Catching Up With Hal Koerner

This week’s “Catching Up With” is sponsored by the Trail Running Film Festival. Watch live on July 11th!

“Oh man, thanks, I was wiped out the other day and we were way back in the woods up the Elk River,” Hal Koerner blew me off once, and then a second time. “Eff man, I’m sorry, I just got into the office, long morning.”  If it was anybody else, I would’ve moved on, but Koerner is well known as a happy guy, and he’s easily forgiven.

Since 2006 Koerner has owned and operated Rogue Valley Runners, a running store in Ashland, Oregon. The town’s population is just over 20,000, and Koerner helps me to understand how a running store could thrive in such a small town. Ashland is only 10 miles from Medford, there’s 250,000 people in the valley, and there’s a university in Ashland too, for starters. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is based in Ashland, and is a huge driver for tourism. Folks from San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland come for the theater, and spend money in the town’s restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and shops. “It’s our lifeblood,” Koerner says simply. There’s no Shakespeare Festival this year though, and a few bad fire seasons further hurt the local economy, so much that a few retailers have recently left main street.

But for Koerner and Rogue Valley Runners, it’s an active community. “I’d never seen more people on the trails, never seen more people running,” Koerner said about Ashland during the COVID-19 shutdown period. “I saw 60- to 70-year-old-people on steep climbs with an umbrella.” His voice spikes on the “with an umbrella,” but he’s definitely serious. “We were able to provide the one thing that people could do, and wanted to do. I feel pretty blessed.”

All photos courtesy of Hal Koerner.

Koerner is championing the shop local message. “We’re a curated boutique. We win on specialized fittings and customer service, and I give back to the community–high school, elementary programs, races. I’m trying to foster that more than ever,” he says. Koerner works the shop with a pair of employees and calls the store an extension of his home, and it’s almost literally true. He lives just a quarter mile away.

He’s race director for the Pine to Palm 100 Mile, the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, and the Tar ‘n’ Trail six miler, and is co-RD for the Siskiyou Out Back group of races. Most events are being canceled, but he’s hopeful that he can find a path forward for Pine to Palm, for this year, while conceding, “there’s the old ultra adage, prepare for everything.” As for Siskiyou, he says, “those races really put this area on the map for ultrarunning. There are 800-plus runners across the events, and it’s great, all non-profit. I’m really proud to be a part of that, and was honored to be brought on there.”

Koerner still runs himself too and enjoys it immensely, but also still feels a 2014 knee surgery. “If I could run without feeling it, it would be the greatest day of my life,” he wished. That 2014 surgeon recommended that he not run on pavement again, and the surgery came only after serious problems and added compensation injuries. “My body was feeling the mileage, but I couldn’t think about it at the time,” he said. “The HardrocksJavelinas…,” he recalled races of yesteryear.

While still running, Koerner’s also active on a bike and in the gym three days a week. One of our earlier missed connections was when he was attempting to bike from Ashland to the Oregon Coast. I look at a map and see no clear path, and Koerner aborted the adventure with low water and hours ahead of what he called logging routes through burly terrain. Koerner’s girlfriend rescued him from that misstep.

He mentions his girlfriend and our conversation pivots. “Last summer we separated,” he explained of his marriage. His divorce is nearing its end. “It’s nice to be excited for each other. We were together for 15 years, that’s a really long time and a lot of great things happened. It’s easy to look down on it and down on yourself, and you go through all these feelings,” Koerner thought inward. “But today’s a brand-new day, and that’s all we’ve got.”

His two kids are ages 4 and 6, but he says closer to 5 and 7. “It’s a beautiful thing when the kids get along and play together, but this morning was not one of them,” he exhaled. I understand, and understand how hard it is to teach a 4 year old to bike too. We both pledge to get there by the end of the summer.

