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
Runner's World article
Final results for the 2009 Western States 100 Mile.
Photography was provided by Pete Zinsli, Glenn Tachiyama and John Medinger.