I think there will be some big surprises before the race even starts. Three of the greatest ultra runners in the world will make surprise appearances in the race field. Dave Mackey will show up at the start line having tricked us all with the oldest trick in the book: the "post on your blog that your not running and then show up and see what it feels like to race 50 miles with no training" trick. Kilian Jornet will decide to race at the last minute at hearing the news that his Spanish/Solomon teammate Miguel Heras (last year's winner) has decided not to run. He will be taking his best stab at challenging Mackey for the top finisher with no training. At half Mackey's age my money will be on Kilian. Last but certainly not least in terms of surprise appearances will be Tony Krupicka who will have decided that if he can power hike Green Mountain faster than 99.9% of the runners in the world can run it why not take a stab at the NF 50. Besides this is ultra running, and as anyone can learn from reading Letsrun for a few minutes (I must confess though, I've never actually read Letsrun) only a handful of the runners actually run a 50 mile race faster than brisk walking pace.
The race will start like many people would expect. The Daves (James and Mackey) will instantly sprint out several hundred yards ahead of the pack. The surprise will be that Rickey Gates will follow suit and eventually sprint into Tennessee Valley in the lead and fall to the ground in excitement/exasperation thinking he had just won the race. When asked how he possible thought he could be done with 50 miles already he will respond, "50 miles? I thought the 50m meant 50 minutes."
Meanwhile back in the chase group of 30 or so runners, Mike Wardian and I will be running along comfortably chatting when I make a wrong turn because I am still, a week later, distracted by the fact that Bryon Powell in a preview on Irunfar stated that he thought Way Too Cool was the most competitive 50k. Unfortunately for Mike this time he decides to go the same way as me. Neither of us realize we're lost for a couple hours as I'm still zoned out trying to figure out if maybe Bryon was talking about the most competitive 50k over the past several years or if he's just never heard of Chuckanut. Finally Mike and I come across a bearded dude meditating in the forest while he eats his breakfast: Fair Trade quinoa/wheat berry hot cereal with goji berries, chia seeds, and flax seed oil. We ask him where we are and he points down through the trees and tells us that the Marin Headlands Hostel is down there. Unfortunately for us the Marin Headlands Hostel overlooks the race start, not somewhere you want to be a couple hours into the race. At least our proximity to the Hostel explains the presence of the dude with the bowl full of barely edible foods.
Back in the race as the chase group which is now down to about 15 runners rolls through Pan Toll (mile 18) they discover that they are in fact in the race lead as the Dave's have both disappeared. Mackey wasn't feeling so well and decided to just leave the course and run for home, a trick he learned from Nico at UTMB (Hoka bretheren unite), and James, well no one really knows what happened to him. He just kind of disappeared, but certain to reappear ahead of the pack in the early stages of another race soon.
Shortly after Pan Toll, Hal Koerner tells the other runners that he's going to drop to the back of the pack because he's worried that he might get lost if he's in the front. When asked, "shouldn't you know the course? Haven't you run this race every year?" Hal is heard responding, "Yeah, but I've never made it past Pan Toll".
Meanwhile, Jornet who has been running strong with the large group all day gets distracted by some sand dunes along the out and back trail out to Mckennan Gulch. Apparently the slow motion Kilian's Quest wasn't as contrived as it seems. The young Spaniard is heard telling friends later on that he just can't run past sand dunes without jumping off of them and clicking his heels. I knew the protege must have some weakness.
Coming into Stinson Beach Dakota Jones has moved into the lead and the crowd is going wild. I swear last year when he and I ran in the lead together for most of this race there were 300 people screaming for him for every one that there was cheering for me (thanks Dad). Unfortunately the Young Money fan club will prove to be his undoing. While filling up his water bottles at Stinson Beach a young fan asks Dakota to sign her sports bra. As he's doing this another fan asks Dakota if he would like a sip of his beer. Being that Dakota is in fact an ultra runner he finds it impossible to resist the lure of a hoppy microbrew. Only problem is that a cop who is helping direct traffic nearby sees this and arrests Dakota for underage drinking.
Most of the lead pack at this point is made up of the usual suspects: Bragg, Wolfe, Sharman, Campbell, Meltzer, Olson, Schmitt, Kaburaki, Malarde, Loblanchet, and Chaigneau. As well as a few lesser known, but very strong runners: Flaherty, Schlarb, Burrell, McDougal, and Maravilla. Beyond all of these guys there is one runner that no one has ever heard of: Matias Saari. When he explains to the rest of the pack that he's from Alaska and this is his first ultra in the Lower 48 many of them are reminded of another unknown runner from Alaska a few years back who made his lower 48 debut in Marin at the Miwok 100k, and then went on to put up some huge performances in the few years to follow. Setting records at Wasatch, Mountain Masochist, and Western States along the way. They all rack their brains to try to remember his name, but now that he's old and washed up and pretty much drops out of every race he runs no one can seem to recall.
