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.
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.
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.
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.