North Face Endurance Challenge

The North Face Endurance Challenge--a four-region, nationwide running event featuring the nation's top endurance athletes battling for the largest prize purse in trail ultrarunning--culminated north of San Francisco on December 1, 2007. The event featured distances of 10K, half-marathon, 50K and 50 miles on courses that covered wide- and single-track trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Male and female winners each received $10,000.

A 50-MILE DUEL FOR THE AGES

The men's 50-mile race brought in legendary speedsters Matt Carpenter (Manitou Springs, CO) and Uli Steidl (Shoreline, WA), plus a deep field that included past winners and course record holders of the world's toughest 50- and 100-mile ultramarathons.

At the half marathon mark it became apparent that it was a two-horse race, with Carpenter and Steidl running within seconds of each other for nearly the entire race. As they left the Tennessee Valley Aid Station (Mile 44), Carpenter relented, and Steidl maintained his pace up a gradual, one-mile ascent.

At the finish line festival, surrounded by Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus trees, hundreds of spectators and runners--most of them finishers of the 10K and Half Marathon events--waited to see which 50-mile runner would appear first. Steidl rounded the final corner to an eruption of applause and raised both arms in the air. He covered the course in an astounding 6:57:22. Afterward, he described the race as a "dogfight."

Carpenter appeared several minutes later and finished with a final time of 7:10:10. Leigh Schmitt (Conway, MA), who won the Washington D.C. Endurance Challenge in August and received a trip to the Championship as a result, placed third with a time of 7:51:06.

ROOKIE CELEBRATION

Whether it's a 10K, half-marathon, 50K or 50-mile distance, the North Face Endurance Challenge is unique in that it encourages athletes of all levels and abilities to explore their personal and physical limits. Many athletes used the event as an opportunity to reach a certain distance goal for the first time, while others saw it as a chance to leave behind their traditional road runs and tackle their first trail race.

Neil Munro of San Francisco and his brother, Jamie, of Denver, were two such first-timers. "My brother turned 40, read Dean Karnazes' book "Ultramarathon Man" and decided he wanted to do a 100-mile race," explained Neil, 37.

"I said, 'That sounds like a lot.' He said, 'How about a 50-miler?' And we settled on a 50K." Neil had only run four road marathons up to this point, while Jamie had only attempted the half-marathon distance.

The Munro brothers kept each other motivated throughout their summer- and autumn-long training regimen. "We tried to target the same runs on weekends -- two hours, three hours, four hours," Neil said. "It was sometimes competitive; if one of us had a good run, he'd call the other one afterward and rave about it."

After all the long training runs and tapering, race day arrived. "Our plan was to stick together for most of the race and then see what happened at the end," explained Neil, admitting some sibling rivalry between the two. Early in the race, Jamie twisted his ankle slightly, so Neil helped him along. Later, Neil's knee began to ache, and that's when Jamie kept him motivated. "We helped each other through the tough spots."

Did the sibling rivalry lead to a final-mile dash with bragging rights at stake? "Over the last 500 yards, we agreed that we'd finish together," Neil added. "But I could have probably sprinted ahead."

Next for the Munro brothers is the 50-mile distance. "The plan is to go after it next year," said Neil, who is due to become a first-time father in March 2008. "That is, if our wives will let us."

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