Winning a marathon is lung- and leg-busting work, but winning an ultra-marathon is exponentially harder. So what does it say about an athlete who runs a hundred ultras during a decade and consistently finishes near the top?
Hal Koerner defines an “Ultra” as being any race over the official marathon-distance of 26.2 miles, and typically up to 100 miles or more. To date he’s run 94 ultra’s, won 24 of them and finished in the top three in 75 percent of his races. That astounding level of success puts him in an elite league of athlete, and The North Face welcomes him to their Endurance Team.
An outdoor enthusiast since age 10, Hal has hiked, biked and burned shoe rubber on trails all over the United States. He set the speed record for the 500 mile Colorado trail in 2003 with a time of nine days, 10 hours, 19 minutes (which went unbroken for three years). He won the 2007 Western States 100 miler, the oldest and most prestigious hundred-miler in the world, finishing with the fifth fastest time (16:12:16) since it’s inception in 1977, and he won the event again in 2009. His goal, he says, is to cross that finish line in 15.30. Hal is also a two-time champion of the Angeles Crest 100 miler in California, and five-time champion of the Bear 100 in Utah.
All that backcountry running has led to some close encounters with oversized wildlife. While competing in the 2004 Western States he and a fellow runner flushed out a bear, which Hal describes as “yeti sized,” and which almost bowled his friend over as it lumbered away. And near the end of the Bear 100 in the Wasatch Mountains, Hal was shadowed for a while by a large mountain lion. “I found a rusty old shovel and proceeded to clang it against the hillside the final 3 miles,” he recalls.
Trail running is obviously Hal’s passion, and for the last seven years he’s been named one of the top ten ultra-runners in North America by Ultrarunning magazine. He’s equally proud of his role as a mentor of the sport, which can be seen in the form of the local races he organizes and the running store he owns and operates, Rogue Valley Runners, in Hal’s hometown of Ashland, Oregon.