Hal Koerner, owner of Rogue Valley Runners, doesn't just run. He searches for the farthest edge of the envelope called ultramarathons, meaning anything more than 26.2 miles, and pulls out all the stops. For Koerner, ultra means 100 miles over mountain trails and service roads, completed in some 24 hours.
He has competed in ultramarathons across America, as well as internationally, having run in Hong Kong and Mont Blanc, near the town of Chamonix, France. He plans to race in Chile this summer. He was named one of the top-10 ultra-runners in North America and has run more than 100 ultramarathons to date.
Koerner, 34, a native of Colorado, came to Ashland in summer 2006 hoping to merge his passion for running with a store that sold well-fitted, high-tech, durable athletic shoes as well as apparel and accessories.
Even at a young age, he spent most of his free time skiing and camping and decided he wanted to make running a permanent part of his life.
"After working at the Seattle Running Company for three years, my ASICS rep told me about this funky little town in Southern Oregon that seemed to hold a lot of potential," Koerner said. "Healthy folks living in a pristine area with lots of access to outdoor activities."
He soon discovered that Ashland was indeed a bit funky but was surrounded by mountains and populated by folks who embraced him and shared his love of the outdoors.
Rogue Valley Runners, at 161 E. Main St., became a mirror of who Koerner is and what he values.
"Running encompasses everything from solitude to camaraderie, fitness to competition, pavement or dirt, and sprinting to endurance," he said. "It's a time to escape, a time to tune-in, perhaps reflect, and most of all, it feels good. I imagine it also helps me to get lost for a time"¦ figuratively and literally at times."
When asked why he has to run 100 miles, Koerner smiled.
"For me, the 'wow factor' in an ultramarathon is that feeling of accomplishing something. It's extreme, and it never gets easier, but the draw is that it's so far out there. Plus, there's a community of people who run ultras and I'm in the mountains. I'm also a competitive person. I love to compete."
Rogue Valley Runners has become a catalyst for weekly early morning group runs and major running events in the valley. Koerner serves as race director for the Tar N Trail 6 miler; the Pompadour Half Marathon; the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon; and the newest race, the Pine to Palm 100 Mile Endurance Run, from Williams to Ashland, which will be held this year on Sept. 18.
Ultramarathons are called century runs over mountainous terrain and service trails. There are aid stations along the way with food, water and medical supplies. They are a mind-over-body ordeal in which the runner can experience altered states of consciousness, sometimes hallucinating, sometimes in the grip of euphoria or despair.
"Dedicated training and preparation will never fully prepare the runner for a century run," said Nick Lewis, who works at Rogue Valley Runners. "There are too many variables."
Ultimately, however, for Koerner, and those at Rogue Valley Runners, it's all about being outside: on a mountain trail, a city sidewalk, or cruising through a city park.
Everyone, emphasizes Koerner, finds the "wow factor" in his own way.
Chris Honoré is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.