Hal-O-Matic

AJWs TaproomI first met Hal Koerner at the 2001 Phoenix National Trail 50 Miler at South Mountain Park in Phoenix, AZ. This was in the early days of ultra trail racing and this event was an old-school affair. Hal had come down from Colorado to run with his buddy Dale Peterson, an old grizzled ultra guy from way back. Now, this wasn’t exactly The Gordy old days, but let’s just say the race was not tweeted out to the masses and after the race when we had to call our families we did it on the payphone by the picnic shelter. In other words, Hal’s been doing this stuff for a long, long time!

Craig Thornley, Race Director-Elect at the Western States 100, states boldly that, “Not too many people know this, but I have kicked Hal’s butt at Western States several times.” He says this with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, but then goes on to expound on his boast, “The first time I ‘met’ Hal was at WS in 2001. He was a big up-and-comer stud from Colorado at the time. I didn’t have the man crush on him that I do today, but I did think he was pretty sexy back then. Anyway, I come into Highway 49, fumble with getting a cup of soup and flashlights, and my pacer yells ‘Go with Koerner.’ It was the first I’d seen of him all day. We left together and I quickly dropped him on the climb after the aid station. I finished 16th to his 19th.” (Author’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I finished a couple hours behind Craig and Hal that year in 35th.)

A year later, Thornley once again crossed paths with Hal at Western States, this time when Hal was “taking up space in a chair” at Browns Bar. Craig’s pacer then pointed out Hal to Craig and Craig distinctly recalls seeing his huge, drop-dead gorgeous grin on his face even though he was miserable and dropping out. “This was much different than the big name guy who drops out and then hides. I liked that.”

Ultrarunning legend and world-class coach Ian Torrence also met Hal for the first time in 2001 at the Catalina Island 50K/100K. As Ian recalls it he was, at the time, working the Montrail table with Scott Jurek when, “as the clock ticked closer to my Course Record finishing time and I thought I still had it in the bag, this guy Hal from Colorado (who I’d never met before) came around the corner to take the win and new Course Record.”

On that day 12 years ago, a deep and meaningful friendship was born between Ian and Hal – a friendship that is alive and well to this day forged through many adventures, and a few misadventures, along the way. Ian recalls a time during a Double Crossing of the Grand Canyon when he went really ill at the bottom of the Canyon on the return trip. To help his buddy out, Hal dazzled the young lady at the store into allowing him to purchase food and drink with his memorized credit card number. Then, there was the time in 2006, when Ian bailed on his National Park Service job trail work job so Hal could hire him to be one of the first employees at Rogue Valley Runners, his fledgling running store in Ashland, OR.

Hal created his running company after apprenticing with Scott McCoubrey and the rest of the burgeoning Seattle running scene at the iconic Seattle Running Company between 2003 and 2005. When he knew he had learned what it took to go it alone he found the perfect location to seed a business and has single-handedly grown Ashland into a trail running mecca. Along the way he has mentored and trained with some of the finest trail runners in the country. As Thornley puts it, “The first day I walked into his new store, Rogue Valley Runners, he had some Larry Gassan pictures on the wall, including one of me and my brother after Angeles Crest in 2003. When I saw that picture of me and my brother Hal had hooked a lifetime customer out of me. I mean, if you walk into a new store and your picture is on the wall that’s pretty amazing. In addition to being a phenomenal runner, he’s a damn good businessman.”

Hal’s distinctive look with visor pulled down and long loping stride powering off mountains has become legendary. And yet, he also has a bit of everyman in him. I recall running up on Hal in Western States in 2006 when I was cruising along with our mutual friend Tommy Nielsen. We could tell Hal was not having his best day but as we approached he stopped, turned, smiled and gave us both a big sweaty bear hug. Or how about his six-month battle a few years ago with plantar fasciitis? Who ever thought that legendary runners like Hal could get such a baseline injury? Well, he did, battled through it, and we know what happened next. Finally, of course, there was his now epic death slog into the finish at the UTMB race in France last summer. You just can’t help but admire a guy who sets his pride aside and gets the job done, no matter what it takes.

