Monday, June 29, 2009

How the Western was Won: Killing the Fluke

Hal Koerner slides into home first at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

I knew Hal had it in the bag when, prompted by a cameraman, he retraced his steps for a photograph on No Hands Bridge. No Hands Bridge sits at the 96.8 mile mark along the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. The old bridge spans the American River and marks, for most runners, the realization that, yes, they are really going to finish a 100-mile foot race. For Hal, it marked the realization that, yes, he's really won this thing!

Hal had been leading the race since mile 56, but he really had no idea how far behind the next runner was. But you see, confidence was his thing. It was a feeling he was familiar with, because he had won this same race in 2007. He started this year's race with the confidence of a winner and ran throughout the day with a desire that only winners exude. He pushed hard at the start in order to create a gap from the rest of the field; only a few went with. When he reached the canyons through which the course weaved, Hal pushed harder in the 110-degree heat. He knew those behind him would have to match it or fall behind or fall down. So, by the time he reached No Hands Bridge in the day light (a feat only a few other winners have managed) he was confident enough to back track for that photographer. He did the work and he was determined to enjoy it now.

In the 25 miles I spent with Hal as his pacer, few words were spoken and all attention was paid to the following foot-step; focused. He worked hard the entire way and he stopped only twice; once to clear a small back spasm and once to clear a bug from his eye. I knew he was having some fun when a chuckle pursed from his lips when I asked him if he would kindly run faster so we wouldn't have to climb the final hill to Robie Point in the dark. There were never any identifiable issues; it was text book. It was an awesome thing to witness and physically be a part of.

In what Western States' race management has called the most competitive field in the race's history Hal Koerner was able to place one foot in front of the other, farther and faster than any of the other 399 contestants in the race. Hal covered the course in 16 hours, 24 minutes and 55 seconds. 27 minutes ahead of second place finisher Tsuyoshi Kaburagi from Japan and 29 minutes ahead of third place's Jez Bragg from the United Kingdom.

238 runners finished Western this year, a finishing rate of 59%. Tough odds! This held true to form for our local contingent as well. Along with Hal, Neil Olsen (from Central Point) finished in 22 hours, 54 minutes and 14 seconds in 46th place. Ashland's Rob Cain overcame serious back cramps to finish in 23 hours, 38 minutes and 40 seconds, for 66th overall. Under the tough conditions, Jenn Shelton (from Ashland) and Tom Pelsor (from Yreka) both stopped short of their goals, only to save themselves for another chance to dance again soon.

Jenn Shelton runs the downhills hard early in the race.

Hal makes it look easy early on.

Hal's up to his neck at the river crossing at mile 78. A welcomed sight after running through the dust and 100 degree temps.

Rob Cain; is he smirking? He loves the pain.

Neil Olsen approaches Michigan Bluff (mile 56). His expression says it all.

Hal Koerner is led by his pacer, Ian Torrence, as he comes into Rucky Chuck River Crossing (mile 78).

Here's a line up of the press folks:

Auburn Journal article

Sacramento Bee article

Mailtribune article

Runner's World article

Trailrunner Magazine

Ultrarunning Magazine

Final results for the 2009 Western States 100 Mile.

Photography was provided by Pete Zinsli, Glenn Tachiyama and John Medinger.


tomdog said...

Excellent job Hal! Winning twice at WS, let alone once, is quite the achievement. Let it all sink in and enjoy the moment. It is times like this that we are truly alive.

kate said...

we sent some photos my husband took at Peachstone to hope Hal enjoys them!

Michael Valliant said...

Simply, awesome. Congratulations. Great and inspiring stuff!

TD said...

Great work Hal- awe inspiring- even following from a distance online.

Kurt said...

Man what a great race !!! Congrat's Hal on a super win as well as other great runs by RV Runners.

Tammy said...

Wow. leaves me speechless. Congrats Hal!

Unknown said...

Awesome job Hal! Way to come back and defend. What an inspiration

Speedgoat Karl said...

Way to go Halomatic! Next up...Wasatch, now that one is gonna be a heater too. I'll make the chicken. If you are here for the OR we can go out and beat each other up. You the man!

JC said...

What an amazing job Hal! Your performance truly represents more than the 16+ hours of racing- it represented a lifetime of inspiring, constant work. Hope to you on the trails soon.

Will Cooper said...

I'm glad Hal won this thing, particulalry with such a "deep" field. He deserves more credit than he's been given, and now with two consecutive WS victories in the face of so many ultra "elites", he's not only earned his spot among the very best, he smacked them ALL getting there. Rock it Hal!

Matt said...

Congrats from San Diego! Hearing Anton Krupicka report on a blog I used to follow the race that Hal "just blew-up Mackey" was pretty epic. Hal is a big dog.

Will we see him at WOH 50K in Oct.?

Keep-up the good work!

Rogue Valley Runners said...

Oh my, thanks for all the kind words. I haven't run a step since the race but the memories have been more than enough to get me through. All of you have been so inspiring to me and that truely helped leading up to the race and through it. I can't say it helped with the heat but....

I'll post a follow up blog here shortly but tonight it's the High Sierra Music Fest and a solo show from John Butler.

Thanks again and keep running out there.....


Anonymous said...

nice work hal! work hard, play hard.


Daniel Murphy said...


In truth, I didn't know that people ran 100 miles!!! Amazing.

My family and I are here in Ashland, and we continually marvel at the excellence of people--their goodness, tolerance, achievements.

Thank you, Hal, for your amazing achievement.



Unknown said...

Congrats to all those who finished! But Hall. Dood! Simply amazing run!

Much respect Hall!

Scott J (the non-famous mexican juan)

Todd said...

What can I say, except "Can I have your autograph?"

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