standard marathon participant, he has been facing considerable backlash, both online and elsewhere. It’s no secret that the marathon community sees him as something of an outsider, so after years of insisting that ultra runners are different animals whose 30-mile training runs are nothing like the sub-5 minute splits needed to be a competitive marathoner, many view Walmsley’s dream as something akin to a publicity stunt.

But Walmsley has never been the type to take on a challenge and then fold like a deck chair. This is an athlete whose resume of wins reads like a list of the most difficult ultra-racing events in the world: Western States (twice), Lake Sonoma (twice), Bandera, JFK (three times), Moab … and the list just goes on and on. Which is why he has just as many supporters who are quick to point out that this isn’t an ego trip.

And then there’s the one thing both sides have in common: A desire to see how this whole thing plays out. Like Michael Jordan attempting baseball, or Conor McGregor stepping into a boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather, curiosity is piqued by the question of whether the skills of one discipline will translate to the other.

“I’d say I’m not in contention for the top three,” Walmsley told the Arizona Daily Sun recently. “The goal, more or less, is to be competitive and try to hold my own. … At the end of the day, I still have ultrarunning. I still have my day job.”

It sounds like Walmsley hopes that if he does get a crack at the Olympics, his unique training will present some sort of opportunity to overcome an obstacle that traditional marathoners would have a more difficult time grappling with.

“You never know,” Walmsley said. “I bring something to this race, a toolbox, others don’t. The race could turn out like, ‘Well, I’m the only one who brought this wrench. I can do that.’ You never know.”

Believe it or not, Walmsley — a Phoenix, Arizona native who just turned 30 earlier this month — has never run a marathon in his life. But he did set a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim record, and last year he won the World Mountain Running title. In 2019 he also set the world record for fastest 50 miles, running it at 4:50:08, which puts him at an average of about 5:48 per mile — not too far off the pace of a solid marathoner, but he still has much work to do.

“For an ultrarunner, [this] challenges the status quo for how we are stereotyped,” Walmsley says of his current mindset, just days after Ultra-Running magazine named him Ultrarunner of the year for the fourth year in a row. “Challenging that and putting up a good fight, that sort of thing, is more or less the bigger story that I’m after by doing this.”

On Sunday, Walmsley ran the Rock N Roll half-marathon in Phoenix. He finished with a time of 1:02:13, putting him at a pace time of 4:44. It’s the latest workout in a training regimen that has had him averaging 161 miles a week (with two weeks of 175 miles) over the last several weeks. But will it be enough?

“There’s just an unknown about it, whether the strength from running trails and the high volume I do now will translate to something that’s maybe closer to my top potential for the marathon,” Walmsley says, looking forward to next month’s Olympics trials. “With the hills in Atlanta, there’s no certain time that’s going to get you there to the top three. People aren’t sure what it’s going to take, so why not put your nose in that?”

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HURT 100 pushes aside scary conditions, crowns winners Fuchs and Albrecht

By: Larry Carroll

As the 2020 HURT 100 approached, things felt … ominous. The annual Honolulu event is typically set in paradise, but this year’s recent weather in paradise has been less than ideal. On January 12, organizers for the race posted a warning:

“Recent high winds and heavy rains may result in poor trail conditions. While we are hopeful that conditions will improve leading up to the event, January weather on O’ahu is very unpredictable … Currently, the HURT course is mired in water, mud, and fallen trees.”

Not exactly music to a runner’s ears. But ultimately, the course was cleared (mostly), the weather cooperated, and the 20+ year-old iconic ultramarathon once again did not disappoint.

The big winner was Trevor Fuchs, who finished muddied and exhausted, but with a big smile on his face. The Ogden, Utah native ran his 100 miles in a time of 22:04:49, more than a half hour ahead of his closest competitor.

“When I first started running, I would have never guessed the places it would take me,” Fuchs wrote on his Instagram a few days before the race, looking forward to a big 2020 that has since started out on the best foot imaginable. “I would have never guessed the friendships I would make or the community that would become such a vital part of my life. I would have never guessed the opportunities that running would present. I am so incredibly grateful, honored, and stoked beyond measure to share that I have joined the @salomonrunning U.S. team. This coming year will have no shortage of adventure with Hardrock and UTMB in the summer. But in a few days, I get to start this thing off with a bang in Hawaii at the HURT 100 as a Salomon athlete.”

Featuring nearly 25,000 feet of vertical ascent, completing this race in the rainforests of Honolulu is anything but a given. Named for the Hawaii Ultra Running Team (HURT), a group of eccentric athletes who trained together on Maui’s jungle-covered mountains, the race was invented when they got sick of traveling all the way to the mainland to find competition. Known for its roots-heavy trails and humid temperatures, it has grown into one of the most beloved 100-milers in the ultra-running community.

