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MailTribune.com
  • Cougar Hunters

    Two Ashland men will compete Saturday in the country's oldest 100-mile footrace; both know what it takes to win
  • Two bronze cougars sit in the window display at the Rogue Valley Runners store on East Main Street in Ashland. A third rests on a mantelpiece a mile away.
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    • Follow the race online
      To follow Olson (Bib No. M1) and Koerner (Bib No. 13) online, in real time, click the link in this story at www.oregonoutdoors.com
      The Western States Endurance Run begins at 5 a.m. Saturday, Jun...
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      Follow the race online
      To follow Olson (Bib No. M1) and Koerner (Bib No. 13) online, in real time, click the link in this story at www.oregonoutdoors.com

      The Western States Endurance Run begins at 5 a.m. Saturday, June 29.
  • Two bronze cougars sit in the window display at the Rogue Valley Runners store on East Main Street in Ashland. A third rests on a mantelpiece a mile away.
    These trophies are the most coveted in the sport of ultrarunning, earned by winners of the country's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile footrace, the Western States Endurance Run.
    Ashland is the only town in the race's 39-year history to produce two winners: Hal Koerner, 37, who is a two-time winner, and Timothy Olson, 29, the defending champion and course record holder.
    When Olson smashed the old record by more than 20 minutes last year, Koerner paced him for the final 38 miles, reminding the younger runner of the subtleties of each mile of the course ahead, knowledge he had gained during the nine times he wore a Western States race bib.
    "Hal's been my mentor for several years. I moved to this town right after he won Western States — I thought that was awesome," Olson reveals. "Now we're on the same team, and last year he was my pacer, and we've built this friendship over the years that's special."
    Both athletes are sponsored by the North Face company, and as members of this team, they travel around the world, competing and serving as ultrarunning ambassadors. In the past year, Koerner has traveled to Iceland, Olson to New Zealand and the Canary Islands.
    "He's been training like crazy, and he'll be ready to go," says Koerner. "He's set his sights on this race and he's peaked really well, and he's overly motivated from a standpoint that you don't often see."
    Both runners had a phenomenal 2012. In addition to winning Western States, Olson won two important 100-kilometer trail races, including the USA Track & Field national championship. Koerner won two 100-milers, including Hardrock, a high-elevation course in Colorado's San Juan mountains, considered the nation's toughest 100-mile race. Olson took Ultrarunning Magazine's No. 2 national ranking, Koerner snagged the No. 4 spot.
    These Ashland runners are considered top contenders for this year's race, so a fourth Ashland cougar may be on the horizon. Of the two, experience favors Koerner — he has finished well over 100 ultramarathons and counts two top-10 finishes at this course in addition to his two victories. Olson's victory is more recent and his racing skills are a bit sharper, as he's competed more often than Koerner in the past year.
    Both local runners know they have more than each other to contend with. This year the field is packed with contenders, led by Mike Morton, a former Western States course record holder and last year's top-ranked ultrarunner, and Rob Krar, an accomplished track runner who recently smashed the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim record.
    "There are so many talented runners out there who are training so hard," says Olson. "It's not just my competition, it's the training, the mountains; you never know what's going to be thrown your way in a race."
    The über-competition in this race has been building for several years. The course record was also broken in 2010, by more than 29 minutes. Koerner, who will enter this race for his 10th time, believes victory this year calls for a new strategy.
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