Not long after dawn this past Saturday morning, Hal Koerner added a Hardrock 100 win to his pair of victories at Western States. In the following interview, hear about the highs and lows of his Hardrock as well as whether we can expect to see him racing in the San Juan Mountains again next July. We also interviewed Hal before the race.
[Ps. There’s a full transcript below… for those at work. ;-)]
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Hal Koerner’s 2012 Hardrock 100 Finish
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Hal Koerner, 2012 Hardrock 100 Champ, Interview Transcript
Hal Koerner: Thanks, man. It feels fantastic. I rank it right up there with the best Western States wins and maybe that’s it. Yeah, it’s fantastic.
iRF: Compare how a good run feels at Western States to winning at Hardrock. I’m assuming you had a “good day” at Western, and here?
Koerner: Yeah, here it’s like just double it. They’re monumentally different in every aspect just from a pacing standpoint, but it’s got to be even and you’ve got to be on point. You’ve got to be focused all day long. I think that’s really huge. Course knowledge, I think course knowledge is enormous at an event like this. But from the people to the crews to the effort, it’s a trip.
iRF: So in terms of course knowledge, you’ve run here once, you spent a couple days here beforehand, do you think that if you’re to run here again, you’d be even better prepared? Were there sections you got lost? Were there things you wish you would have known?
Koerner: You know, from running here before, it’s seared into your memory… maybe a suffering level or whatever. Looking at… from Sherman on in the night time, there’s definitely a lot of route finding here. You definitely have to know where you’re going. In the alpine, following markers is a bit tedious; you lose a little momentum doing stuff like that. At mile 80, twenty hours in, you don’t want to be losing momentum especially with people right on your tail.
iRF: It’s not really running from Greengate to ALT [at Western States], is it?
Koerner: No, I know that a little better.
iRF: I’m assuming at Western States, you’re pretty much “on” all day. You’ve got to have a great day to win there. Here, I don’t know anyone that has a good day all day. What was a low point for you?
Koerner: Coming down off of Handies Peak was rough. I got to Handies just as the sun was setting, and then it was just kind of sketchy coming down off of there. You’re coming off a 14’er in the middle of the night with loose scree, and then it’s technical; it’s a little choppy. My pace slowed down a lot there. You still had 35 miles to go; you still have hours and hours and hours. You say, “Ok, I’m in the lead here, but is that going to hold? How much is that going to take to hold that that long?” That was kind of rough. Then right here, coming up Little Giant, another 3,000 foot climb at mile 90-something. From 12,000 feet on, I think I was taking two steps and then huffing and puffing and then taking two steps. Luckily, Carly was pacing me and she just kept saying, “Come on, let’s keep going.” So I was just trying to check off her pace and see how we were doing. So that worked out really well.
iRF: On a comparison level, at Western States, aid stations are like “bam-bam” where you get your things and go. You’re spending time in them taking care of your needs here?
Koerner: Yeah, a bit more so—a little bit more so. Here, there’s only 13, so you have to take advantage of it. You’re not going to see your crew too often. So I even stopped to change out shoes and socks at Grouse—something I’d never contemplate doing at another event. But I just tried to make it quick, because it does add up no matter what happens. Yeah, there are definitely some different concessions made here than like at Western States.
iRF: What was your favorite part?
Koerner: I loved coming down off Grant-Swamp Pass. It’s just surreal. It’s hard to explain unless you were up there watching people just slide down a mountain.
iRF: Right on the pass, you mean?
Koerner: Oh, yeah, right on the pass, and then Virginius—having the aid station up there was pretty fantastic. We were in a rain storm. Going off that with Joe and Dakota and Dakota helping us find the right way down the mountain was pretty awesome. Then it was just kind of that camaraderie we had the whole day. My plan was to hammer Camp Bird Road. It’s a 7 mile downhill and I can run those well. There were a fair amount of long downhill roads, and that was kind of my focus for the race was to push those.
iRF: Yeah, it’s kind of amazing, at the top of Virginius, if I remember correctly I think Joe was in the lead, it was probably pretty close, but Joe was in the lead. Dakota was in the lead at Governor Basin 3.5 miles down the road. Then, you had the lead at Ouray. You were ahead the whole second half of the race, but it was very dynamic up front. Parr had the lead early and I think some other folks, as well.
Koerner: I had already checked myself for that and said, “It’s the way it’s going to be and it be like that the whole way until the end of this race.” So I never got too worried about that switching. And I think we were each feeding off each other even though I had bigger leads at the end of the race. If I had 10 minutes, I could still look back… if I had 30 minutes, I could still look back across the valley and see those guys, so it was still motivating.
iRF: So in another flatter 100, a 30 minute lead seems insurmountable. Game over. Here, it’s one aid station. How does that…?
Koerner: Here, I watched Joe coming into Cunningham while going up Little Giant and it was 25 minutes. That still seemed like, “Oh my gosh, 25 minutes is nothing.” I just kept telling myself that the whole way up. Yeah, you never know; 8-9 miles here and 25 minutes is nothing.
iRF: So you’d probably say you started “racing” coming off Virginius?
Koerner: Yeah. That was where I wanted to really switch it up. That’s where I wanted to make a move. I ran probably 75% of Bear Creek, so going up to Engineers, which was 5,000 feet [of vertical]. But I’d laid it out in my mind that that’s what it was going to take, and so there was a little gap there.
iRF: So, 7 years since you ran your last Hardrock? You have an automatic next year…
Koerner: Yeah. I wish it was as enticing as that is… I wish it sounded as enticing as it is right now. I don’t know. It’s nice. I like being able to savor this moment. I liked being hungry for coming to Hardrock again. Seven years is probably way too long, but I think I need a little time to digest this one, and I’ll come back sometime in the future when it bugs out. I’m really appreciative of it and that it is that type of event.
iRF: Where else will we see you down the road this year?
Koerner: I might just shake the legs out at the Waldo 100k, and I think I’ll be at The North Face Championships in December.
iRF: Great, well we’ll see you at The North Face race. Congrats again on a great race, Hal! Enjoy the moment!
Koerner: Thanks, man.
iRF: When did you finally put your shirt on and why?
Koerner: I don’t think I put my shirt on until Cunningham because I decided at Sherman I wasn’t going to wear it. But that was 8 hours of not wearing it and I thought I’d better put one back on. It was pretty rainy out there; it got pretty wet. That was one of the main reasons I took it off. We don’t train with shirts in Oregon, so it’s just like this extra piece of equipment.
iRF: So mile 93.