Ultrarunning is about grit and determination. It's about digging deep when the chips are down, even if that means just putting one foot in front of the other.
Late in a race, when your legs are trashed and your spirit is nearly broken, sometimes all you have is raw desire. At that moment in time, nothing else in the world matters--not your job, not your house, not your bank account, not that stack of bills to pay, not your iPhone, and not even the shoes on your feet. All that matters is that you're here, with so many miles still in front of you and even more behind you, and you have to go deep in the well to finish.
Ultrarunning holds great appeal to me because it allows me to step into another life that is very different than the one I live every day. It strips me down to my core being. It simplifies life to its most basic terms, which is very refreshing because life is just too damned complicated. The primal side of ultrarunning is what draws me to races like the Leadville 100. There's nothing pretty, fancy, comfortable or easy about running 100 miles, and I like that.
Having said that, unless you've been under a rock, Hal Koerner, 36, from Ashland, Oregon, won the Hardrock 100 a few weeks ago with a time of 24:50. Held in the beautiful San Juan Range here in Colorado, Hardrock involves over 33,000 feet of climbing, with an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The San Juan Range involves some seriously rugged mountains that require your very best.
I've long admired Hal, who grew up right here in Parker, Colorado (his folks are still here) and now owns and operates a specialty running shop in Ashland. When talking about Hal, lots of people may refer to his two Western States 100 wins, or maybe his recent bullet fast times at the Javelina 100 and Rocky Raccoon 100, or maybe even his Hardrock victory. Me? I think back to a race many might consider one of his worst--the 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. I wrote about his performance at the 2011 Mont Blanc a few days after the race and even honored him with my very own "Get 'er Done Award." You see, Hal had kind of a bad day at Mont Blanc and finished way behind the leaders. But unlike many other elites out there that day, Hal didn't drop to save his legs for the next big race. No, he forged ahead, battling through some nasty adversity on the way to finishing one of the toughest 100-mile mountain races in the world. Hal showed true grit and determination.
I would contend, and call me crazy, that Hal's ability to fight through dark times at Mont Blanc later served him quite well at Hardrock. Hardrock isn't a race you're going to get through without some nasty moments. I mean moments that would make the final 10K of a marathon look like Disney World. Hal was prepared for those moments, thanks in part to the never-quit attitude he displayed at Mont Blanc. Granted, he's DNF'd at a few races in his day, but for some reason last August he refused to quit in France--he persevered. And through perseverance you build character--the kind of character that helps you finish (and win) the toughest 100-miler in the world.
It's no wonder Hal is one of the most popular ultrarunners alive today and a mentor to many, including Timothy Olson, who just set the record at Western States. He's kind of an old-school guy who's managed to stay quite relevant years and years after entering the sport. Just when you think Hal might be washed up, he runs 13 and change at a few flat and fast 100s, and then breaks the tape at a hardcore mountain race despite living at 1,800 feet in Oregon (he did use an altitude chamber to prepare for Hardrock).
Beyond his grit, Hal's also very versatile. He's managed to somehow burn up fast courses like Javelina and Rocky Raccoon while also prevailing in a hardcore mountain race like Hardrock. That's what I call versatility, and we see so little of it these days, unless we're talking about the exceptions, such as this dude and that gal.
I'll be thinking about Hal at Leadville when I'm battling through dark moments going up Powerline and wanting to walk from Mayqueen to the finish.
So here's to a true champion--Hal Koerner!