The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco Championship 2011

It’s Friday (well, Thursday night really), the day before the biggest ultra of the year (2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge  San Francisco Championship). There are a few reasons why we should consider this race ultra big, or this ultra race big. That’s what I’ll spend the next hour or so chipping away at, that idea that we’ve reached at last the Marin Headlands and a field of runners will assemble in just a few hours that could absolutely, in the spirit so poetically described by Geoff Roes, explode trail lore. Imagine what’s at stake. We are witnessing a sport get defined, re-defined as its precocious limbs mature before our very eyes.

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships San Francisco represents the other half of this sport’s split personality. About a month ago, I explored the meaning of UROC and think some of those words apply here to this weekend’s race.

“What is the intent of [UROC]? This is a rhetorical question. The race is about the competitive nature of the sport. Period. Even more interesting: Geoff Roes is at the front of this campaign to create a race where elites are treated like elites and the race is centered around highlighting that competition at the front. Again, this sport is suggestive of two worlds: the down-to-earth just run and have fun and finish vibe, and the world-class Micahael Wardian v Geoff Roes vibe, or Jornet v Wolfe and Clark or Heras v Roes and Mackey vibe. It’s tough to deny this split personality in the sport.”

That is what is happening in San Francisco this weekend.

All year, every weekend, runners gather on myriad national and international trail to “race.” Most of these are friendly battles between friends and family members, or new and familiar faces just enjoying the outdoors. These events might more represent the local endurance challenge. The “race” might be inaugural or it might be 35 years-old. The spirit is better reminiscent of fellowship, of sister or brotherhood, of people of all walks of life sharing in the stewardship of our natural world and getting fit and having fun at the same time. “Winning” might not even be part of the local lexicon. A podium might be replaced by pints of craft beer; but the sweat and the beautiful feelings associated with giving it a go out there circulate like the good vibes of a people engaged in what I would call a new civic duty.

TNFSF50 certainly includes this same kind of friendly praxis, even amongst the elites (perhaps even more amongst the elites). Be that as it may, there’s a race going-on, one of world-class proportions, one so big it’s more germane to the competitions of ancient Greece, where epic battle preceded a celebratory feast.

This race has been well hashed and rehashed by the blogs. The folks at iRunFar produced a fine preview of the men’s and women’s race. The aforementioned renderings of Mr. Roes have people spinning on their bar stools. Adam Chase has been keeping us abreast of the Salomon scene, as well.  Here we are, still in the tryptophanic aftermath of Thanksgiving, and, indeed, we have a lot to be thankful for. I am certainly thankful for the access we are all granted to so many stellar peeks at this sport’s elites (the runners, the managers, race directors, publishers, etc.). I am thankful for the blog as it seems to give us all an opportunity to articulate whatever odd ball single-track idea we’ve developed and hope to share with a few passersby.

The idea that this sport is indeed schizophrenic or of two minds (whatever you want to call it), is supported by this online presence.  As AJW essays on the future of the sport with certain fundamental changes happening all around, in terms of corporate influence, etc., we have to be reminded that the sport is largely defined by the casual, neighborly discourse that exists on these webs, just like it is during those trail runs, at and after those hundreds of weekend races. Significant commercialization of all of that would be a tall order.  Is some of this white-collar share-holder cologne distorting or undermining some of the trail discussions or the competitions? Perhaps. But the positive effects of these dollars are on display, as well: This weekend and any such opportunity we have to watch these elites battle it out on world-class trails has to be welcomed by even the casual fan. Viewing the MUT world in this open-minded way, I think, is imperative at this point. The sport is clearly changing, and Saturday’s race is another such example. But the sport is also staying the same, and every weekend of the year marks occasion for this argument in the abundance of ultra and mountain “races” in which we all get to compete.

Both worlds will be on parade tomorrow in San Francisco.