On the women’s side, local favorite Anna Albrecht led the pack. The Honolulu native finished 15th overall, with a time of 28:55:50. She also finished more than 3 hours ahead of the second-place women’s participant.

About a week before her run, Albrecht posted a picture of herself kissing the famous sign that serves as a ritual for those who finish the HURT. “I’m so excited and nervous for this journey. It’s been the CRAZIEST ride since my name was drawn in August,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is going to be the hardest race of my life but I’m so ready to go to battle with it. Bring on the blisters, tears, sweaty cast, nerve pain, and bliss. Can’t wait to dance in the jungle for a couple days with all my crazy friends.”

Dance, she did – and she danced well enough to lead the pack. Here’s the women’s Top 10:

1. Anna Albrecht (Honolulu, Hawaii): 28:55:50

2. Denise Bourassa (Lakewood, Colorado): 32:03:50

3. Suzanna Bon (Sonoma, California): 32:19:46

4. Michiko Uchiyama (Shizuoka, Japan): 32:46:58

5. Chelsey Topping (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada): 33:01:15

6. Jody Sanborn (Banner, Wyoming): 33:24:17

7. Jessica Hardy (Dana Point, California): 33:39:01

8. Hannah Perry (Vancouver, Canada): 33:54:36

9. Candice Burt (Leavenworth, Washington): 33:56:46

10. Mayuko Floyd (San Diego, California): 34:39:10

Men’s Top Ten:

1. Trevor Fuchs (Ogden, Utah): 22:04:49

2. Nate Jaqua (Eugene, Oregon): 22:37:34

3. Brandon Stapanowich (Colorado Springs, CO): 23:28:07

4. Tomokazu Ihara (Takao, Japan): 23:57:20

5. Takeshi Noda (Yokohama, Japan): 24:54:38

6. Daniel List (Santa Maria, California): 26:01:05

7. Will Jones IV (Bellingham, Washington): 26:24:47

8. Tim McDononough (St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada): 26:48:05

9. Shin Iwatare (Suginami, Japan): 27:05:43

10. Sergio Florian (Kaaawa, Hawaii): 27:07:26

Contrasted with the final results, the halfway leaders show that Fuchs, Stapanowich, Jaqua and Ihara were in the driver’s seat for pretty much the entirety of the HURT 100. Also worth noting is the return of Tracy Garneau, who set the course record in 2010. Now 50 years old, Garneau unfortunately was unable to finish.

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Marisa Lizak breaks out at Desert Solstice, with Camille Herron as coach

By Larry Carroll

Reports out of Arizona have Marisa Lizak breaking records at Desert Solstice, the annual elite-level ultrarunning track event in Phoenix. The news is particularly noteworthy because she is coached by Camille Herron – a Solstice juggernaut herself just last year.

“If you are not familiar with the name, Marisa Lizak, you will soon,” reports the Instagram page for the US National 24 Hour Running Team . “She quietly came to Desert Solstice Invitational Track Meet – 100 Miles & 24 Hours race and has run away with the fastest time for a 100 mile race in 2019.”

With her stunning under-15-hours time of 14:50:44, the Marina del Rey, California native broke the previous 100-mile run record of 15:32:31 set by Kaci Lickteig at the Javelina Jundred Endurance Run just two months ago. She then went after the World Record for 24 Hours, running a total of 148.08 miles to take the new American 40-44 AG record (besting Traci Falbo’s 147.11 in 2014). These numbers give her the 4th best women’s qualifying time for the 2021 World Championship, and also make a strong qualifying mark for the 24 Hour National Team.  

Just last year, Herron herself was the talk of Solstice “Desert Solstice 2018 Re-Cap“. She broke the Women’s World Record for 24 hours with a distance of 162.9 miles, and claimed the 100 mile American Track Record for Women with a time of 13:25:00. This past October, Herron re-asserted her dominance in Albi, France, winning the IAU 24-Hour World Championships, adding just under five additional miles to her record by covering 167.8 in 24 hours.   

“I may need @runcamille as my coach!” tweeted @Tracey_Outlaw, using the hashtag #runlikeagirl. “Her athlete, Marisa Lizak, just threw down at Desert Solstice. Massive number for 24 hours.”

The dominance of Herron and Lizak seems to be ushering in a new era of competitive track ultra-running, as records are seemingly rising and falling with each successive race. 

“Fangirling from afar for our athlete Marisa!” Herron tweeted mid-race, in support of her protégé. “She’s running great.” 

Herron then followed that up tweet after the race with clapping emojis and the celebratory boasts of a proud parent: “148.08 miles to win Desert Solstice overall and break the 40-44 age group American Record!!! Fantastic!”

Held annually on Central High School’s oval track measuring 400 meters, Desert Solstice is seen by many as an event orchestrated to optimize record-breaking potential – and once again, it lived up to its billing.

