Originally published Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 07:56a.m.

To say Tim Freriks has had a good year is the most classic of understatements.

The former Cottonwood resident capped off his running year by claiming top honors in the prestigious North Face Endurance Challenge Saturday in San Francisco.

Freriks had admitted a few months back that his primary focus in his first season as a professional runner was to do well, if not win, the 50-mile North Face Challenge. The event, he said, attracted the professional elite among ultra-runners. The icing on the cake was that North Face also pays some of the best prize money in the sport.

That focus was clearly evident Saturday, as Freriks outclassed the field of 500-plus runners with a time of 6-hours, 2-minutes and 26 seconds. He won the race over well-established ultra-professionals Zach Miller and Hayden Hawks, two athletes Freriks refers to as “real stand-up guys in the sport.” Miller finished 13 minutes behind Freriks in 6:15.23 and Hawks covered the 50-mile distance that included a traverse of the Golden Gate Bridge in 6:20.39.

“This race, for American guys in particular, is a highlight of the year,” said Freriks. “Every top guy has run it at some time of their career, so yeah, this is a big one. Overall, I would say Western States is the most prestigious in the country. It’s a 100 miler, but for 50 milers this one is it.”

Freriks solidly established himself in the ultra-marathon ranks in May 2017 by winning the famed Transvulcania ultramarathon in Spain, out-distancing France’s Ludovic Pommeret by 16 minutes over the 46-mile distance.

Shortly afterward, Freriks signed an endorsement contract with the Hoka One One shoe company and runs under its Elite professional banner. Earlier this fall, Freriks recorded the fastest known time ever recorded for the 21-mile rim-to-rim run through the Grand Canyon. A week later, he won the prestigious Ultra Skyrace in Flagstaff, a 55-kilometer (34 miles) race that features 10,000-plus feet of uphill running. He won the race by 20 minutes over California ultra-runner Patrick Parcel, and his 5-hour, 24-minute clocking established a new course record.

And when he’s not training, or winning races, Freriks works as a Registered Nurse for Northern Arizona Healthcare, regularly working three 12-hour shifts per week at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Among the elite of the sport

At distances ranging from 50 miles to 100-kilometers (62 miles), Freriks is now clearly included in any discussion concerning the elite runners in the sport on most ultra-running web sites.

“All the top American guys go back and forth, but after this year I’m at least closer to the top,” said Freriks. “You can never tell what is going to happen on any given day, so it is hard to put it in a descending order. I would say my training partner, Jim Walmsley, is one of the best. At 50 miles to 100K he is pretty much untouchable. I would put him at the top, but there are a lot of solid guys.”

Freriks said he is not so concerned with rankings as he is with the consistency of his performances in 2017. “I am beside myself with how well this year has gone,” he said. “I don’t race as often as a lot of the guys in the sport do, but when I did, I put my best foot forward: the Transvulcania race in Spain, the Rim to Rim run, the Flagstaff Skyrace and now this. It’s been a dream season. Running is fickle and it’s hard to get everything right, so this has been a very special year.”

Freriks is giving his body a rest now and will not compete again in 2017. In 2018, he hopes to defend his title in Transvulcania and also hopes to test his skill set at the longer, 100-mile distance, and potentially compete in the Western States event.

“I’m still learning the sport,” he said. “I now have a decent amount of experience at the 50-mile distance and up to 100-kilometers. Anything 5 to 8 hours long I have good handle on. Anything over 9-10 hours is foreign territory.”

Freriks expects to open his 2018 season with a 100-kilometer race in February, an event in which a top-2 finish would make him an automatic qualifier for Western States in June.

Long-term, Freriks said he has his sights set on stepping down in distance and running the standard marathon distance (26.2 miles) in late 2018 or during the first quarter of 2019.

Time-wise, he would like to run a marathon in 2:19 or faster. That would punch his ticket to compete in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.

“That’s always been my dream. It’s something I really want to do.”

Freriks’ sub-9 clocking for 3200 meters among greatest achievements in Mingus’ athletic history

In the annals of Mingus Union High School athletic history, few accomplishments can be discussed in the same breath as the 3200-meter run performance by Tim Freriks April 11, 2009.

It occurred during the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California. After the race, then Mingus Union distance Coach Jim Bostwick was all set to send an email to a Cottonwood running enthusiast when he became stuck on trying to find the right adjectives to describe the race.

In the end, Bostwick’s email simply read:

“8:58.71.”

Which, to those not familiar with the sport, meant that Freriks had just accomplished something rarely ever seen in the 105 years Arizona has contested high school track and field.

He ran 3200 meters -- roughly 2 miles – in less than 9 minutes.

At the time, Freriks was only the sixth runner in Arizona history to turn the sub-9 trick.

What neither he nor anyone else realized at the time was that he opened the door to what is now realized as the richest period of high school long-distance running in Arizona history.

One year later, three Arizona high school runners dipped under the 9-minute barrier, including Freriks’ long-time rival – and equally long-time friend – Brian Shrader of Flagstaff’s Sinagua High School. In 2012, Tuba City’s Billy Orman did it twice and in 2013, Yuma Cibola’s Bernie Montoya lowered Arizona’s state record to 8:47.07.

Today, just 14 Arizona high school runners have ever run 3200 meters faster than 9 minutes.

Freriks had dropped hints of what was to come a few weeks earlier when he won the prestigious Chandler Rotary Invitational with a 9:17.34 performance, besting a Mingus school record that had been on the books for 35 years.

In the Arcadia race, Freriks came through the first mile in 4-minutes, 31-seconds. “I felt good and I knew I could work off that pace,” Freriks told The Verde Independent after the race. “I wanted to run in the low-9 minutes. With one lap to go I heard 7:50 so I thought I had a good shot, but more than anything else I was just trying to win.”

He closed out the race in 2:08 for the final 800 meters and 63 seconds over the last lap, exactly the kind of negative-split racing for which Bostwick had been training him.

Freriks began his Mingus career with a 9:48 clocking as a freshman. He followed that up with personal records of 9:38 as a sophomore and 9:36 as a junior.

As for his senior-season sub-9 performance, Freriks told The Verde Independent in 2009, “It’s kind of overwhelming. It’s something I’ve been working at for four years. When I look at some of the names of the people who have gone under 9-minutes in high school and know what they went on to do later in college, it’s very encouraging.”

Sub 9-minute 3200-meter runners in Arizona history

Bernie Montoya, Cibola, 2013, 8:47.07

Billy Orman, Tuba City, 2011, 8:48.63

Jeff Canada, Greenway, 1984, 8:50.24

Andy Trouard, Salpointe, 2013, 8:51.26

Brian Shrader, Sinagua, 2010, 8:53.09

Nathan Nutter, Corona del Sol, 1994, 8:54.23

Don Janicki, Mesa, 1978, 8:55.37

Vito Perrone, Glendale, 1978, 8:56.96

Steve Magnuson, Ironwood Ridge, 2010, 8:58.27

Tim Freriks, Mingus Union, 2009, 8:58.71

Mike Schneider, Canyon del Oro, 1995, 8:58.74

Sherod Hardt, Queen Creek, 2010, 8:59.09

Carlos Villarreal, Rio Rico, 2015, 8:59.09

Ken Cormier, Douglas, 2004, 8:59.63

-- Dan Engler

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