If You Go to San Francisco …

Ariella Gintzler December 12th, 2013

… be sure to wear your fast shoes. Last weekend’s TNF 50 Championship just outside of San Francisco is the latest manifestation of a newer—and faster—ultra scene

2013 TNF 50 Champion Rob Krar runs with Jorge Maravilla on his heels. Photo by Galen Burrell

Never mind that Chris Vargo, of Colorado Springs, grew up swimming and was a serious cyclist who only recently turned to running. With a 1:08 half-marathon PR, he’s surely one of the fastest, most talented runners on the starting line of any given 50-miler. Right?

And there’s Oakland’s Magdalena Boulet, the 2008 Olympian with a 2:26 marathon to her name. Never mind that, before last weekend, she’d never run an ultra. With the right training, she’d just about be a lock to win whatever race she chooses as her debut, especially if that race is in her backyard, on trails she runs regularly.

Just about.

At The North Face (TNF) Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) last weekend, however, Vargo and Boulet were just two of a couple-dozen runners who might conceivably win on any given day. Soon after the inaugural race in 2007, the event began to take the shape of a de facto end-of-the-year championship race. Each year, it has grown increasingly into that role, talent-packed with runners with wide-ranging skill sets vying for $10,000 top prize.

“The course is runnable and fast but mountainous enough to draw in that crowd too,” says Dakota Jones, of Boulder, who finished second at the race in 2011 and ran it for the fourth time Saturday. “It has aspects that make it acceptable to runners from all different backgrounds.”

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