Lizak ran 595 laps and beat her own personal record by more than 11 miles over the course of 24 hours. “Overwhelming!” was the word she used to describe the experience to USA Ultrarunning , who tweeted a photo of her after the race recovering in a chair, staring down with head in hands. 

“I just can’t imagine what these runners go through, running for 24 straight hours,” tweeted Patrick Duggan, a sprinter in awe of Lizak’s achievement. 

Following behind Lizak was Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) with a distance of 145.80. Here’s the top finishers for each field in terms of 24-hour distance:

Women’s:

1. Marisa Lizak (Marina del Rey, CA) – 148.08 miles

2. Yvonne Naughton (La Conner, WA) – 117.81 miles

3. Adela Salt (Leduc, AB) – 116.13 miles

4. Sarah Emoto (Sierra Madre, CA) – 91.21 miles

5. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, IN) – 70.58 miles

6. Laurie Dymond (Chambersburg, PA) – 63.63 miles

7. Meghan Laws (Cool, CA) – 62.13 miles

8. Nicole Bitter (Phoenix, AZ) – 35.79 miles

Men’s: 

1. Rolfe Schmidt (Fayetteville, AR) – 145.80 miles

2. Oswaldo Lopez (Madera, CA) – 141.13 miles

3. Zachary Szablewski (Issaquah, WA) – 115.36 miles

4. Scott Traer (Lyons, CO) – 102.15 miles

5. Pete Kostelnick (Brunswick, OH) – 100.66 miles

6. Mark Hammond (Millcreek, UT) – 100.00 miles

7. James Elson (St Albans, GBR) – 100.00 miles

8. Jacob Moss (Ladson, SC) – 90.47 miles

9. David Huss (Seattle, WA) – 70.58 miles

10. Kyle Pietari (Edgewater, CO) – 68.60 miles

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Pristine Patagonia: Ready for its Racing Close-Up

By Larry Carroll

When an event bills itself as “the running experience of a lifetime,” you might be inclined to think it’s just hype. But when we’re talking about Patagonia – the sparsely-populated South American region shared by Chile and Argentina and boasting views of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans – it’s anything but hyperbole.

In recent years, 3 groundbreaking (and endearingly unique) running events have been introduced in the extreme south, allowing athletes to compete amidst a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the world. The Ultra Fiord, Ultra Paine and Patagonian International Marathon each offer runners a chance to compete in various distances, across wide-ranging terrains and elevations. 

“Through these events, runners have the unique opportunity to experience running in Patagonia,” says race director Stjepan Pavicic. “By holding these races during the low season, not only does it help support the local tourism industry, but runners are also guaranteed greater access to accommodations, travel and other services, and all at a more affordable price.”

If you’re thinking about putting “the running experience of a lifetime” on your to-do list, which of these races is the one for you? Let’s take a closer look. 

The Patagonian International Marathon launched in 2012, marking the first time a road-running race was allowed in the Torres del Paine National Park – a majestic natural marvel between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes, encompassing lakes, mountains, glaciers and rivers. Featuring distances of 10K, 21K and 42K, it certainly offers a challenge to any runner, whether you’re a rookie or elite. Touting itself as the ultimate way to get up close to the breathtaking beauty of Chilean Patagonia, the event has grown exponentially over the last 8 years while attracting over 4000 runners from some 65 countries around the world.

Patagonia then upped the ante in 2014 with the introduction of Ultra Paine, which embraces runners of all levels in the region’s first trail running race. This is your chance to navigate stunning river crossings and forest climbs, in distances of 14K, 35K, 50K or 80K in one of the world’s most pristine running environments. 

In 2015, Ultra Fiord was introduced as Paine’s extreme younger brother. Encompassing high-mountain passes, glacier crossings and views of the fjords and mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, it has since gained a reputation as one of the most challenging trail running races around. 

With the calendar turning to 2020, the Patagonia triad of races is getting ready for their close-ups. Ultra Fiord (https://www.ultrafiord.com/) kicks things off on April 24 and 25, featuring everything from 21K, 42K, 50K, 60K and 80K to two-day races of 95K, 115K and 136K. The 9th Edition of the Patagonia International Marathon (10K, 21K and 42K) will take place on September 5 Patagonian International Marathon . Ultra Paine (14K, 35K, 50K and 80K) goes down just a few weeks later, on September 26. 

Ultra Paine is an Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc qualifying race, with different points being awarded for your chosen distance. Like the others, it is also quite active in conservation partnerships with the Chilean Patagonia, seeking to increase environmental awareness and tourism promotion. 

