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MailTribune.com
  • Trail hoofers

    Growing community of runners gets its kicks amid the trees
  • Two women with waterbags strapped to their shoulders run on the single-track Applegate Lake trail on a hot, smoky Sunday morning. As they glide from the direct sun into the filtered shade of a fir-madrone forest, they pass the 19-mile mark of 21 for the day's training run.
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    • Favorite Trails
      In a recent e-mail survey for the Mail Tribune, trail runners overwhelmingly rated the Pacific Crest Trail as their favorite local trail, especially around Mount Ashland. The Applegate Lake loop ra...
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      Favorite Trails
      In a recent e-mail survey for the Mail Tribune, trail runners overwhelmingly rated the Pacific Crest Trail as their favorite local trail, especially around Mount Ashland. The Applegate Lake loop ranked second, Talent Irrigation Ditch trail was third and White Rabbit in the Ashland trail system ranked fourth.

      Tips from the Champs

      "Watch out for hazards on the ground, rocks and roots, and branches above. Respect the hikers and bikers."

      — Hal Koerner

      "Throw out your watch or you'll get frustrated. You're slower on trails than on roads. Don't slow too much on downhills. It's harder on your joints." — Jenn Shelton

      "For safety, buy shoes with decent traction. Stay hydrated." — Erik Skaggs

      "Start with flatter trails. Add the hills later." — Ian Torrence
  • Two women with waterbags strapped to their shoulders run on the single-track Applegate Lake trail on a hot, smoky Sunday morning. As they glide from the direct sun into the filtered shade of a fir-madrone forest, they pass the 19-mile mark of 21 for the day's training run.
    They're drenched in sweat, but still smiling.
    The runners, Krista Peterson and Melyssa Glatte, have been at it for 31/2; hours. They're training for a 50-kilometer ultramarathon in September.
    These diehard athletes are among hundreds of Rogue Valley men and women who hit the trail regularly to get their exercise, away from traffic and noise, with an investment of not much more than a pair of running shoes.
    "Our first SOB (Siskiyou Out Back race on Mount Ashland in 1999) had about 60 in the 15K (race) with 24 from the Rogue Valley," says Marilyn Bailey, the race's co-director for the past 10 years. "This year we had 149, with 78 from the Rogue Valley."
    This increase in popularity reflects a national surge. According to a 2005 study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, trail running was one of the five most popular outdoor sports in the U.S., and 40 million Americans participated in trail running that year, a 22-percent increase since 1998.
    Trail runners love their sport for many reasons.
    A recent e-mail survey of local trail runners for the Mail Tribune revealed that being in nature is the primary reason they run, sometimes for hours at a time. The second most common reason mentioned was health and fitness, followed by the opportunity trail running affords to make and stay in touch with friends.
    The competitive side of running rated a distant fourth in the survey. Other reasons given include a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, and the feeling of adventure.
    In the September/October issue of Trail Runner Magazine, Ashland is listed as one of the best trail-running locations in the nation. The reasons include the extensive local trail network, small-town atmosphere and the vibrant trail running community.
    Hal Koerner, owner of the Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland, has been a driving force in building this community.
    Koerner, 32, is a trail ultramarathoner who was ranked fourth nationally last year by Ultrarunning magazine. He moved to Ashland in 2006 and opened his store, which has become the spot not only to buy shoes and gear, but to catch up on the local running scene.
    "Trail runners love solitude. I've come from Denver and Seattle, where it takes two hours to drive to the trailhead. Now I can walk across the creek to Lithia Park and be connected to a trail system all the way to the PCT. Ashland has a small-town feel, but with the complexity of culture — big city benefits," says Koerner.
    In addition to the duties of his store, Koerner has organized several new trail races and chronicles local running on his blog.
    Other top trail racers have followed Koerner to the Rogue Valley. Erik Skaggs, a nationally-ranked trail runner from New Mexico, moved to Ashland this year, sight unseen, to work at Rogue Valley Runners.
    "I took Hal's word for it — I hold a high opinion of Hal. I've never been in a place with such a tight (trail-running) community before," says Skaggs, 26.
    And he's glad he made the move. Since his arrival in Ashland last October, Skaggs has racked up a string of local victories — including the Mount Ashland Hill Climb, the Granite Man, and Tough As Nails — and even set a few course records.
    Jenn Shelton moved to Ashland from Bend three months ago. Another nationally-ranked ultramarathoner, Shelton, 24, set a new course record at the Crater Lake Marathon last month, after deciding to run only days before the event.
    When Koerner opened his store, he asked his old friend and accomplished ultramarathoner Ian Torrence to be the store manager. After a career of making trails with the National Park Service, the 35-year-old was more than happy to trade it in for a career that focuses instead on running trails.
    Torrence is nearing completion of a project which aims to make local trail running easier and safer. Over several months, Torrence has strapped a GPS to his waist and run as many local trails as he can find. The result: an accurate trail map. Overlain on a topo map, this new guide will soon be available for sale to runners.
    This project was started to help the Ashland Parks Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service build an inventory of the trail system to monitor both use and abuse.
    Like any sport, trail running comes with risks. Rocks and roots can trip up even the most experienced runner. Getting lost on long runs is possible, especially on unfamiliar trails. For this reason, many veteran trail runners recommend carrying a map and compass, along with food and plenty of water, and to let someone know of your route before heading out.
    Not all risks can be anticipated.
    Erik Skaggs once sprinted around a bend and came face to face with the biggest bear he had ever seen, sitting in a mud puddle.
    "We both screamed at each other and ran in opposite directions," says Skaggs.
    When you run as fast as Skaggs, even bears don't hear you coming.
    Daniel Newberry is a runner and freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org
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