Koerner’s great on Instagram with cleverly framed photos and witty captions, and I prod him on the visible gray in his beard. He’s 44. “It’s just in my beard,” he laughs. “It’s a sign of maturity. For years my hair was breaking, I probably pulled a bunch out, but it’s coming back. It’s coming back,” he jokes, noting that his kids are sleeping longer and better as they grow. “Sleep is an amazing thing.”

And on an even greater sign of maturity, Koerner’s the president of the President Teacher Committee (PTC) at his kid’s outdoor-themed school. His youngest will start kindergarten there this fall. The school allows for grades kindergarten through eighth grade, all in small classes. They spend one day per week entirely outside, and while being outdoor-oriented, still have traditional classes like music and art. When the students reach grades seven and eight, they backpack the Rogue River with classmates. That sounds like fun, and especially so if Koerner is volunteering for the adventure.

Call for Comments 

Calling all Hal Koerner stories! You know what to do. Leave ’em in the comments section.

Justin Mock

is a family man, finance man, and former competitive runner. He gave his 20s to running, and ran as fast as 2:29 for the marathon and finished as high as fourth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. His running is now most happy with his two dogs on the trails and peaks near his home west of Denver.

There are 10 comments

  1. CLF

    “We’re looking for Hal, Hal where are you? You have five minutes to check in Hal…” Dale Garland at 5:40AM prior to the start of the 2012 Hardrock 100.

    Sitting in the gym bleacher seats all geared up and ready to go was Tetsuro Ogata, who had flown in all the way from Japan just for this moment as he was #1 on the wait list. He was staying in the room next to mine at the hostel, and I was pulling for him.

    We all know what happened next – Hal surprised everyone with an impressive run to victory. I guess he found Dale in time.

    And Tetsuro? He got in the following year and I was honored to be there with Dale to greet him at the finish. All’s well that ends well…

    Thanks for the update on Hal – glad to see he’s doing well.

  2. nevtrik

    Always wanted to ask if there was some story behind excluding Pine to Palm from the list of Hardrock qualifiers? ;) We all know about Leadville and Western States, but what’s wrong with P2P? ;)

    1. Susan

      can you please elaborate your comment about western states and leadville? I might be the only one but i do not know the story you are referring to.

      1. nevtrik

        @Susan, Leadville was removed from the list of qualifiers because of environmental impact (too many people, too much trash), and Western States is considered too easy to be a qualifier (fair enough). What surprises me is that P2P is harder than some of other qualifiers that still qualify you for Hardrock (like Cascade Crest), it is located in South Oregon, so it’s not like there’s plenty of other qualifiers. I thought there has to be some story behind then… ;)

  3. John Vanderpot

    I was out there for those Javelina runs, it was early on for me, and it sure was news that someone could hold that pace for that long! I remember there’d be a group for that first loop, but after that it was just allllllll Hal!

  4. AT

    Hands down my favorite ultra runner follow on IG, there’s a level of cool and humility I find in his posts. Bucket list race for me is the Lithia Loop Marathon, you’re the man Hal, best wishes for healthy adventures in your future.

  5. Matthew C

    I met Hal Koerner a few years ago in Central Park at a Fitness meetup. Super awesome and very down to earth dude, I got a lot of good Ultra running tips\advice. Truly an honor to meet a Legend in the sport.

    All the best Hal, and everyone!!

  6. Renn

    If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times Hal. “No, porcupines can’t shoot their quills at us! This isn’t a cartoon!” Hardrock 100 3am. ❤️You HK3

  7. James Elson

    I met Hal at a tesco’s in Milton Keynes. In his basket he had Findus crispy pancakes and jar of gold blend. Always classy.

  8. Scott Sallberg

    When Hal won Javelina Jundred in 2013, I was just a few steps away from completing my fourth lap and the 100k mark, and so I stepped out of the way and clapped like the rest of the spectators. The next time I saw him was the next morning when he was standing next to the last road crossing before the finish line and he was there urging us back-of-the-packers to finish it out. I think it took me about 28:39 or so to complete my first 100 miler in about twice as long as what it took him! And he looked genuinely happy for us!

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