As for the Ultra Fiord, perhaps 2015’s 100-mile 2nd place finisher Enzo Ferrari said it best on his blog: “A tremendous, wild, tough, and strong race, suitable for those who truly are mentally strong and have a powerful heart,” he remembers of his time in Patagonia. “My goal was to finish, and, in the best case scenario, finish amongst the top 5. I had the opportunity of finishing second – not for being the fastest, the most trained, or the most capable, this was perseverance, toughness, mind, mind, and mind – convincing myself that there are no more limitations that one could put. Today, I am a person more prepared from what I went through.”

If you have a similar desire to develop your whole being through a transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you might want to consider the Patagonia race most appropriate for your skills. It’s the rare opportunity to combine running, nature and travel – and if you love all 3, it’s hard to imagine a better gift combining fitness and adventure that you could give yourself heading into the new year. 

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Rocky Raccoon 50: Athletes Prepare to Run Their Own Race

By Larry Carroll

There’s a good reason why the image selected for the registration page of the Hoka One One Rocky Raccoon 50 Endurance Trail Run is a smiling athlete wearing a tutu. Rocky Raccoon has been growing exponentially over the last few years, driven by a culture that embraces the “no pressure” mindset, and runners are responding to that.

Wanna run a 50k? Prefer to run 50 miles? A half marathon, your first ultra, or a really fast 50? No pressure, the Texas-based event seems to say – you be you. 

Wanna put on your game face? Prefer to take the course with a smile and a silly hat? Again, you be you.

Online registration is now open for the February 8th 50 miles/50k/half-marathon options, which will almost definitely sell out as more and more athletes use it as a solid option to begin their new year. Set in the city of Huntsville (population: 38,000), the course promises challenging elevation changes, beautiful pine trees, cool bridges and some Texas wildlife.  

Rocky Raccoon 50

Founded in 2002, the Rocky Raccoon 50was amended to include the 50k option in 2016, but capped out at 500 runners max so it won’t lose its charm. 

One interesting thing about the Rocky Raccoon 50 is that both the men’s and women’s categories seem ripe for a record reset. The fastest men’s race was run by Todd Braje (5:43:08) in 2011, and women’s champion Melanie Fryar (6:59:40) set her record way back in 2010. Another interesting factor is that race times seem to be trending in the wrong direction: There hasn’t been anything close to 7 hours for women in the near-decade since Fryar set the record, and the last 3 Rocky 50s have been over 8 hours. For men, two winners came within a half-hour of Braje since 2011, but the last two Rocky 50 winners have taken well over 7 hours. 

Much of this fluctuation can be attributed to weather, trail changes and the occasional trail closing that requires adjustments. As the site says: “Please appreciate these records knowing they are not certified but are impressive.” Could this year’s Rocky start reversing the trend back down?

Another interesting note is that the Rocky Raccoon 50 often trends older than many races. Last year’s winners were 49 (Amy Ewing of Texas) and 46 (Chad Lasater, also of Texas); in 2018, Barb Delgado took the women’s title at age 50 – and in 2006, 51-year-old Larry Hall led the pack. Indeed, the 50 miler proudly maintains a database of the fastest runners per age – all the way from 14 (Matt Holdaway, 12:29:42 in 2011) to 79 (Grant Holdaway, 14:55:47 in 2011). An ultra-running family with grandfather/grandson record holders at both ends of the age spectrum – how cool is that?

Every finisher gets a cool commemorative medal, and as their website shows (TEJAS TRAILS AWARDS & FINISHER MEDALS), race organizer Tejas Trails takes great pride in creating unique, handmade medals for its races. Some can even double as bottle openers or wine stoppers. Also, in keeping with the “you be you” mentality surrounding Rocky Raccoon, Tejas loves giving special awards to standout performances – as the website explains: “Whether it be for someone who slowed down to help a straggler accomplish their goal, someone who we know went through the ringer to get their race done, whoever had the most crashes, or a mom who ran/picked flowers/caught bugs with their little daughter the whole 10km, who knows what…”

Rocky Raccoon 50

Helpers will often be greatly appreciated, as evidenced by this excellent blog ( Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler ) from 2018 runner “Iron Jill,” who chose Rocky Raccoon as the ideal trail run while she ramped up for bigger races. She dealt with a constant drizzle as the race began, followed by heavier rainshowers later in the day. 

“The hardest part was all the mud from the rains. And the course was pretty mucky from the 100 mile race the weekend before,” she writes. “And oh the roots! It should be called Rooty Raccoon!”

After only 1 mile, Jill landed in a deep puddle and soaked herself – and her other foot hit a root, rolling her ankle. At mile 9, the “Damnation” aid station brought relief for her rapidly-developing blisters thanks to a helpful aid. Later, she earned herself the nickname “Mud Butt,” falling into a massive mud puddle. By the end of the race, Jill had a raw big toe, a taped-up ankle, and was soaked in mud – but finished the race with a smile and the mantra: “I CAN do hard things!”

