By MUT RUNNING
The Mut Running team had our feet on the ground this weekend covering the HOKA ONE ONE Canyons 100km in California. We have more exclusive media to come (check out our Instagram @MutRunning for a short preview video), but wanted to share our inside scoop recap of what we saw go down this weekend!
Due to COVID protocol, the course was re-created to be a brand new, point-to-point route. This year’s race started in Auburn, CA, and ran net uphill to the “China Wall,” high up on Foresthill Road. It mostly followed the historic Western States 100-mile Endurance Run in a backward direction, with some deviations, including a loop out by Deadwood between miles 45 and 53. The total vertical gain for this new route was close to 15,000’ (4572m) according to some GPS data, with possibly 500’-1,000’ of additional climbing compared to the traditional double out and back course.
These changes, along with unseasonable cooler temperatures, made for an interesting new race dynamic where predicting finish times and aid station split times en route was challenging. Despite these variables, the speed and consistency in which many top runners conquered the course was impressive!
As we mentioned in our pre-race previews of the top women’s and men’s fields, there were two Golden Tickets for automatic Western States 100-mile Endurance Run entries up for grabs. This is how things played out from our vantage points along the course, as well as hearing from the athletes themselves after the race.
The Top Women’s Race:
The dynamic of the women’s race was one of the more unique ones that we’ve seen personally! From the early miles, it was apparent that GBR runner Beth Pascal and French runner Audrey Tanguy were going to be aggressive and fast with the pace setting duties!
By around mile 16 (25.7km), Beth was already establishing herself alone upfront and Audrey had established a several minute lead on the “chase pack” with a commanding 2nd place.
However, behind Audrey a close group of women had formed including those valiantly in the hunt for Golden Tickets and those coveted Western States 100 entries. (Editors note: Beth and Audrey already had previously confirmed spots for this year’s Western States) This “chase pack” included very strong runners like Emily Hawgood, Abby Hall, Taylor Nowlin, Rebecca Windell, and Yiou Wang who were spread out by only a few minutes. This close margin added to the drama of the competitive race as the most difficult sections of climbing and descending on the course still loomed ahead and it unpredictable how the positions might change in the latter stages of the race.
This trend at the very front basically continued through mile 40 at Michigan Bluff: Beth extended her lead to an amazing 17-minutes at Foresthill (mile 33), while Audrey hovered in 2nd place just ahead of women closely bunched together to round out the “hunt of the Golden Ticket.” At that point, Abby Hall had made a strong move into 3rd, but the gaps to the positions behind her still remained very small with 4 women essentially within about 8-minutes. Still, there was over 20-miles (32km) of racing left including some very steep trail sections. The stage had set the stage for some some high pressure competitive racing and position changes seemed quite possible still.
As the race progressed into becoming steeper in the canyons, Beth extended her lead. However, in the late stages of the race, a few minor mishaps occurred. Upon crossing the finish line, Beth had missed a turn and immediately returned to correct this small “off-route” mistake by re-running part of the finishing km! It turned out that her lead at the finish was so great that this minor course re-run turn wasn’t even a factor in the results, and she finished with a commanding victory in 10:01. An amazingly fast time on such a brutal course and an impressive margin of victory for her!
Behind Beth, a very close race for 2nd as well as the final few Golden Tickets was brewing. Audrey Tanguy apparently also made an off-course detour and Abby Hall and Beth Pascal had moved into position to earn their Golden Tickets in the closing miles. Abby ended up 2nd in 10:34, while Audrey Tanguy was just over 1-minute behind her in 3rd. Closely following the podium was Emily Hawgood about 3-minutes later in 10:37. She appeared to be ecstatic for winning the last entry into Western States with her excellent run!
The rest of the top 10 women’s competitors finished very close together, demonstrating the amazing competitive depth of this race:
5. Rebecca Windell (11:04:25)
6. Leah Yingling (11:04:40)
7. Scarlett Graham (11:05)
8. Taylor Nowlin (11:10)
9. Tessa Chesser (11:35)
10. Nicole Monette (11:37)
The Top Men’s Race:
The dynamic of the men’s race was a lot different from the start.
A lead pack of roughly half a dozen runners emerged from the darkness of the forest laden paths coming up from No Hands Bridge around mile 7.
That pack consisted of Anthony Costales, Max King, Preston Cates, Drew Macomber, Cole Watson and Noah Brautigam. However, they were closely followed by another dozen or so competitors in several “chase packs.” At these early points in the race it was hard to tell who was being patient and pacing themselves for the climbing later on and who was strategically trying to gap the field with their leg speed on the flatter and smoother sections of trail.
By Foresthill (about mile 33), it became clear that the early pack leaders had made a distinctive break from the rest of the competitors and that they were probably the most likely to claim those coveted two Golden ticket spots. Since none of these top competitors already had entry into Western States, it was going to require a 1st or 2nd overall finish to earn those Golden Tickets. Anthony Costales (a 2:13 marathoner) lead at that point, but about 30 seconds behind him was a determined Max King (a 2:14 marathoner) and last year’s Speedgoat 50km champion and experienced Nordic skier Noah Brautigam.
In 4th place, a relatively newer and younger face to the MUT Running scene emerged with 23- year-old Preston Cates running strong in a 4th place and only trailing the “podium pack” by 5-minutes.
Rounding out the top 5 at that point was Gus Gibbs, a few minutes behind Preston. However, unlike the women’s race, the remaining positions after that were a bit more spread out relative to the high speed that all these competitors were running.
By Michigan Bluff (mile 40), Anthony was looking impressively strong while Noah, Max and Preston continued to remain within striking distance. Each competitor seemed to be racing fiercely, not willing to give up a single second. It was clear that the race might come down to the final few miles.
However, it was also at this point where it was revealed later (from our post-race interview with Max King) that Max King took a wrong turn between Foresthill and Michigan Bluff and ran at least 1 extra mile or about “10-minutes.” The 41 year old, experienced MUT Running veteran apparently kept his cool though and continued on in the top 5 despite this significant set-back.
Entering some of the most difficult sections of the course around Deadwood, it was still a relatively close race with Noah moving up into 2nd and his fellow Salt Lake City based teammate Anthony rooting him on in the out-n-back section. However, at that point Max was making up ground and inching his way back onto the podium! The split times of these Golden Ticket contenders started projecting winning times that were way ahead of many pre-race prediction schedules!
At the much higher altitude finish of the “China Wall” staging area, it was Anthony who flew in across the line first, his stride solid and strong all the way to the end to finish in a blazing 9:11 time.
Max King moved up to 2nd and finished nearly 12 full minutes back in 9:23. Closely following Max and battling until the very end in what might be his last US race for awhile (more on that later!) was Noah Brautigam only 2-minutes behind in 9:25. Impressively David Laney, who appeared to have started a lot more conservatively than most, had moved up dramatically in the field to place 4th in 9:33 while Cole Watson rounded out the top 5 in 9:42.
The rest of the top 10 men included:
6. Preston Cates (9:46)
7. Byran Kerl (9:53)
8. Steve Nagayama (9:54)
9. Paddy O’Leary (9:55)
10. Peter Van Der Zon (9:57)
Thanks to all the Canyons Ultra Endurance Run, volunteers, sponsors and athletes that all made this amazing weekend possible. Congrats to all the runners out there!
-The MUT Running team