The North Face Endurance Challenge #ECSCA 50 Mile race took place on December 6th at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Marin Headlands. Over the past few years this event has become the proving grounds for elite runners and those looking to make a name for themselves in the ultrarunning scene. This year proved to be one of the deepest, if not the most stacked fields in the history of the event.
There were easily 10 women and 20 men who had a shot at the win if they had a good day on the trail. The women’s field was headlined by Stephanie Howe, Magdalena Boulet, and Megan Kimmel. The men’s field included top runners Sage Canaday, Rob Krar, Tim Olson, Dylan Bowman, Dakota Jones, Mike Aish, Chris Vargo, Chris Varner and a whole host of other highly competitive racers. With fields like these, the race shaped up to be a one that could easily come down to a finishing kick.
The race started off quickly in the fashion you would expect from the caliber of elite athletes in the field. They ran out of the Start/Finish and took a left, briefly running on a section of road before connecting onto trail. The first aid station that the competitors would encounter along their journey was Bobcat.
Bobcat Aid Station
Mile 6 marked the Bobcat Aid Station. When the racers started to make their way into the station there was an assault of headlamps as the pack was extremely tight and fighting for their position early along the course. Justin Houck, Ivan Medina, Zach Miller, Sage Canaday, Dylan Bowman and Tim Olson all graced the front of the pack. At this point in the race, only 20 seconds separated the first runner from 25th place. When the women came through, it was Magdalena Boulet with a 30 second lead over Megan Kimmel and Stephanie Howe.
Tennessee Valley Aid Station
The pack coming into the Tennessee Valley Aid Station was an awesome sight to behold as they made their way down several switchbacks and passed the Miwok Livery Horse Stable and into the aid station. The 8 Miles that separated Bobcat and TV Aid Station allowed the pack to slowly establish the pace. The huge group that made their way into Bobcat had dwindled down to a still large group of 16 runners within 25 seconds. Magda stretched her lead to 3 minutes with Kimmel still in 2nd and Howe only 15 seconds behind her in 3rd.
Muir Beach Aid Station
Canaday, Aish, Miller, Lightfoot, Houck and Castanyer cruised into Muir Beach, Mile 18, 30 seconds ahead of the chase pack. This is the point at which Sage started to make his push in an effort to put pressure on the rest of the field and give himself the best chance to finish the race off in the lead. The women’s race continued in the same order as they rolled through this aid station with Magda now 5 minutes ahead of Kimmel and Howe 45 seconds back of Kimmel.
Stinson Beach Aid Station
At Mile 33.1, Stinson Beach, Sage had created a 1 minute lead over Dakota Jones followed by Varner, Castanyer, Bowman, Tollefson, Maravilla and Miller. Magda maintained her lead through this aid station, running with purpose and on a mission. This aid station was a crew access point and Dakota had one of the smoothest exchanges in the history of ultrarunning as he came in, dropped his fuel belt and another one was instantly placed on him and he was off. The ladies ran through this aid station in the same position with Magdalena Boulet up front.
Muir Beach Aid Station
From Stinson to Muir Beach, Dakota would continue to hover a minute back of Sage before starting to slowly close the gap and make up ground, eventually taking the lead briefly around Mile 38. The second pass of Muir Beach was at Mile 41. Here, Sage came through 15 seconds ahead of Dakota and looked like he had found his second wind. Varner cruised past exactly a minute after Jones with Castanyer and Bowman, 9 minutes back, rounding out the top 5. When Magda crossed into Muir Beach her lead had dwindled from 5 minutes earlier in the race down to 1 minute and 35 seconds. Megan Kimmel put in some strong miles between Stinson and Muir Beach in order to get herself into position if Boulet started to falter in the final miles of the race. Howe was still running a solid race at this point back in 3rd, but was on her own without an idea of the race up front was playing out.
9.8 Miles remained between Muir Beach and the finish, plenty of time for the race to shake up with the possibility of runners blowing up and others pushing onward. Sage Canaday and Magdalena Boulet redlined their efforts all the way until the finish line, taking their last steps across the finish line before being named the overall champions.
Women’s Top 5 Finishers:
- Magdalena Boulet, 7:08:09
- Megan Kimmel, 7:17:20
- Stephanie Howe, 7:28:48
- Anne-Marie Madden, 8:03:16
- Caroline Boller, 8:07:07
Men’s Top 5 Finishers:
- Sage Canaday, 6:07:52
- Dakota Jones, 6:12:20
- Alex Varner, 6:14:06
- Tofol Castanyer, 6:21:13
- Dylan Bowman, 6:23:48