Keep your eye on this year’s Rocky Raccoon 50 to see similar stories of pain, trials and triumph. Ultimately, everyone has their own race to run – and it’s fun to see one event that proudly affords its athletes the opportunity to blaze their own trails. 

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Fourmidable 50K ready for another wet, wild race

By Larry Carroll

It is time once again for the Fourmidable 50K, for mud-splashed legs, hunched-over uphill climbs, hugs of camaraderie and muscles stretched to their very limits. 

Known far and wide as one of the most challenging 50K races out there, Fourmidable gets its name from the four most substantial climbs along its course. Fresh out of the gate, runners must descend down to the American River, then climb back via punishing Cardiac Hill. Around five miles in, the field runs across No Hands Bridge and climbs up Training Hill towards Knickerbocker Canyon – then descends to the river again. Now having successfully danced along with the river and traversed it, runners climb a series of switchbacks to the Knickerbocker Aid Station. It all finishes up by following the Western States trail towards the No Hands Aid Station, heading uphill once again to the finish line.

With less than a mile of road at any given point, the event offers over 6000 accumulative climbing feet over the course of its completion – so yeah, it’s a pretty decent workout. The 2019 installment (Fourmidable 50K 2019) featured intermittent rain, substantial mud puddles and a raw morning push-off, so don’t be surprised if the weather wants to once again complicate matters – following on the heels of rain season in California, the 2017 Fourmidable was even muddier.

In case you can’t tell from the description, the Fourmidable is … well, quite formidable. As such, it is a selection race for the U.S. Trail Team, and an official qualifying race for the coveted Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in the French Alps. 

This year’s Fourmidable will take place February 15 and 16 – appropriate, since it’s likely to break the hearts of more than a few competitors who can’t quite conquer it. Held in Auburn, California’s gorgeously intimidating Overlook Park, the event will be accompanied by a 35K, a half marathon and a 13K as well. 

The 2020 race offers a unique cash incentive to those brave enough to strap on their running shoes. Both the male and female categories have set aside $100 for fifth place, $200 for fourth, $500 for third, $700 for second and a cool $1000 for their first place finishers. 

To further sweeten the pot, anybody who breaks the current course record for either gender gets an extra $500 awarded to them. Currently, these records are held by Max King (3:32:36 in 2017) and Stephanie Howe Violett (4:10:16 in 2018). Since both of these records were set fairly recently, who knows? Perhaps the Fourmidable organizers could be shelling out some substantial coin come February.

As long as you finish the race, this much is certain: You’ll receive a cool finisher’s award to memorialize your run, and show off to your jealous friends. Depending on your age, you could also qualify for an age group award presented to the top finisher 19 years and under, 70 and older, and each decade in-between. 

Last year’s Fourmidable was won by Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, CA. He came within 11 minutes of the course record, followed closely behind by Sam Sahli (Boulder, CO), Evan Williams (Seattle, WA), David Kilgore (New York, NY) and Ryan Ghelfi (Ashland, OR). On the women’s side, Daniella Moreno of Santa Barbara, CA finished just barely 2 minutes behind the record, followed by Rachel Drake (Portland, OR), Chessa Adsit-Morris (Santa Cruz, CA), Corey Conner (Longmont, CO) and Emily Richards (Reno, NV).

As difficult as Fourmidable can be, perhaps the best advice can be extratcted from Andrew Taylor, an athlete who blogged (FOURmidable Wet and Muddy Race Report) about his wet, physically-demanding 2017 Fourmidable experience. When you see a puddle, he says, just go for it:

“The run across No Hands Bridge featured a large puddle that was un-escapable. I charged right down the middle of it, soaking my feet for the first time of the day. As I hit the far end of the puddle, I jumped up in the air and came splashing down to cheers of the aid station workers and a few spectators. After all, it’s not fun to be out here, if you’re not having fun as well.”

The bottom line? Lace your sneakers uptight, find the right balance of pushing and pacing yourself, but don’t ever be too grown up to make a splash every now and then. After all, one of the great things about running is that it makes you feel so alive – so, live it up out there.

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Western States 100 Lottery

By Larry Carroll

Its history dates all the way back to the Native Americans; the first runner to successfully conquer it did so in 1974. By 1977, the Western States Endurance Run was official – and the first installment featured 14 men who were monitored at “veterinary stops” intended for horses. These days, the Endurance Run follows the middle part of the beloved Western States Trail, and is considered one of the most arduous organized running events in all of America.

And if you want to be a part of this epic history, the time is now, fill out your information online. But before you do, a few notes: You must be able to submit the results of a qualifying run whose results are available online – if your qualifier is deemed invalid, your application will be rejected. 