So now, in the store window in Ashland, alongside his two Western States Cougars and his two Angeles Crest Championships, is the Hardrock 100 Championship trophy. There have been many, many iconic finishers of the Hardrock 100 over the last 19 years and in my book, with his extraordinary race last weekend and all that he has done for our sport, Hal Koerner has clearly established his place on ultrarunning’s Mount Rushmore.

Bottoms Up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Shiner BockThis week’s Beer of the Week is Shiner Bock from Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. Why, you might ask, is this week’s beer of the week from Texas when the article is about a guy from Oregon who just won a race in Colorado? Well, the reason is, one of my fondest memories of Hal is hanging out with him far longer than I should have on the afternoon and evening following the Sunmart 50 Miler in December, 2006. Let’s just say, on that day, we did our part to support the local beer economy. Plus, there’s nothing like a cold Shiner on a hot midsummer day.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What’s your favorite Hal Koerner story?

There are 29 comments

  1. olga

    In an email exchange yesterday stirred up by my wandering why in the world Hal is so under-rated and why his winning interview got so few comments someone said: "May be now he'll be noticed". Now? With resume stemming back to 1999 and 5 wins at Bear, then AC, double-WS, and recent RR and JJ and a crap-load whatever…

    I first have memory of Hal from October 2005, SD100, a nervous shuffling before the race. I approached him and began "I've been an admirer of yours, my name is…" to hear back "I know you, Olga, doing great!". OMG, Hal knew my name! I think this propelled me to working hard and winning the race:)

    In this day and age the new and coming generation of ultrarunners and trail runners are fed with blogs and other media contents, so they mostly become aware of those runners at the top and near who either self-promote or get promoted by sponsors. Hal tends to be quiet. And that is admirable on its own.

    Old school – works hard, knows his stuff, shows results.

    Hal's got a following. The smile helps.

  2. Bartman

    Great article Andy. Thanks.

    I remember when we lost Ian from the Las Vegas NV running scene and most of us were not real sure why the heck he left a good 'guvmint' job for some job in southern Oregon. Well, we know the rest of the story.

  3. olga

    One more thing came up to my mind on the run. You know the saying "walk your talk". there are a couple of folks I can attest who don't even talk much, they just walk: Scott Jurek and Hal Koerner. Even their blogs keep dying every time they make an effort to revive them:) They let their results speak for themselves.

    Yeah, you can say I am excited Hal gets his well-deserved share of love and publicity.

  4. Jeff Faulkner

    I'm not ashamed to say, man crush. :D He's the most down to earth member of an extremely down to earth group of elite athletes.

    When is he going to write an autobiography? I've already got money set aside to buy a copy.

  5. STKretzmann

    I credit Hal with my own personal obsession with ultrarunning. I came across a picture of Hal winning the 2008 Western States and soon found out who he was and began reading the Rogue Valley Runners blog (I still check it daily for updates, and it's the page most visited on my browser behind only my e-mail, Google, and iRunFar).

    One thing that stands out to me is him pacing Timothy to the win and CR at Western States. I can imagine a lot of guys with his resume might have too much of an ego to use their knowledge and expertise to help a friend do something of that magnitude, and he deserves a lot a kudos for it.

    1. AJW

      You probably have a pic from his 2007 or 2009 win because in 2008 the place was on fire and the race was canceled (when Hal had pf:) not saying he started the fire or anything:)

      1. STKretzmann

        Yeah, 2009… that's the one. I was in full swing of training for my first marathon, and after coming across the RVR blog (which led me to oh-so-much more ultrarunning internet goodies) I already wanted to go way, way, way farther.

  6. Jonathan

    Couldn't happen to a better guy. Every time he came through Nature Center at Rocky Raccoon in Feb he had his signature smile. On his second time through he poked his head in and grabbed a Coke with a huge Chesire cat grin. He didn't demand anything or expect any special treatment being in second place. All around great guy.

