A highly trained body can perform extraordinary feats of endurance.
Push it too hard and it can break down.
Ashland ultramarathoner Hal Koerner battled an old injury in his attempt to win his third consecutive Western States Endurance Run 100-mile footrace Saturday, but ended up on the sidelines.
Western States is the oldest and most prestigious 100-mile race in the country. Koerner was the two-time defending champion entering yesterday's race.
"Hal's ankle blew out. He went as far as he could, but eventually was forced to stop at Green Gate (mile 79.8 aid station)," said fellow Ashland ultrarunner Erik Skaggs.
Skaggs paced Koerner for 18 miles. As an aid and safety to runners, most of whom run throughout the night, pacers are allowed to join a contestant at the 62 mile mark.
Koerner is taking this setback in stride.
"It takes a lot to get psyched up all year, then to have this happen. We were running on snow at the beginning and it's unstable terrain. To compensate (for my ankle), I ran on the other side. That made my quads act up on the downhills. It became a time game," Koerner explained.
Unfortunately for Koerner, time ran out 20 miles too soon.
"You have to be 100 percent to do this race, everything has to come together. Last year it did. This year it didn't happen," Koerner said.
Cooler temperatures and a course change to compensate for a heavy snowpack helped make the 37th running of this race — from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California — one for the history books.
At the halfway point, Killian Journet of Spain and Anton Krupicka of Boulder, Colo., battled each other for the lead while Geoff Roes of Douglas, Alaska, shadowed them six minutes back. Koerner was in fourth at that point, another five minutes back.
At mile 85, Krupicka dropped Journet and thought he had the race won. Krupicka lived in Ashland during the winter of 2008-2009 and worked at Koerner's store, Rogue Valley Runners.
Five miles later, he met with the unexpected.
"Someone whistled 'trail' (trail running etiquette when one runner wants to pass another on a narrow trail) and Geoff (Roes) flies by. Tony was dumbfounded," said 2010 Pear Blossom women's winner Jenn Shelton.
Shelton served as Krupicka's pacer for the final 20 miles of the race.
Roes not only held the lead, but sped up. Krupicka held on, but ended up six minutes forty-nine seconds behind. Both runners smashed the previous course record; Roes by 29:23 — in 15:07:04 — and Krupicka by 22:36 — in 15:13:53.
This race was the seventh 100 mile finish for Roes. He has won all seven and set course records on most of them. Roes was Ultrarunning Magazine's Ultrarunner of the Year in 2009. Judging by his season so far, he's likely to take that honor again.
"Around mile 75 it really started to flow. It was the third 100 miler where it started to feel this good," said Roes shortly after finishing the race.
He felt so good that his pacer, former Western States winner Dave Mackey, could not keep up with him.
The women's race had a different type of excitement.
Tracy Garneau of Vernon, British Columbia, was battling her own physical problems and stopped between miles 70 and 80. Rumor spread that she was dropping out. A chase pack of five women trailed by 15 minutes. Garneau pulled it together and went on to win her first Western States race in 19:01:55 by a margin of 14:03.
Only 328 of the 423 starters finished, even with the lower temperatures and slightly shorter course.
"Every year is different," said Tim Twietmeyer, Western States Foundation president and five-time winner. "You still have to run 100 miles in the heat and the mountains."
For full results of the 2010 Western States Endurance Run, visit http://ws100.ultralive.net/webcast.php.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at email@example.com