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to sit back and hope. On Saturday, December 7th, entrants will be selected via lottery system. All results will be posted on the WS website, and a fee charged to those folks. If your name isn’t announced on December 7, don’t despair: You may also be selected as one of the 50 applicants whose names will be placed on the ordered wait list, which would then be used to fill in for drop-outs, etc.

Of course, there are two other groups of people who will also get to strap on their running shoes. First are runners wishing to exercise their one-time lottery bye, a unique luxury the race affords those who have accrued lottery tickets but had an “unexpected life event” interfere. If you haven’t already used it, a one-time lottery bye will get you past the lottery – just be sure to declare your intention to use it during the application period.

Second are automatic entrants. These are folks who have qualified for special consideration, typically based on past achievements. They include the top 10 male and female runners from last year’s race, winners of the Golden Ticket Races (such as the Hoka One One Bandera), elite athletes in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, members of the Board of Trustees and more. Perhaps the most endearing one might be the “Silver Legend Entry,” created in the memory of longtime WS Race Director Greg Sunderlund and awarded to one qualifying runner who will be 60 years old or older on race day.

What can all these entrants expect, come race day? Assembling in Squaw Valley, California next June 27, they will begin the day at 5am with a few hundred of their closest friends. Any runner hoping to be eligible for an award has to reach the finish line in Auburn, California by 10:59:59 am the next day. 

From Squaw Valley, the trail ascends 2550 vertical feet – and that’s just the first four-and-a-half miles. After that, runners follow the original trails used by gold and silver miners in the 1850s, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn. Running predominantly through rough and remote territory, runners are encouraged to bring two LED flashlights – and are encouraged not to try and find their way in the dark should they fail.

In case of emergency, much of the trail territory is only available via foot, horse or helicopter. At 78 miles, runners will come to the American River, where a guide rope (or in high-water years, a river raft) will help them get across. A message on the event’s official website reads: “The remoteness of the trail can lead to disaster for anyone not experienced in the backwoods.” So, as you can see, this race in not for the faint of heart.

If you still want to try and take your turn at the next Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, now is the time to jump in on the lottery. As 3-time Western States champion Jim King said: “There are three types of runners at Western States: The Survivors, The Runners and the Racers.” Which will you be?

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America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

JFK 50 Mile honors its legacy as ‘America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon’

By Larry Carroll

Billed as “America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon,” the JFK 50 stands out from the pack. Inspired by one of the most beloved American Presidents, it dates all the way back to the spring of 1963 – long before ultra-marathoning broke through among mainstream sports. It is a “military race,” meaning that it was designed to challenge officers to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours or less, much as Teddy Roosevelt required of his troops in the early 20th century. As such, the race is open to the pubic – yet its tone, sense of honor and discipline are set by the military personnel among its ranks.

This year’s JFK 50 is scheduled to kick-off on November 23rd with a “Dual Start” format, meaning that the entire field begins racing at 6:30 a.m. and has 13 hours to complete the course. Everyone who finishes receives a unique medallion bearing the face of John F. Kennedy. An awards ceremony will recognize the top 10 men and women, as well as “Team Championship Awards” for the top teams (3-5 runners) of men and women; a “Military Team Competition” awards the top five finishers of the same military branch (Base or Academy), meanwhile, awarding the coveted “Kennedy Cup” and substantial bragging rights to the team with the lowest time-score.

America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

All of this began some 57 years ago, when then-president Kennedy challenged the country to embrace physical fitness, inspiring numerous 50-mile events around the country. When the president was assassinated later that year, many of the other races were never held again – but the JFK 50 Mile Challenge renamed itself the JFK 50 Mile Memorial and carried on. To this day, it is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event that is still ongoing. 

As the years have gone by, civilians and military personnel have continued to run side-by-side, taking up the challenge. The official race website even has an amazing archive of race programs (https://www.jfk50mile.org/history/archived-race-programs/) dating all the way back to 1966 – a legacy most ultra-marathon races cannot begin to approach. As such, the JFK 50 offers runners a unique opportunity to not only get their workout in, but also measure themselves against history itself. 

The fastest men’s time is held by Jim Walmsley (5:21:29), set in 2016; the fastest women’s time belongs to Ellie Greenwood (6:12:00), set in 2012. Looking over the top 50 in each list of performers, however, it is hard to not notice that the vast majority of times are post-2000, even though the race was over 30 years old at the turn of the century. Sure, there are a handful of 1998’s and 1982’s here and there – but do such numbers indicate that today’s athletes are simply better trained, better conditioned and faster?

America’s Oldest Ultra-Marathon

It’s also fascinating how the long-established race is able to present other, more broad historical observations. Tony Cerminaro set the “Octogenarian Men (80-89)” record at 12:05:42 in 2016 (and is also the oldest person to ever finish the race), while Karsten Schultz set the 19-and-under men’s record (6:16:25) way back in 1977. Two different women (Carolyn Showalter and Elizabeth Wood) share the record for most consecutive women’s finishes (22), but the men’s streak is far ahead at 38 – held by Duane Rosenberg, who has finished every JFK 50 dating back to 1981. 

