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.

Weekend Wrap at Inside Trail


And from our Euro Bureau (with an obvious focus on Skyrunning):

The 2011 Skyrunner World Series concluded Sunday, with British Team Salomon mountain runner Tom Owens claiming victory on the Italian slopes of Sentiero delle Grigne. A heavy electric storm with torrential rain had race organizers actually shorten the original steep mountain marathon course. Runners still battled amidst the wet and thunderous carnage with Owens and Italy’s own Emanuela Brizio (SWS winner in 2009 and 2010) crossing the line first.

Owens victorious

This is sweet pay-back for the Brit’s great dual with Kilian Jornet at Spain’s Zegama marathon back in May where Owens finished 2nd. His win yesterday only adds to an already terrific year. Along with Zegama, he claimed 3rd at the Gore-Tex Transrockies Run in Colorado teaming with fellow Brit Ricky Lightfoot. In 2011, Owens also records a 1st at Mournes Peak Race, 1st at Yorkshire 3 Peaks, 1st at the TransGrancanaria Marathon, and a 1st at Carenthy 5 Hill Race, meaning he didn’t forget to return home to do some work on his more local turf.

As for the final rankings in the SWS, Spain claims the men’s and women’s world champion titles as Luis

Spainish Champions

Alberto Hernando and Oihana Kortazar put the finishing touches on their stellar 2011 SWS campaigns. Hernando was third in yesterday’s race and Kortazar took second in the women’s race. The two Spaniards are now invited to the Skyrunner Super Cup on Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu where they will contend with other skyrunning champions and record holders for the Super Cup trophy. This takes place on October 22nd and 23rd.
In the final SWS rankings, Mikhail Maamlev of Italy was 2nd and Spaniard Jabi Olabarria took 3rd. The women’s podium was completed by Emanuela Brizio and Corinne Favre of France.

Inside Trail is eagerly looking forward to covering the entire 2012 Skyrunner World Series. Stay-tuned for that.

Silverton 24, 48, 72 hour and 6 Day Wrap Up. . .and Ben Nevis and Trans Alps

Silverton 1000mi, 6 Day, 72, 48, 24 Hour Event 2010 (photo


And Ben Nevis is a wrap.  Finlay Wild repeats as winner.  Reports suggest he trailed Lloyd Taggart at the 4400ft. summit, but by finishing a good 2 minutes ahead of the current English Fell Champ, Wild’s descent and final kick were indeed pretty wild.  Congratulations, Sir Wild!  Danny Hope was third, 2002 and 2005 English Fell Champ and fell veteran Simon Booth took fourth, with Ricky Lightfoot, running for his Ellenborough AC, rounding-out the top 5.  Angela Mudge won the women’s race.

The 2011 Goretex Trans Alpine Race (or mountain traverse) has a very Spanish feel following the second and third stages.  David Lopez Castan and Miguel Caballero Ortega continue to put time between them and the rest of the field.  They have won all three stages through both the heat and the cold of the German and Austrian Alps.  In the third stage, the leading Spanish team

The Spanish leaders @salomonrunning

from Trangoworld Gore-Tex Spain used some classic race tactics to demoralize the only team still in contention (certainly free of any – yet plausible –  game-changing setbacks).  Castan and Ortega used the 3rd stage’s long 29 kilometer climb to create the gap needed to cruise to a convincing win.  According to Ortega, “We decided to increase our speed from one moment to the next and indeed managed to get away relatively easily. Let’s see what the next few days hold for us. We take it stage by stage.” The Scottish Team Inov-8 of Symonds and Lennox had no answer for the surging Spaniards.  The runners did have to deal with a course alteration because of heavy downpour, and, of course, much work still to do as the runners head for Switzerland as they make their way to Italy with 5 stages still to complete.

The women’s race appears all but settled as the Salomon international team of Stephanie Jimenez and Miro Mireia continue to dominate, sitting currently 17th overall!

Jimenez and Miro, rolling @salomonrunning

Silverton 24, 48, 72 hour and 6 Day Wrap Up

Silverton 1000mi, 6 Day, 72, 48, 24 Hour Event 2010 (photo

Matt, the other half of Inside Trail, has some distinct feelings about the insanity of some 100 mile races. So, when I told him about the Silverton events going on over the last week, he could only shake his head. Running around a one mile loop for 24, 48, 72 hours, or 6 days can seem mind numbing but that’s exactly what competitors did for the last 6 days. The event wrapped up this morning with Roger Wrublik of Colorado completing 311 miles in the 6 day event, Dennis Drey won the 72 hour event with 138 miles, William Murphy took the top spot in the 48 hour event with 104 miles, and Ken Webb won the 24 hour event with 50 miles. The seemingly modest mileage for the wins is a testament to the altitude, 9,300 ft, and the climb of the course, 235 ft per lap.

