With its hefty cash prizes drawing a consistently stacked field, the North Face Endurance Challenge serves as a sort of unofficial North American trail racing championship and it can be found on the calendar of many of the sport’s most talented athletes. The rabbit crew will be out in full force this weekend, with representation in nearly every race distance and some strong candidates for high finishes. We chatted with some of the folks, both from the rabbit team and beyond, who will be throwing down this weekend, who shared their thoughts on everything from race tactics to the most dramatic addition to this year’s course, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Chris BradenAs a recently retired professional triathlete, Santa Barbara’s Chris Braden comes into the 50k race with a huge aerobic base and the kind of strength and determination that it takes to KOM one of Santa Barbara’s most contested cycling climbs. What he does not have, though, are any particularly lofty expectations about his finish. “The goal of this race is to have fun. I just want to enjoy every minute of the race. Rarely do I race without some sort of performance goal such as trying to win or simply seeing how hard I can push myself. I'm approaching this race as an opportunity for an epic adventure with Savannah [Braden’s girlfriend].”
Asked what attracted him to racing at TNF, Braden says it’s all about the scenery. “The trails above SF are some of the most beautiful anywhere around. To top it all off, finishing across the Golden Gate Bridge and on Crissy Field will be nothing short of magical.” As for how he has adapted from tri to ultra training, it’s all about that long run! “We have built up from 2 hour trail runs at the start to our longest run last weekend which was 4 hours. It's been important to keep pushing that point at which we really start to fatigue.”
Another Santa Barbara pro triathlete who will be toeing the line this weekend is Savannah Dearden. While Savannah’s boyfriend, Chris Braden, has raced one 50k before, this is Savannah’s first ultra. “My longest run before starting to train for this event was 15 miles so this distance is quite a jump! Honestly, I would have never thought to do this if it weren’t for Chris.”
Much like Braden, Dearden is attracted to the region’s natural beauty. “I’m originally from Florida, where San Francisco is considered a sort of mythical, real life Disneyland and I still get really excited to visit the area.” And, while she may lack experience on the trails, Dearden has worked diligently to prepare herself for the rigors of the race. “I am not the best natural trail runner (I’m a bit uncoordinated and tend to trip over myself on flat ground so uneven trails are a challenge, ha), so in addition to a long trail run on the weekend I’ve incorporated a lot of strength and balance exercises into my weekly training.”
Member of the rabbitELITE team, Kate Elliott is an experienced trail racer who has proven all year that it takes a pro to beat her. Indeed, a quick glance at her Ultra Signup results reveals that she has raced seven times since August 2016 and never finished worse than second, with victories taken from her by the likes of elite ultrarunners Keely Henninger and Caroline Boller. Elliott will be racing the 50 miler at TNF, a distance at which she debuted in July at the Mt. Hood 50 Miler. There she finished second, breaking seven hours and becoming the third fastest woman to run the course.
For Santa Barbara’s Elliott, the biggest appeal of TNF is the ultra-stacked field. “I’m really excited for the chance to compete with some of the very best runners out there. These are women that I admire and follow closely, so it will be really awesome to race against them.” Elliott’s preparation has been intense, logging high mileage weeks with abundant climbing on the steep trails of Santa Barbara’s front country. “This race has a lot more climbing than Mt. Hood and so many fast runners, so I just want to make sure I’ve done everything possible to prepare.”
Speed demon, marathon maven, trail star, respected coach—when it comes to running, Tyler Hansen can do it all. A smart and methodical competitor, Hansen, also from Santa Barbara, will be tackling his longest race to date in the 50 miler, but that doesn’t mean he’s not prepared. “The peak of my training included a 28 miler with about 6,800 feet of elevation change. The following day I ran 15 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation change to simulate the later part of the race, running on tired legs. These back-to-back style runs have mentally and physically prepared me to take on my first 50 miler!”
As for the course, you might say that Hansen prefers things classic. “I don't like when races change courses, because you no longer can compare times against those of past races, so Miller's course record from last year will never be broken. Records are meant to be broken.” Having run across the bridge previously during the San Francisco Marathon, Hansen found the experience “a bit underwhelming, you run in a straight line for almost two miles with sections that have very strong cross winds and cars buzzing by on the other side.” Given his preparation and experience, expect Hansen to meet or exceed his goal of finishing in somewhere between seven and seven and a half hours.
rabbitPRO Dani Moreno is racing the half marathon with her sights set firmly on victory. “My goal is to be the first female and top 5 overall,” she explains. For Moreno, a Santa Barbarian, the race is a stepping stone in more than one way. In the context of her season, TNF will serve as a tune up race leading into the Xterra World Championships. In the longer term, Moreno plans to move up in distance and is looking to use this race to gain familiarity with the terrain and competition. “I chose to do the half-marathon not only because I knew it would be a great tune-up/rust buster but because I plan on doing the 50 mile here in a few years. “
Indeed, she may be just as excited about spectating the longer races as she is about running her own. “I have to say the fact that I get to watch so many iconic runners race the day before was a huge draw for me as well. I am extremely excited, and at this point just need to be careful not to go crazy yelling the day before to save up for my own race!” As for the Golden Gate finale, Moreno is intrigued but understandably focused on other course features. “Don't get me wrong I am very excited, but I am really going to focus on the climbs for this race.”
With four wins to his name this season, rabbitPRO Kris Brown is having a pretty stellar 2017. After earning local Santa Barbara legend status by crushing the notoriously cruel 9 Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run in March, Brown went on to further glory in San Diego, where he won the San Diego 100 in June, his debut at the distance. Ever philosophical, Brown’s is clearly more focused on the process than the outcome when it comes to his result in the 50 miler. “The only non-fluid goal that I have is to run what I'll consider in hindsight to be an intelligent and full-effort race.”
To achieve that goal, Brown plans to focus on pacing himself and starting conservatively. “Especially in ultrarunning, a lot can be gained from positive mental energy late in a race. Being able to cope with the idea of the remaining distance is huge for momentum, as is passing people in the later miles.” What will that look like in practical terms? “Watch for all smiles through 50k, is what I'm saying.” Despite his modesty, Brown is a legit contender for a high finish, having put in major training all year. “I pretty much continued my 100-miler training knowing that my inexperience in the longer races will continue to be my weakness for a while...I'm plenty quick for a 50-miler, so my goal was to get my legs to the point at which beyond mile 40 they won't be so shot that I'm not able to race hard.”
Coming off of her recent win at the USA Trail Marathon Championships in Moab, Utah, rabbitPRO Renee Metivier is targeting another victory in the 50 mile race. She is far from smug, though, adding “I am so new to this distance that I have a healthy fear of the race. I know I am going into new territory I haven’t experience yet.” Metivier, who lives and trains in Bend, Oregon, is excited for the challenge and prepared for the pain that her lofty goal may require. “I fully expect the suffering that will entail,” she says of racing for the win.
Metivier explains that, “This particular race attracted me because it is a big race in the trail scene with a challenging course incorporating lots of vert while still being runnable and playing to my strengths with more of a road background.” She plans to race strategically, reflecting her respect for the race and competitors. “I know I am going into new territory that I haven't experienced yet. The strong competition just adds to that healthy fear and respect, as well as the need to race smart and patient.”
And if the USA Trail Marathon Championships and TNF 50 miler weren’t enough for Metivier, soon after she plans to toe the line at the USA Road Marathon Championships in early December, which are being run as part of the California International Marathon in Sacramento. Metivier will be a top contender in that race as well, as she is the number one seeded female with a time of 2:27:17 (Chicago, 2012).