And this is how I see the men’s race going down: Above, I referenced a passage from an article I wrote about UROC.  I make note of the role Geoff Roes played in that race’s organization (of course he played a pretty big role in the actual race, as well). I referenced that passage to evidence the parallels we see in UROC and TNFEC50. These two are especially similar in that they are geared toward attracting a large field by offering substantial prize money. Looks like we’re building a parallelogram: I see Geoff Roes winning this race, convincingly. He’s definitely had some close-calls at this race in the past. Sure there’s his back-to-back runners-up finishes in ’09 and ’10, but don’t forget about 2008.  He was right there when the shit went down between Steidl and Carpenter.  This is a must read from the event website archives:

At the bottom on the bone-crunching descent, at the seaside hamlet of Stinson Beach, Carpenter met his crew – his wife, Yvonne, and his six-year-old daughter, Kyla. “Last year, I’d come into a station and scrounge around a little bit for my drop bag,” he explains. “I’d lose a few seconds. And at this level you just can’t do that.” Still, Carpenter lost ground as the pack passed by like greyhounds, weaving through the quaint town’s streets before vanishing up the Matt Davis trail, heading 1,700 vertical feet uphill. This is when many runners felt Carpenter, who has built his legendary status running up the steep slopes of Pikes Peak near his home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, made his move and took control of the race. He quickly passed Steidl and soon came upon the others. “By the top I had wheeled everybody in again,” recalls Carpenter. “It was Geoff Roes and Shiloh (Mielke).” Carpenter, unsure of whether there were still some others ahead, turned to them and asked, “Gentlemen, who’s still ahead?” They replied, “Nobody.” And Carpenter pushed on. After a short out-and-back segment, during which runners could measure exactly where they stood (Carpenter, Skaggs, Steidl), they passed through Pantoll once again. Now Steidl had passed Skaggs, who had become somewhat dehydrated. At this point, Mile 30, Carpenter still held a two-minute gap on Steidl, but, entering the stretch run, and heading down into another deep valley, spectators wondered if Steidl could catch Carpenter. And, lurking only a few seconds behind, was Geoff Roes, hanging tough. They all dove 1,000 feet down the famed Bootjack trail, devouring technical trail like Tour de France riders descending the Alpe d’Huez.

Roes finished 5th that year in 7:12:35.  That was the awakening of Geoff Roes if you ask me. His entire 2009 and 2010 were legendary. We all know that’s quite a run, which had already begun in Marin County in 2008 under the no less watchful eye than that of the great Matt Carpenter.

Team Salomon, which includes Rickey Gates, Christophe Malarde, Adam Campell, and the recently signed Matt Flaherty and Jorge Maravilla, look very well represented; and who knows if they might implement some team tactics to break-up what will be a very loaded peloton. Can Gates hang with Roes for 50 fast undulating miles? Can the Frenchman, or the talented Canadian? I don’t see it.  Some see Flaherty as a real dark horse.  If he were to win, that would be a huge upset.  Some are picking Maravilla top 5.

The other runners I like this weekend are Dakota Jones, Michael Wardian, Jason Wolfe, Jason Schlarb, Leigh Schmitt and my big dark horse is Galen Burrell. Jones might have won last year and his 2011 campaign has been really solid. Knowing he can compete really well in such diverse conditions as Hardrock (2nd) and Sierre-Zinal (17th), races really well at this ultra distance, and just nabbed the R2R2R FKT, I really like this guy’s chances. Wardian is there because he’s Wardian. He absolutely could win this thing, but I don’t see him climbing with Geoff. Wolfe is a bit of an unknown to me, but I sense he has gobs of speed and climbing enduranc; he has some nice road and off-road results to his name, namely the Trans Rockies win.  He could be tough.  Schlarb was top five here last year and  is apparently very fit and ready to rumble.  Schmidt seems like a lock for this distance; he should have a solid showing. And, of course, the ultra inexperienced Burrell who can climb with the best of them and just spanked Leor Pantilat at a trail marathon in the bay area (and Pantilat doesn’t lose).  I’m getting really good odds on my Burrell pick.  There’s my lucky 7.