To put it in perspective, compare it to the sister event Across The Years held around the new year. The respective mileages are 50%-150% higher over the 24-72 hour events on the flat Arizona course at 1,150 elevation.

There were no entrants in the 1,000 mile event.  Go figure.

Across The Years in Arizona (


Silverton 1000 Mile Challenge, 2011 Trans Alpine, and Ben Nevis, et al.

After running the Hardrock 100 this summer, Footfeathers is all over anything going on in the San Juans, so he offers up his overview of a new event taking place this weekend.
If a 100 mile race is crazy, then what do you call a 1,000 mile race?
The Silverton 1000 Mile Challenge, of course, and it’s taking place now.
Before you faint thinking that this is equivalent to TEN Hardrock 100s, starting in Silverton, it’s not.  It is, however, a substantial challenge (obviously!).  The 1,000 mile challenge is part of the 1, 2, 3, and 6 day runs organized by the same folks who put on Across The Years, so all the same rules and format exists for this event.  The main rule is that one must run at least 1 mile per hour, every hour, so taking a 3  hour nap after 20 hours will get you disqualified.
The course is a certified one mile loop starting at the Kendal Mountain Lodge (the same facility used for Hardrock this year).  It is chip timed and has 235 ft of climb.  Yes, that means the 1,000 mile race has 235,000 ft of climb.  The winner of the 1,000 mile challenge receives $5,000 and a trophy.  According to the website, “All other 1000 mile finishers, if there are any, will receive a very unique finisher’s award.”  I certainly would hope they would receive an award.
For the “easier” event distances, there are some interesting incentives to reach certain milestones of mileage.  If one runs 300 miles in 72 hours, there’s a fat $5,000 bonus check.  The organizers say, “we believe that this is totally impossible.”  It has been done twice in the six year history of Across The Years.  John Geesler did it in 2003 and set the 48 hour American Record at 248 miles in the process, a record just broken this past May.  The legendary Yiannis Kouros was the second to do it, setting the 48 hour Wold Record at 256.9 miles in the process and finishing the 72 hours with 323 miles.  Of course that was at ATY held in Phoenix AZ and the course has almost no climb.  Silverton’s edition of this craziness is at 9,300 ft elevation and, as pointed out, each 100 miles covered has 23,500 ft of climb.

Race event website.

Aside from the Silverton sickness of which Footfeathers speaks, the trail-racing calendar looks a little light on this side of the pond; the European landscape, however, is pretty flush with mountain and fell competition.  As most already know, the 7th Goretex Trans Alpine 2011 is underway with a huge international field.  Joe Symonds and Lennox Jethro of Team Inov-8 Goretex Footwear will mostly likely contend this year (Joe’s older brother Andy and Tom Owens of Salomon won this event last year).  Symonds and Jethro will have to deal with Salomon’s Julien Chorier of France and his German teammate Philipp Reiter (perhaps some clarification for those of you critical of Chorier’s absence from the UTMB).  But with over 300 teams consisting of open men’s and women’s categories along with mixed and masters teams, this very challenging race should see all kinds of storylines develop.

The race begins in Oberstdorf, Germany, travels over 273km (170 miles), and finishes in Latsch, Italy.  The runners will see about 15,436m of ascent or over 50,600ft.  Need less to say, this is a genuine Alpine traverse.  The website makes specific note of the 2nd and 3rd stages, perhaps giving athletes the most difficulty.  The 2nd stage (“from Hirschegg to Schruns [Austria], is the King’s stage”) crosses three mountain ranges (the Allgaeu and Lechtal Alps, as well as the Verwall group), and climbs more than 8200ft through 33 miles.  The 3rd stage includes one of the more beautiful trails in the central Alps, the Wormser Hohenweg; this might help distract from the suffering runners will endure as they run over 26 miles and climb over 8700ft.

Mud Sweat and Tears has its typically good reads on the mountain and fell racing in the British Isles.  This weekend sees several “big” events.  The Ben Nevis race, though not included in the World Skyrunning World Series this year, includes competition from runners like 2010 winner Finlay Wild, English Fell Running Champ Lloyd Taggart, Salomon’s Ricky Lightfoot, and 2009 Ben Nevis winner and 2005 World Skyrunning World Series champ Rob Jeb (who might scratch due to injury). Veteran mountain runner Angela Mudge looks to lead the women in this classic they call The Ben.

Beyond that, the Pedol Peris Horseshoe in North Wales goes off this weekend, sending runners across 17.5 miles and up 8500ft; and the junior version Half Peris goes 8.5 miles and 4500ft.  Clearly these are occasions for runners to go hard and enjoy a few post race pints.  Last is the Preseli Bluestone Fell Race that gives runners a chance to hammer-out 13 miles and 2500ft of gain across some grassy knolls.  More pints!

Granted, we’re just scratching the surface of some of this international off-road racing, but, again, it’s what drives the continuing inspiration and education at Inside Trail.