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MailTribune.com
  • Trail Busters

    Ashland runner, Montana lawyer conquer John Muir Trail with fastest-known time
  • Ashland ultrarunner and athletic-store owner Hal Koerner has a reputation for winning gnarly 100-mile trail races.
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    • The contents of Hal Koerner's backpack during h...
      Warm, waterproof jacket
      Hat (but no gloves)
      Emergency bivvy sack
      2 liters of water in backpack bladder
      Electrolyte drink powder mix
      Food (mostly Gu sports gel)
      Flashlight with ext...
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      The contents of Hal Koerner's backpack during his FKT run
      Warm, waterproof jacket

      Hat (but no gloves)

      Emergency bivvy sack

      2 liters of water in backpack bladder

      Electrolyte drink powder mix

      Food (mostly Gu sports gel)

      Flashlight with extra batteries

      Steri-pen for UV filtration of water

      Phone for communications

      2 Garmin GPS watches to track

      the run
  • Ashland ultrarunner and athletic-store owner Hal Koerner has a reputation for winning gnarly 100-mile trail races.
    Last Sunday, the 37-year-old completed an epic race in which his only competitor was the clock, and this effort made those earlier 100-milers pale in comparison.
    Koerner and Mike Wolfe, a lawyer from Missoula, Mont., ran the 223-mile John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 3 days, 12 hours and 41 minutes, the fastest known time — FKT — for completing that course. Their time shaved 1 hour and 32 minutes off the FKT set in 2009 by Brett Maune, a 30-year-old laser physicist from Los Angeles.
    Both Koerner and Wolfe are sponsored by outdoor gear retailer The North Face.
    Though Koerner has completed most of his 100-mile races in far less than 24 hours, he's no stranger to the multiday sufferfest. In 2003, he set a new FKT on the 500-mile Colorado Trail in 91/2 days. That effort, he believes, gave him valuable insights for last week's outing.
    "I knew the little things you need to do to take care of yourself. You have to constantly be eating and drinking. Foot care is of the utmost importance, keeping dry socks and shoes and putting on a lubricant to avoid blisters and chafing," says Koerner.
    Running, he says, may not describe much of the pair's adventure on the steep John Muir Trail. Their FKT a route in California began at the Mount Whitney portal and ended at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park. That route tops six mountain passes above 11,000 feet and rarely dips below the 8,000-foot mark.
    "Much of the uphill sections were just a purposeful hike, and that was the plan," Koerner explains. "But what we found was that even a lot of the downhills were very unrunnable because it was just so rocky and had a lot of switchbacks."
    The physical toll exacted by this difficult terrain has stymied many attempts at a new FKT, including one last summer by Ashland ultrarunners Jenn Shelton and Ryan Ghelfi.
    In addition to the terrain, the pair faced frost at night and sunburn during the day, at least when they could see the sun.
    "Around the 150-mile mark near Vermillion Lake, we passed through this heavy forest fire smoke that was so thick you couldn't even see for a mile, and this course is probably the most beautiful stretch of trail in the U.S.," says Koerner.
    Perhaps what most distinguishes the multiday effort from the single-day, merely pedestrian 100-miler is sleep. Or rather, the lack thereof.
    "We'd get to sleep for two hours, and it was like the sweetest two-hour sleep ever," Koerner recalls of the respite they permitted themselves on each of the two nights, as well as a one-hour nap.
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