Local store owner wins prestigious ultra-marathon

Last Saturday morning, Hal Koerner of Ashland got out of bed at 5 and, with his body in pain and his mind numbed from the supreme effort, ran 100 miles up long mountains and down steep grades for over 16 hours, fulfilling a lifelong dream of winning the Western States Endurance Run.

Back at work Monday morning at the Rogue Valley Runners shoe shop he owns in Ashland, a smiling Koerner, 31, said, "Even the thought of running it is daunting. Every time you go to the start line of a 100-mile run, a voice in your head says 'do you realize what you're about to do?'"

He's now done that more than 90 times.

Having tried five times to win the prestigious "ultra-marathon" from Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif., Koerner was primed, in top physical condition from daily two-hour runs in the Ashland watershed, local Pacific Crest Trail and Mt. Ashland. He'd also honed the mental skills it takes to turn off the parts of the mind that complain about the pain and beg him to stop, he says.

"There's going to be pain and it's something you have to deal with. The upside is that it goes away and the adrenalin and endorphins always pump more. The highs get higher as you go along and the lows get lower &

and you can keep going if you keep up on the food, drinks and electrolytes."

Koerner has only run two standard 26-mile marathons and said that marathoners consider that a lifetime feat and chide ultra-marthoners for trying to upstage them with showy extreme sports feats.

"But, no, that's not where we're coming from, upstaging them. We're in the limits of human endurance, dabbling in that area of what's possible." He shrugs and smiles. "You have to just turn off your mind at the very beginning, ideally. You have to say, I'm going to get to the next aid station."

Each one is six or eight miles apart.

Considered one of the top 100-mile races &

and taking place in searing 100-degree heat &

the Western States 100 is called "the 100-mile buffet" because of the wide array of energy-loaded carbs, including bananas, peanut butter-and-jam sandwiches and "gooies," tiny bags of brown rice syrup, salts and electrolytes.

"I must have eaten 50 gooies. You feel it immediately in your body," said Koerner, who has been rated in the top 10 ultra-marathoners for seven years running and finishing in 16 hours, 12 minutes and 16 seconds, about 22 minutes ahead of the second place runner.

The route first climbs 9,000 feet out of Squaw Valley (near Tahoe) and finishes with an 1,100-foot descent, with a total gain of 19,000 feet and loss of 22,000 feet.

Ultra-marathons can be dangerous. Two racers have died at the finish line in other races around the world &

and a close friend of Koerner's last year was about to win the Western States 100 and lost consciousness with only a hundred yards to the finish line.

Koerner finished third and eighth in his previous WSER attempts. He now has two ultra-marathon victories under his belt, the first being the Angeles Crest 100 last September.

Koerner now plans to take a few weeks off before participating in Ashland's own Siskiyou Outback Trail Run, a mere 50-kilometer race, on July 14. His WSER victory can be viewed online at /watch'v=_DUu04PUYKg.

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