For the women, I’m really going-out on a limb here and picking Frost, Greenwood and Hawker to claim the podium.  Based on recent racing though, how do you not pencil in these ladies.

A quick shout-out to Max King, wishing him luck this weekend going for another win at the Xterra Worlds in Hawaii; and a helpful reminder that TNF SF 50 would also offer some lovely trail travel this time of year, say, in 2012.

But it’s Roes with the huge win this year.  He has unfinished business in Marin, and that is, I’m afraid, the way it is.

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USATF MUT Nominations (the-not-so soft pour)

USATF MUT Award

Thursday, we at Inside Trail tossed up one of those big neon softballs in the form of “Here’s the USATF MUT nominations. What do you think about it?” It was an intentional trial attempt at not laying out thick commentary of our observations in the hopes of drawing comments and thoughts from readers.

Regurgitating existing conversations or reposting current thoughts found elsewhere isn’t Inside Trail’s style, so we want to augment our last post with some IT-type questions and offer a bit of “substance of competition”. To begin, though, we need to understand what the criteria for the award is and how to interpret it. It seems that the qualifications have evolved over the last ten years. For instance, international competition was merely “encouraged” whereas it’s now a specific requirement.  As we’ll see, that turns out to be the doorman bouncer that keeps otherwise qualified candidates out of the party.

We’re not ones to sugarcoat things, so when I say that the USATF website is as jumbled as their year-long search for a new CEO, I’m simply pointing out facts. For example, the “History” section covers 133 years of history in approximately 100 words and thats for the overall history. There’s nothing other than an overview of the “joint subcommittee” of MUT being established in 1998 and annual meeting minutes from which to glean historical information regarding the MUT and, frankly, I’m not that interested to where I’ll spend a couple hours reading through meeting minutes. So, we’ll just start the discussion…

Tim: As I’ve pointed out above, there’s yet another weakness in the establishments attempting to manage our great sport. I don’t covet their task and assume it’s like trying to manage a wet bar of soap on tile. I did receive a response from Nancy Hobbs regarding the USATF MUT annual awards. The most important clarification I needed was whether “international competition” means competition off American soil or any race that has an international field, e.g. Western States. She confirmed that it means off US soil. That alone excludes Dave Mackey from contention for the USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year award. So, who does that leave? Obviously, the Mountain Runners of the Year have to be Max King and Kasie Enman. I’d like to focus on the ultra classification. Wardian is everyone’s obvious choice but let’s introduce Nick Pedatella into the mix. Heck, let’s talk about Pedatella for both USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year and UltraRunning Magazine’s UROY award. He flies low, under the radar with no blog, no sponsors, and a self effacing nature that screams “ah, shucks, I just run and that’s it.”  Matt, you actually pointed out Nick Pedatella’s stout season and obvious qualifications for consideration for BOTH of these awards. What’s your take on all this?

Matt: We quasi-academics like to complicate things. Before we get to an epic 10%ABV bottle of irony, let’s shore-up our superficial understanding of USATF, adding to what you said very well above. First of all, Matt Carpenter’s critical view of the USATF back in ’07 in an interview in Running Times seems to have a lot of traction (among the abundance of criticism out there). You allude to the lack of leadership, the organization still looking for a CEO for over a year, and just the simple lack of information that exists seems pretty indicative of how important these sports are to USATF discourse.

We might add that the MUT moniker was coined by Nancy Hobbs at a USATF convention in Florida in 1998 and two years later at a conference in Albuquerque the new MUT subcommittee was “elevated to the status of a Running Council.” Prior to that, USATF did have an Ultra Subcommittee, but no representation of mountain running. So, going on 11 years now, USATF has “supported” the mountain, ultra and trail running sports. The argument that the organization has a stake in American off-road racing does not possess much of a statistical argument (beyond some race results). In other words, if we’re going to be really honest here, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that one might consider enough to engage the audience with a clear, articulate national (and even international) argument for trail and mountain running. And based on our requests for information from current USATF leadership being unequivocally denied, the organization does not appear too concerned either about its MUT ethical argument (“don’t you want us to like you?”). Nonetheless, the organization has had a huge presence in road and track, as you point-out, Tim, for over one hundred years. And even if the folks at USATF embrace MUT with their fingers, it’s, I guess, better than nothing.