For many, the race has become an annual tradition on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Lining the main street of Boonsboro, Maryland, the course begins with 5.5 miles of road blending into the Appalachian Trail, gaining 1,172 feet in elevation. The next 13 miles or so is a rocky section of the trail rolling across a mountain ridge – followed quickly by steep switchbacks that drop the course over 1,000 feet. Next comes the “canal” section – 26.3 miles of flat, unpaved dirt and gravel. It all wraps up with about 8 miles of paved country roads to the finish line.

With the military angle, don’t be surprised if the JFK proceedings elicit tears in your eyes for more reasons than simple pain and exhaustion. Last year, veteran Adam Popp became the talk of the JFK when he finished the race in snowy, wet conditions despite having lost a leg while serving in Afghanistan. Popp was honored at the annual “Legends Dinner,”  an annual tradition tied to the JFK for race veterans with 10-or-more official finishes, former winners, age-group and geographic record holders. This year’s Legends Dinner is scheduled to take place on November 22.

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The North Face 50 San Francisco

The North Face 50 San Francisco makes its comeback

By Larry Carroll

When an ultra-marathoner is considering his or her next race, there are certain criteria they typically take into consideration. Questions like: How challenging will it be, and does that level of challenge align with my training trajectory? Is the race regarded well enough that it would benefit my racing resume?

But if you’re among those who put scenic views and drastic elevation change among your top criteria, there’s a good chance that you’ve considered the annual North Face 50 in San Francisco.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

Part of the company’s Endurance Challenge Series (founded in 2007), San Francisco is the culminating race following earlier events in Bear Mountain NY, Washington DC, Princeton MA and Madison WI. This year’s event is set for November 16-17 with the starting line in Sausalito.

On the men’s side, top contenders include Jared Hazen (winner of this year’s Western States 100 and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile), Matt Daniels (winner of the 2019 Black Canyon 100k), Sebastien Spehler (second place winner at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile), Thibaut Garrivier (a French runner known for winning the Transvulcania Ultra-marathon), Dylan Bowman (a top 10 runner at the North Face 50 multiple times, most recently finishing second in 2015) and Scotland’s Robbie Simpson. Other promising names include Tyler Wolfe, Bobby Peavey and Benjamin Stout.

For some of these racers, 2019 is a chance to recapture some momentum. Many have raced in the North Face 50 previously, but were left out in the cold in 2018 when the race was unfortunately canceled due to the California wildfires; this year, wildfires have also been an issue – so, here’s hoping that the air-quality remains well enough for the race to resume.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

Over on the women’s side, the narrative is every bit as compelling. From Clare Gallagher (Western States 100 and Way Too Cool 50k winner, as well as second place winner at the North Face 50 in 2017) to Keely Henninger (winner at Lake Sonoma and the Chuckanut 50k) to Brittany Peterson (fifth place winner at the North Face 50 in 2017, second at Western States this year), and YiOu Wang (such a toughie that she has been known to dress like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill at times) to Anna Mae Flynn (winner of the Speedgoat 50k in 2017 and 2019), there are lots of talented women who’ve signed up to run the race. 

Of course, both the men’s and women’s races have lots of other talented competitors as well – and names are subject to change as people join or drop out between now and race day. But what we do know is that the North Face 50 will go from Sausalito to San Francisco via the Marin Headlands – a hilly peninsula that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The highlight, of course, is running across the Golden Gate Bridge. But another major attraction for the runners is the 10,600 feet of climbing from start to finish – a solid challenge for any athlete.

The last time the North Face 50 was run, it was nothing short of historic. Tim Freriks led the men’s field and Ida Nilsson led the women – and both set new course records. Will any of the above listed athletes be able to break Freriks’ 6:02:26 or Nilsson’s 7:07:56? With the level of talent soon to assemble in northern California, it wouldn’t seem smart to bet against it.

The North Face 50 San Francisco

As part of the North Face Endurance Challenge Series, the 50 Mile is a “Clean Sport” race. All participants in Endurance Challenge Series events must sign a Code of Conduct that bans any runner currently serving a penalty from the world’s leading anti-doping agencies – and disqualifies any athlete who has ever served a ban from receiving prize money and awards or being a part of the elite field. 

The Clean Sport initiative exemplifies not only the high visibility that the North Face 50 has achieved but also its high stakes. On the race’s official course guide, there’s a section called “What to Bring” that lists some of the usual suspects: sunscreen, headlamp, hydration pack and the like. It also lists one more tongue-in-cheek, but no less mandatory running accessory: Game Face.

