The 7th annual The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship race held in the scenic Marin Headlands is one week away. The signature GORE-TEX 50 Mile race category taking place December 7 offers up the largest prize purse in the sport with a stacked field of elite ultra runners vying for a rich $30,000 prize purse ($10k, $4k, $1k for each of the men and women’s top-3).
Mike’s passion and enthusiasm for running long distances in the mountains stems directly from his upbringing. Growing up in the mountains in Montana, family vacations were week-long backpacking trips, not trips to Disneyland or Cancun. A love of long treks and adventures in the mountains was instilled in Mike from an early age.
After high school, Mike spent the next decade exploring wild places, in many different ways. From paddling 1,600 miles over a period of 90 days across the Arctic of Canada, to climbing first ascents on the Torres del Paine granite spires of Patagonia, Mike relished in such gallivanting adventures.
Growing up, Mike had never competed or characterized himself as a formal runner.. At the age of 18, he discovered his love of mountain running by borrowing a pair of Nike racing flats and competing in the infamous Bridger Ridge Run, a rugged 20-mile mountain run on a whim, without food or water. From that point on, he was “hooked.”
By 2006, Mike began competing seriously in ultrarunning when he ran his second 50-mile race at the USATF U.S. 50-mile trail championship in White River, Washington. Shocking the field as a relative newcomer, Mike won outright that year, then returned to win again in 2007. Later that summer, Mike won his first 100-miler, the Grand Targhee 100 in Wyoming.
Mike’s ultrarunning career was interrupted in 2009 when he partially torn his hip flexor during training. He was unable to run for the entire summer, so he turned to mountain biking, thankfully a pain-free exercise while he recovered. After two months, Mike jumped into the Pierre’s Hole 100-mile mountain bike race in Idaho. Despite three flat tires in the last 20 miles, Mike still ended up third overall. Come October, with his injury healed, Mike and The North Face teammates Nikki Kimball and Tracy Garneau, headed to the Amazon region of Brazil where the team placed first in the Jungle Marathon, a grueling seven-day self-supported stage running race.
In 2010, Mike focused his training on the 100-mile distance. In June, he set a new course record in the Bighorn 100-mile race in Wyoming, finishing in18:43. He broke Karl Meltzer’s long-standing course record by over 40 minutes. By August, Mike placed second overall in the “Tour de France of ultrarunning,”– the Ultra Tail du Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France.
In 2011, Mike won the Way Too Cool 50km, one of the largest and most competitive 50-kilometer races in the United States. He placed second in both the equally competitive Miwok 100km, and the Western States 100, edged out by a mere 4-minutes in a tight race in the final miles against eventual winner Kilian Jornet of Spain. In December 2011, Mike ended a successful year with a win at the highly competitive North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50-mile race in Marin County, California
In 2012, Mike struggled with some overtraining injuries, due to the high demands of the sport. He competed, however, in the Transvulcania 83-kilometer race in the Canary Islands. The following weekend, he placed as the Top American in the historic Zegama-Aizkorri 45-kilometer mountain running race in the Basque Country of Spain.
Most recently, Mike returned to his hometown of Bozeman, Montana, to once again compete in the race that started it all for him—the 2012-edition of the Bridger Ridge Run—a 20-mile mountain run as rugged as any in the world. A first place finish had eluded him in his past five runnings of this race, as well as the highly regarded course record of 3:06. But in 2012, Mike finally won, celebrating and established a new course record of 3:00:24.