On their website, under MUT Records & Lists, they provide some records of past USA Champions for the various ultra and trail distances. Please excuse the attention here on the men’s side. I will list here the men’s champs. Each distance category provides past winners. The road categories go back to the 60s whereas the trail races go back to the mid-to-late 90s.
· Michael Wardian is the 2011 50k road champ
· Todd Braje is the defending 50 mile road champ
o The 2011 50mile championship is next weekend – October 23, 2011
Tussey Mt. Ski Area – Boalsburg, PA
· Andy Henshaw is the 2011 100k road champ
· A 100 mile road championship hasn’t been run since 2003
· Max King is the current 50k trail champ (although this result is not listed)
· Jason Schlarb is the current 50mile trail champ
· The trail 100k category doesn’t exist, but Dave Mackey won that event back in January at Bandera
· The trail 100 mile link is dead (no records), yet Dave James won the 2011 100 Trail Championship at Burning River 100. The Mohican 100 appears to have been a venue used in the past, as well..
· Max King is the 2011 USA Mountain Champion (Cranmore Hill Climb)
· Max King is the defending Trail Marathon Champ
o The 2011 championship is Nov. 5th at the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon
· The 2011 10km Trail Champion is Joe Moore

Why did I list all of those? It’s informative, so go ahead and start nominating though you’ll have to wait on the trail marathon results and the 50mile road ultra results, as they have yet to run.

One thing seems pretty clear about the USATF: the 100mile distance doesn’t get the press that other trail and ultra distances do. Maybe that’s just me. Now, for your 2011 USATF Runners of the Year nominations, go back to the criteria in our previous post and start making your case for a mountain, ultra and trail runner.

Since the USATF winner of any MUT category must have raced abroad, Max King is clearly the 2011 USATF Mountain Runner of the Year (and indeed Kasie Enman is the women’s winner). As for the USATF Trail Runner of the Year, King looks suited for that too having added the ½ Marathon Trail Championship, the 50k Trail, and most likely the Trail Marathon in Nov. Joe Grey won the 15k trail. So, maybe Max doubles.

And then we have the 2011 USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award.
Front runners:

Michael Wardian: Look at his results. He’s raced abroad, nabbing 2nd at the 100k Worlds and he won the USATF 50k road championships. He also won the NFEC Kansas City 50miler, 3rd at Badwater, 3rd at NFEC Washington, and 2nd at UROC.

Andy Henshaw: 3rd at 100k Worlds, 4th at White River and a 1st at Lost Lake 50k and a stellar win at the 100k road championship.

Beyond that, you’re pretty stuck (though do complicate, please).

Dave Mackey is not eligible because he did not race abroad. Nick Clark’s Sierre-Zinal isn’t an ultra and his 100 miler podiums don’t seem like USATF material although his Jemez and Speedgoat wins seem admissible. But the international race criterion I think nips him in the bud.

Footfeathers and Nick Pedatella

We like a runner named Nick Pedatella for USATF Ultra Runner of the Year, too. He was 2nd American at UTMB (I believe 13th overall). He won Oil Creek 100, The Bear 100, was 2nd at Big Horn 100, 2nd at Speedgoat 50k, and 4th at Jemez. His international entry is HUGE. And he faired extremely well at 3 other 100s to go along with shorter ultra results in big races. The guy raced a lot. And podiumed a lot. We like him. A lot.

But the USATF may look elsewhere. Michael Wardian has won three straight Ted Corbitt Memorial USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Awards. Although last year he had a win at The Comrades 98k and a 3rd at Marathon de Sables, his 2011 looks pretty impressive again. I would only say look at Henshaw as well; though Wardian did beat him head-to-head in The Netherlands. Wardian seems a natural pick for USATF ultra award, again.

