Zach Miller has one gear and it’s “Go!”
The 26-year-old charged hard from the start of The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco on Saturday, stringing out a deep men’s elite field by the first aid station (8.7 miles) en route to a near wire-to-wire win in the relentlessly hilly 50-mile race, finishing in 6 hours, 12 minutes and 37 seconds, an average pace of 7:27 per mile.
“We were practically racing from the gun,” said Miller, who took home $10,000 for the win. “But I couldn’t really shake anybody loose. I couldn’t get away but I just kind of hung in there. And I started feeling really good when I saw the two-way traffic. I just get really excited when I see the other runners. I kind of broke it open going down into Stinson Beach and I knew when I got into Stinson Beach that if I could climb strong out that I could really get a gap on people and so I basically just tried to climb real strong. It was tough. I was hanging on with 6 miles to go and scared to death that I was going to blow $10,000—but the money is just icing on the cake. To beat a field that’s this strong in a race that’s essentially our national championship means more to me.”
Dylan Bowman, who lives in nearby Mill Valley, moved from sixth to second in a matter of minutes after cresting the Cardiac aid station at Mile 30—a position he held all the way to the finish in 6:20:28—improving upon his fifth-place finish from this race last year. Bowman averaged 7:41 per mile for the 50-mile course, which included 10,000 feet of elevation gain.
“That was pretty much perfect,” said Bowman, who pocketed $4,000 for second. “I just wish I could have run 8 minutes faster. I felt so good. Hats off to Zach on a great race. He ran out of control.”
Ryan Bak of Bend, Ore., who went with Miller in the early miles, finished third in 6:26:11. Jorge Maravilla of Mill Valley finished fourth—a position he held most of the day—in 6:31:30 (a 7:55 per mile average), while Ryan Smith of Boulder, Colo., rounded out the top-5 in 6:30:50.
In the women’s race, the early pace was slightly more subdued, as six runners came into the first aid station at Tennessee Valley within 90 seconds of one another, including defending champion Magdalena Boulet (who would later drop out). Things would shake up quickly, however, as Megan Kimmel of Silverton, Colo., pressed on the gas and splintered the lead pack by the Muir Beach aid station at mile 12.7. By the Cardiac aid station 5 miles later she was clear of any pursuers but seemingly questioning of her early aggressive move. “I’m not sure how long I can keep this up. We’ll see how it goes,” she told Competitor contributor Allison Patillo.
Well, it went quite well for Kimmel, as she ran unchallenged the rest of the way, winning in 7:13:52. Great Britain’s Ellie Greenwood moved up throughout the day to finish second in 7:23:57, while Larisa Dannis of Mill Valley steadily worked her way into third place over the second half of the race, crossing the line in 7:25:48. New Zealander Ruth Croft was fourth in 7:29:42 and Emily Peterson of Mill Valley—making her 50-mile debut—rounded out the top-5 in 7:38:58.