Which isn’t to say that the North Face 50 is all serious business – the Finish Line Festival in Crissy Field is sure to be a popular event as runners celebrate with music, food, and refreshments. There’s also a 1k Kids Race, which will allow the family festivities to continue as children race alongside SpongeBob SquarePants, Buzz Lightyear, the minions and more.

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World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina promise sights, sounds and sweat

By Larry Carroll

The eighth-largest country in the world, Argentina is home to 44 million people. Since 2003, it has also been home to the K42 Adventure Marathon – and in 2019 will play host to the World Mountain Running Championships. 

If you want to get an idea of how seriously the residents of Patagonia take the Salomon K42, check out this video “Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon anfitriona del Mundial de Montaña 2019“. While hyping up the 2019 installment, footage is shown of deep blue waters and pristine mountains – as well as blinding snow and hellacious downslopes. “Do you want to show who you are?” the clip teases as if daring participants to sign up. “Do you want to honor your country, your people?”

Of course you do. The only problem is, so do athletes from Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and too many other homelands to count. So the end result is an annual race that has dozens upon dozens of runners out of the starting gate, but precious few at the finish line. 

This year’s festivities take place November 12-17, with a flower ceremony in beautiful San Martin Square awaiting those who earn medals. Organizers are expecting some 2000 runners (a substantial increase over the 345 they attracted in their 2003 inaugural race), with about 60 percent running the 42km and the rest selecting the shorter but no less important 15km. 

 “You will travel to the bottom of South America, to walk in the footprints that the greatest athletes of the world have already left,” touts the video, showing clips of entrants splashing across streams and hesitantly navigating steep terrain. “A footprint that knows about sufferings and feats. A footprint that will remain in history.”

Sure enough, over the years such elite runners as Kilian Jornet, Miguel Heras, Luis Alberto Hernando, Oihana Kortazar and Zaid Ait Malek have left their footprint in Argentina. Perhaps the most beloved K42 athlete (locally speaking, at least) is Cristian Mohamed from Mendoza, Argentina – who won the 2009 and 2011 K42 Adventure Marathons, then returned for last year’s edition to triumphantly take the title back to its country of origin (after six years of foreign winners including Heras, Francisco Pino and Marco de Gasperi). 

“I ran the first six kilometers with the Italian,” Mohamed said after the race of Bernard Dematteis, another K42 favorite. “But it was going at a pace that we would not be able to sustain. I knew that the race begins in the climb to Bayo, in the Raizal and I took care until there.”

Echoing that sentiment was 2018 women’s champion Ragna Debats, a formidable Spanish Dutch runner who similarly conserved her energy for the latter part of the race. “It’s a very demanding race,” she said of the K42. “[I had to be] conservative because I knew that the second part was demanding.”

So, what can this year’s runners expect? A good road map is provided by Sarah Lavender Smith, a long-distance runner, mom and author who wrote extensively about her 2009 run on her blog “An Adventure Marathon” in Argentina’s Lake District Lives Up to the Hype“, calling it “epic” and “unforgettable.”

“The Salomon K42 calls itself an ‘Adventure Marathon,’ but I didn’t expect its course or my experience on it to go to such extremes,” she writes, citing her marathon resume. “Suffice to say I was reminded that it’s best to expect the unexpected and prepare for any and everything that the course might deliver.”

While fondly describing “that magical, crazy day when I traversed a peak in the Andes overlooking lakes and ski towns,” Smith bluntly recalls the dangers of mountain running.

“I was grasping at branches of shrubs that lined a narrow chute of mud and snow on a stretch of trail that seemed as steep and slippery as a wet playground slide,” she recalls. “At one point I had to scramble to the side to avoid being toppled by a guy who lost his grip and came skidding butt-first toward me.”

Beginning in the town, racers are given a powerful push-off via shouts of encouragement from the supportive community. Within moments, however, the Patagonian primeval forest blankets participants in near silence – broken only, no doubt, by the rhythm of their breathing. After a loop of going up and down throughout the forest, on single trails that seem to weave between untouched natural beauty, runners begin making their way up to the base of Cerro Bayo ski station – the point where the contenders are often separated from the pretenders.

Check points offer food and drink, while icy rivers reward those who splash through them with enough cold water to revitalize the legs. Then comes the vertical path named RAIZAL II, as forest turns to snow and the threats evolve along with it. At some point, you view La Angostura down below, then begin the downhill descent, back into the forest and through curves and countercurves that would offer a fun rollercoaster ride – if your muscles weren’t on fire by this point. It all ends back in the town, with cheers on the main avenue.

Who will survive this year to see that celebration? Who will enjoy the hot stew and celebratory party with a medal on their chest? Once again, the time has come for the hype to fade away – and the athletes to start moving their feet. 

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