That’s the men’s USATF UROY.

I hope you’ve been doing the math because although Pedatella’s phenomenal year doesn’t seem to measure-up to the spirit of the USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award, we would like to take this opportunity to suggest that he might be the perfect dark horse for the other big ultra award, UROY.

This award, it is widely known, loves it some mountain 100 milers! The fact that Nick Clark is clearly one of the favorites based on two third places at two very prominent 100 milers is another indication of this trend. If you just look at the results, the comparison between Mackey and Clark isn’t quite that compelling. Mackey has had a HUGE year (And had he made it to the UTMB, even to run the CCC, that would have been his international entry and the USATF ultra runner of the year would be his). It’s tough to compare Mackey and Clark only because Mackey has more wins in some very prominent American ultras. The ONLY reason there is still a conversation is that Mackey doesn’t stack-up on the 100 scale. He only ran one. And he finished 6th. And Clark finished 3rd in the same race, the one between Squaw Valley and Auburn, California. Otherwise, Mackey won just about every race he entered (American River, Miwok, Waldo, Firetrails, etc.). There is nothing soft about Mackey’s race schedule. He had a mammoth year. Please, don’t get me wrong: Clark’s WS/HR double podium is epic, as well. His Jemez CR, fantastic. But I would give the nod to Mackey just on the statistical argument.

However, the other Nick (Pedatella) submits a resume for UROY that is unmistakably UROY-like (other than the fact that he did not race WS100). Try this: compare the Geoff Roes 2009 year with the Pedatella 2011 year. Although Roes was bagging course records at 100s (HURT, Wasatch and The Bear) and winning some smaller ultras, Pedatella ran 4 100s this year, won 2, finished 2nd American at a BRUTAL UTMB (juxtaposed with the slew of DNFs we all witnessed), 2nd to Clark at Speedgoat and 4th at Jemez.

So you say the Roes ’09 and Pedatella ’11 don’t quite compare? There isn’t the same level of dominance that Geoff displayed back in the day? I beg to differ, especially given who Pedatella is up against this year. For UROY, the 100 is the golden egg. It’s what’s holding-back the brilliant year of Dave Mackey. How is Pedatella not in the conversation? Talk about mind-boggling.

Here’s your exercise to narrow-down the running for UROY:

1. Look at the UROY past winners. Look at those winners’ race results.
2. Compare the 2011 Nick Clark to the 2011 Nick Pedatella. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.
3. Once you’ve decided between those two;
4. Compare Nick to Dave. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.

In the end, we have a problem here. I (along with others) assume the 100 is the main currency for the UROY judges. That’s what they like. It’s indisputable. However, we don’t really know. You know what happens when we assume things.

Another observation that I may as well mention, which ultimately hurts Nick Pedatella, is the sense that the UROY award seems to also value an athlete’s visibility, or even popularity. I sure hope that’s not the case; granted, I know visibility comes from an active racing schedule, racing big buzz events, and getting results. But it’s just something we’ve noticed and that seems to be a factor negatively affecting Pedatella. Based on the numbers, there’s no way he should not be in the UROY conversation (or even the USATF UROY conversation).

And what about this bottle of irony I’ve opened. It’s the fact that based on all the factors and flawed ultra awards processes, Dave Mackey could be empty-handed when it’s all said and done. Most likely he wins UROY, but if that’s the case, then what happens to the “criteria” UROY has subtly conveyed to its audience over the years? Sure it’s that magazine’s award and they can do whatever they want. But not really.

Luckily, we won’t be thinking about this later this month when the 50mile Road Championships goes off, nor in November when Max King tries to defend his trail marathon championship. We certainly won’t give a rat’s ass when the boys line-up in the Marin Headlands in December among all the rest of the great trail racing taking place in the next few months.

I’m not sure what Dave Mackey will be thinking, but maybe even the prospect of such a turn of events with these hokey awards will light a little fire for this little race in December. Awards or not, he and the rest of these elite runners are having incredible years, enjoying the ups and downs of the literal and proverbial trail.

