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Southern Oregon runners mourn the loss of their quirky, talented friend

The trail-running community is mourning the loss of one of its more accomplished and gregarious members known for running long races in quirky costumes to make his friends laugh and himself chuckle.

Todd Ragsdale, 46, of Talent, was found dead Saturday afternoon after an exhaustive two-day search in the Ashland watershed. He had been missing since going for a light run or hike Thursday morning in the hills above Lithia Park.

Ragsdale was a well-known face in trail races who regularly would be seen running in a kilt and even in elaborate and uncomfortable costumes, friends say.

"That was one of his signature things, running races in a kilt," says Daniel Newberry, a former Rogue Valley runner now living in Portland who knew Ragsdale well.

"Another time he dressed as Sasquatch," Newberry says. "It was at the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb. He ran this 13-mile race in the summer in this Bigfoot outfit. It was really something."

Many of Ragsdale's friends within the Southern Oregon Runners club contacted Saturday by the Mail Tribune said they were in shock and speechless about the loss of Ragsdale, whose body was found on the edge of Ashland Creek upstream from the Granite Street reservoir at about 1:45 p.m.

Hal Koerner, who owns the Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland, said Ragsdale introduced him to trail running and races here when Koerner relocated from Seattle in 2006 to open the store.

Shortly after the store's opening, Koerner found himself running the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb with Ragsdale. Koerner remembers looking down and seeing Ragsdale bedecked in the multi-toed Aqua Socks water sandals long before the toed-shoe craze surfaced.

"They were the cheapest body-glove sandals you could find in the valley," Koerner says.

"I remember laughing inside, thinking, 'This guy is going to finish in the top three and he's wearing Aqua Socks? It was one of the craziest things I'd ever seen.

"Stories abound like that, and that's something I'm really going to miss," Koerner says. 

Ragsdale was an accomplished distance runner who rarely missed a local race, friends recall. In 2006 he won the Crater Lake Marathon, known as one of the country's most difficult marathons because of the thin air along the crater rim. He followed that up with a second-place finish the following two years.

"He put everything he had into it," Koerner says. "And he had some of the quirkiest traits I've ever seen."

Joseph Vaile, a fellow Southern Oregon Runners club member from Ashland who was part of the more than 100 volunteers in Ragsdale's search party, recalls how down-to-earth he remained.

"He always had a smile and was welcoming to folks who took up running, even those not as skilled as he was," Vaile says. "But he had fun with it. You'd see him in races with all sorts of costumes."

Ragsdale made headlines outside of the running community in 2010 when he set a new Guinness World Record for barefoot running.

Ragsdale ran 102 miles, or 413 laps on the South Medford High School track, in his bare feet, a feat that broke the existing record by 12 miles, according to a Mail Tribune account at the time.

Ragsdale made his run in the Relay For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, running as part of a team fielded by the north Medford Fred Meyer store, where he worked as the produce manager.

Fred Meyer workers joined 50 search and rescue crews from eight counties and more than 100 runners in the search for Ragsdale, which began Thursday afternoon after Ragsdale's Honda Element was found in a parking lot above Lithia Park.

"The outpouring of support — from other counties, other sheriff's offices, local citizens, the running community — has been phenomenal, and we thank all of them for taking part in this," Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls said.

Falls declined to provide an exact location of where Ragsdale's body was found. He said the cause of Ragsdale's death was still being investigated but there was no evidence of foul play.

—Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreemanReach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.