  7. Kim Neill

    Nice article, Andy. But just to put things in perspective, I starting doing ultras in 1984 (yes, there really were ultras back "then"). So 2001 is really not the early days of ultras–perhaps it is for you young guys. Thanks again for your enjoyable, weekly Taprooms.

    1. AJW

      Kim, I was trying to say it was the early days of "trail" ultras as there were fewer than 100 a year back then. But, you're right, 2001 is not exactly a long time ago.

      1. Kim Neill

        Like yourself, Andy, Hal is a class act of good sportsmanship, a great smile/attitude, and product of hard work. Happy running! We will see you back out there too, soon?

      2. Phil Vaughn

        I'm with Kim…. that really jumped off the page at me.

        McKenzie River Trail Run (OR) is 25 this year, McDonald Forest

        goes way back too. For us oldie trail runners, 2001 sounds

        like yesterday.

  8. Joe G.

    I still have Hal's original entry form and release waiver from the 2001 Phx National Trail 50. I'm hanging on to it. It might be worth something someday ….or in case he decides to sue me.

  9. Jared F

    As a mid to back of the pack ultra guy I like best his performance at UTMB last year. Most other elites would have just dropped, but he stuck it out and finished, something 99% of the ultra community does every timet they race. THAT was inspiring!

  10. Paul Charteris

    Thanks for the great article Andy.

    I don't have any Hal stories – but I know he command respect as the consumate trail ultra. runner. From what I've heard (as as hal able demonstrates) is that he has no weaknesses, he can climb, descend, technical and flat stuff, he can run it all. You have to respect a runner like that.

    Cheers, PC

  11. CJ

    I had a chance to meet Hal at the first annual Lithia Loop Trail Marathon back in 2008. I recall how laid back he was and I really appreciated the time and attention he gave me. I must have lingered in his store for over an hour talking with him and the Skaggs brothers and hoping some of their talent would drip onto me for the next day's race. Having grown up in Myrtle Creek, OR (2 hrs north of Ashland), I have a special place in my heart for runners from Oregon. Hal is truly a warrior and competitor. He may not win every race but the guy has guts.

  12. Patrick McKenna

    It's pretty cool when you check-in the day before his Lithia Loop race and he is the only one there. He checks off your name on the list, hands you your bib, etc. Was even cooler when I said my last name at check-in and he knew my first name. As a back of the packer, that really made my day.

    Congrats on another Big Win Hal!

  13. thomas redeker

    Hal is such motivationg for, together with dakota, tim, geoff, Kilian, and tony, these guys love this sport, they motivate so many people to go out to run, really great, they are champions, in running, but more important, in their attitude.

    Thanks all,

    thomas

  14. Davide

    At the UTMB I was coming out from a rough patch and starting to put myself together, when I saw this guy ahead of me on the climb to Champex: turns out it was Hal Koerner, one of the best runners in the world, and at the time one of my favourite runners due to my growing WS obsession and his two consecutive victories.

    I said hello and started chatting: he was going trough hell, but he took time to chat back and tell me I was looking good. I said I was a little bit worried since it was my first one hundred: he just said "you choosed a tough one, but you're doing great, go ahead and finish this race!".

    I turned one last time and he was looking at the marvellous sight over the valley and just said "what a beautiful place".

    I started running full of energy and willing to give my 100% to get back to Chamonix. The respect for the race and the love for the mountain he showed on that occasion, it was a lesson I'll never forget.

    Because of this, I knew he had what it takes to conquer a beast like Hardrock. I almost fainted when Bryon twitted that the rumor was, Joe caught him: Joe is a great runner and I really enjoy his photos and blog, but I really wanted Hal to win, and I was superhappy to see him kiss the rock for first. Well done Hal, you're a great man and a damn good runner.

    Tap Room never lets me down, good job as usual AJW.

  15. James @reddirtrunner

    Shiner is a great story and they make some rather good seasonal brews too.

    I had the pleasure of running and watching Hal at Rocky Raccoon earlier this year. As a fellow member of the "Old Guard" I was excited to see him do so well at WS100.

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