Nick Pedatella in his iconic striped green racing shirt. Photo: Jeff Montgomery

In closing, keep your eye on Nick Pedatella. His numbers have a lot of class. He can not be discounted. Do the math. As for Inside Trail’s “little darling,” [DM] I think 2011 is a win-win. He most likely wins the coveted UROY. Or he gets [N]icked in the final vote count. And comes back pissed and hungry for an even “insaner” 2012.

That’s what I think, Tim.

USATF 2011 MUT Nominations Forum

You’ve probably seen or heard the announcement for 2011 USATF MUT runners of the year awards.  Certainly a lot of talk has circulated regarding UROY.  Let’s here focus on the USATF awards, which seem significant and should be more significant since there seems to be a broad, diverse collection of voters looking at relatively clear assessment criteria and the awards cover a variety of open and masters men’s and women’s race results.

This is absolutely a call for comments since so many of you have a great deal of experience with USATF, some of its races, who know some of the eligible athletes, and may even have a bit to say about this awards process.

Does the USATF do a good job supporting the sport and its athletes (does it do enough)? Or is it more an unfortunate case of a token recognition process made by an organization that’s merely established “a council […] called MUT (Mountain/Ultra/Trail) — an appropriate moniker since USATF treats these sports like mutts and feeds them bones” (Matt Carpenter, Running Times, 2007).  Let’s give USATF the benefit of the doubt and say it’s still coming to grips with a more fringe sport still making its way to “prime time” or the “big screen” (either way I didn’t say mainstream).

Here’s the announcement.  Take look and tell us what you think.

Nominations open for 2011
USATF Mountain Runners of the Year – Open andMasters
USATF Trail Runners of the Year – Open andMasters
USATF Ultra Runners of the Year – Open andMasters
USATF Mountain/Ultra/Trail Contributor of the Year

TheMountain/Ultra/Trail running (MUT) council of long distance runningwill select the
2011 USATFMountain Runners of the year and Ultra Runners of the Year based on
nominations received from interested athletes, coaches, and administrators involved in the sport.
The following is the selection criteria for the 2011 USATFMountain and Ultra Runners of the
Year:

1) Nominated athlete must show top results in U.S. mountain/trail competitions for 2011
(November 1, 2010 through October 1, 2011) – this will include mountain races (these may
be on paved/gravel surfaces as long as there is significant elevation loss or gain) and trail
races of varying lengths below the ultra distance. USATF ultra runners of the year results on
trail and ultra road courses above the marathon distance in both national and international
competition.
2) The nomination window includes the period: Nov 1, 2010 through Oct 1, 2011
3) Show top results in international competitions for 2011
4) Be an ambassador for the sport – athlete promotes and supports mountain running
5) Be a USATF member for 2011 – athleteMUST have a current USATF membership
6) To be considered for the masters category, athlete must be a minimum of 40 years of age.

To nominate an athlete, send BYOctober 25, 2011, the following information to
trlrunner@aol.com and dave.dunham@comcast.net .
Nominated athlete’s name, age or birth date (if you know it), athlete contact information, brief
bio, reason for nomination in 2011. Anyone and everyone is welcome to nominate an athlete (or
in the case of COY – an individual, company, etc.). An athlete may also nominate
himself/herself.

Nominations received by October 25 will be considered in the selection process. After all
nominations are compiled, the MUT council will vote (by October 30) for the mountain runner
and ultra runners of the year from nominations received. The USATFMountain Ultra and Trail
Runners of the Year will be announced at or before the annual convention in St Louis in
December. Should you have any questions about the procedure, please contact: Dave Dunham at
dave.dunham@comcast.net

We also will accept nominations for contributor of the year for mountain, ultra, trail. Past
Contributor of the Year recipients have been: American Ultra RunningAssociation, Teva, La
Sportiva, North Texas Trail Runners, the Mad City 100 km, theWhiteMountain Milers, Scott
McCoubrey, Paul Kirsch, and Bob and Anita Teschek.