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Man hikes 20 miles then wins 100-mile race in Ashland

A Klamath Falls man, Sergio Morales, won the annual Pine to Palm 100-mile race through the mountains from Williams to Ashland Sept. 14, with the second-best time in the race’s nine-year history.

But before Morales ran the race, which features more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain, he backpacked 20 miles to the starting line.

Morales, 29, finished the race in 17 hours, 37 minutes, second only to the time posted by Timothy Olson in 2011 of 17 hours, 19 minutes.

Morales said it was his first century run, and he wasn’t sure he would even finish. He said the most time he’d ever run was for 14 hours, and he expected to take at least 24 hours to finish Pine to Palm.

“We got lost a few times out there,” Morales said laughing. “It was a fun night.”

He said he apologized ahead of time to his buddies who volunteered to help pace him the last 20 miles in case he fell out of the race before they joined him at mile 80.

“I’m new to ultrarunning, so I was surprised,” Morales said.

Finishing the race qualifies Morales to enter the prestigious Western States 100 race in the Sierra Nevada.

“I think it’s really cool to have Pine to Palm as a qualifier here locally,” Morales said. “It saves a lot of runners the trouble of having to travel so far.”

Most Pine to Palm runners camp in Williams the night before the race because the starting point is at the Grayback trailhead, according to Hal Koerner, Pine to Palm organizer, owner of Rogue Valley Runners, and a two-time winner of the Western States 100.

Morales camped that night, but he spent the day before the race walking from Grants Pass to Williams loaded down with a backpack filled with camping supplies, water and food. Morales said he used the 20-mile hike to enjoy the time he took off work for the race.

“That 20 miles took me four hours,” Morales said. “It turned out to be quite the hike. It woke the body up. But you hear other things that are much crazier.”

Koerner said some runners believe in tapering off before a big race, “and then there’s some schools of thought that you shock the system before race day, and this was beyond that for sure,” Koerner said.

Racing is in Morales’ blood. His 10-year-old daughter, Esperansa Morales, won the women’s 10-mile Pear Blossom run this year in Medford, making her the youngest female champion of Medford’s biggest running event. She will compete in the AAU Regional Junior Olympics for cross-country in November, he said.

“I think that’s where I get a lot of my motivation, from just seeing her,” Morales said. “I wasn’t doing any of that at her age. She’s so awesome. We’ve always been so close and tight. I love being able to share it with her. It has been a big part of my life, and I want that for her as well. It’s always been me and her. I’m so lucky and thankful for it.”

He said he is always impressed with his daughter’s ability and the fact that she understands that she has a gift and wants to use it.

He said when he trains, he usually runs trails with as much elevation as he can get. Leading up to the Pine to Palm, he was averaging about 200 miles a week.

He said he’s raced almost every month this year. In July he set the course record at the Pioneer Spirit 50-mile race in Sacramento, California, and in August he won the Crater Lake Marathon for the fourth time.

“Hopefully I can make it in these big races and maybe make a career out of this,” Morales said. “I just never expected this out of myself. I want to keep surprising myself and stay healthy.”

Koerner said the conditions for the race were excellent.

“This year we saw ideal conditions after the last few summers filled with smoke,” Koerner said. “It was maybe the best weather we’ve seen at this event. The first time we ran the race it was a downpour of rain the whole time.”

The race begins just south of Williams at the Grayback trailhead, climbs over a 7,000-foot summit, then drops into the Applegate Valley. Runners pass Squaw Lake on their way Squaw Peak and Dutchman Peak, the second 7,000-foot summit of the day at mile 65, then cross onto the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland. They climb Wagner Butte, the third 7,000-foot summit on the course, then it’s about a 15-mile descent into Ashland and the finish line in Lithia Park.

“The whole idea is to start out in the wilds of Southern Oregon, and then you make it to a place like Ashland with all the amenities and the liveliness of the downtown,” Koerner said. “It’s kind of how we got the name. I like the remoteness of it, and you hardly come across another person that day, or cars, or towns, and the stars shine bright at night. The Siskiyou Crest is just an amazing area with all the biodiversity, the mountains, the trails and the views.”

This year’s race saw 110 starters and 82 finishers.

“That was about a 75% completion rate, which is really good for Pine to Palm,” Koerner said. “It’s not an easy race course.”

The second-place finisher, Jace Hinesly of Ashland, finished four minutes behind Morales. At 90 miles, Hinesly was eight minutes back.

“It just shows some of the will of those guys and the extraordinary feats that people can do that far into the race,” Koerner said.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Sergio Morales winning the Pine To Palm 100-miler in Ashland. Photo by Hal Koerner
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Sergio Morales seen here half way through winning the Crater Rim Run marathon at Crater Lake in August.