Somewhere during the climb back to Pan Toll (mile 32), Karl Meltzer is forced to pull out of the race. First his back seizes up on him as he ruptures a disc on the climb. This isn't enough to stop the Speedgoat though. He just needs a little break to let his back loosen up and decides to build a little fire in the forest to keep warm during this time. Unfortunatly the wind kicks up and he starts a small forest fire and is kicked out of the race for breaking the "no forest fire starting" rule. The thing I can't quite understand is why did he have a lighter with him in the first place?
But surely this race is loaded with so many top runners that the race goes on with a very compelling field of runners in the front of the pack as they make their way back down to Muir Beach at mile 42. By this point the lead pack is down to Campbell, Bragg, Saari, Wolfe, Kaburaki, Malarade, Sharman, Chaigneau, and Lorblanchet when a very odd, amusing, and depressing series of events unfolds on Twitter:
StillDepressedAboutUTMB5: @NF50 Here we go again. Why do the Americans seem to suck at every major ultra nowadays.
UltraGeek3: @NF50 At least we have Wolfe and Saari still in the mix.
StillDepressedAboutUTMB5: @NF50 Saari isn't American. He's from Alaska. And I've never heard of Wolfe so he must not be American either.
UltraGeek3: @NF50 Last I checked Alaska is part of the U.S. Haven't you ever heard of The Susitna 100, The Resurrection Pass race, or the Crow Pass Crossing? And yes, Mike Wolfe is from the U.S. I had not heard of him either, but I looked him up on UltraSignup and he's actually done a lot of big stuff. It even says that he was 2nd at WS this year but that must be a typo.
PatriotActRules47: @NF50 Um??? No. Haven't heard of any of those races. Really though? Is this true about Alaska? My cousin was telling me the other day that Alaska was part of the U.S. but I didn't believe him. This is good though. Hopefully Wolfe and Saari can pull it out and not let these foreigners win this thing.
OneLove7: @NF50 No one is a foreigner here. We're all just loving souls who like to run through the mountains and test our limits with ourselves and with nature.
PatriotActRules47: @NF50 If foreigners keep coming over here and winning all of our races we might need to think about tightening security at our borders.
OneLove7: @NF50 What does ultrarunning have to do with national security?
PatriotActRules47: @NF50 Just because we didn't find any WMD's in Iraq doesn't mean that terrorists might not try to send WMD's into the U.S. with ultra runners who come over here to run races. Think about it.
OneLove7: @NF50 I'm thinking about it and I think you're crazy.
PatriotActRules47: @NF50 Anyway, I don't have time for this. I need to go hop into my 6 door, 8 passenger, 12 litre, F900, double Hemi truck with 4 American Flag stickers, and 2 NRA stickers on back and go down to the store and buy another case of Bud Light before this race is over. At least Americans still make the best beer in the world, even if we lost in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and aren't the best baseball players or ultrarunners in the world anymore.
OneLove7: @NF50 Don't forget about the green stuff we grow here in my hometown of Arcata, some of the best in the world.
PatriotActRules47: @NF50 Wow, I guess even hippies have some patriotism about something.
Back in the race the lead pack has been narrowed down to half a dozen runners, ranging from all corners of the world, most of whom have never met each other. Now that the pack is actually small enough to remember a name with a face the runners reintroduce themselves to each other before the final battle to the finish. As they roll through the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 45.5) spectators can hear Ian Sharman introducing himself to the others. Instantly they all put the name with the face: "Oh, you're Ian Sharman. You're the guy that ran a 12:45 hundred miler. Is this the first race you've run since then"?
Back to the race. Everyone is gathered up the road from the finish line waiting to see who comes into sight first on the homestretch. Suddenly a runner with long hair appears in the distance. Who could it be? Could it be Tony (Everyone's default long haired ultrarunner)? Maybe the power hiking thing really worked out. Besides, the winning time in this race is usually only about 8 minute per mile pace. Isn't that pretty much speed hiking pace? Or maybe it's one of the half dozen or so Tony look alikes that tend to run most every major American ultra nowadays. Or wait, could it be a women? Ellie Greenwood? Lizzie Hawker? They're both fast, but are they this fast?
Anyhow, I'm going to end there. I don't want to give everything away.