Hal Koerner is considered one of the top ultrarunners in America. However, he wasn't always one of the elite runners in the country. When he was 21, Hal was partying and drinking too much. He was completely out of shape and had developed a gut. Right around his 21st birthday Hal's grandfather passed away of a heart attack. Shaken by that, he looked at himself and realized that something needed to change. He started running and has rarely stopped since.
At just age 23, he finished ninth at his first ultra race, a 100-kilometer slog in Washington. In 2007 and again in 2009, he won the Western States 100 and in 2012 captured the Hardrock 100. Koerner has finished over 120 ultramarathons and has also set the fastest known times on the Colorado Trail (9 days 19 hours 9 minutes) and the John Muir Trail (9 hours 5 minutes). In addition, he's race director of three popular trail runs in Ashland, Oregon, and owns Rogue Valley Runners, a store that is a Mecca for trail runners in the Pacific Northwest. Koerner is now training for the Ultra Tour Mount Blanc, a 100-plus-mile race around France's Mount Blanc with 30,000 feet of vertical gain. Did we mention he also has a ten-month old daughter? Juggling this many activities would be a daunting task for any man but Hal Koerner shows us how he does it using Mountain Athletics to stay in peak shape while raising his daughter and growing his business.
First the biggest question: How do you manage time for everything?
I’ve been doing a lot of runs pushing the baby. I’ll do 25 miles with her in a baby jogger. My wife is also a runner, so sometimes she’ll run up Mount Ashland, I’ll drive up and meet her, she’ll take the baby, then I’ll run down. We used to run the same races together but now we switch off and on. But I’m at the store every day. I have lots of orders to write, and there are always reps showing me product. I buy all the shoes, accessories, everything. Plus I’m on blogs every morning researching what’s trending and I’m occasionally on the floor selling shoes and products. The three weeks before each of the races I direct is hectic. There’s marking the course, getting shirts printed, making sure all the food is in place. I easily put in four hours a day on that -on top of the store and training.
Do you ever sleep?
I used to get nine hours a night, but until a week ago our baby didn’t sleep more than two hours at a time. I almost got into car wrecks and my training suffered. I’d wake up in the morning and it felt like I’d already run 25 miles. But recently she slept for six hours, then ten hours, which was a major breakthrough. I wasn’t sure I could race before, but just getting that sleep back is amazing.
How has Mountain Athletics helped you as an athlete?
I worked at a health club 15 years ago. I would lift weights with no real direction and my workouts really weren’t the best-targeted exercises for my races. They were static and really didn’t make much sense for what I was doing. I did that for ten years and was always battling little injuries that would creep up. Once I starting incorporating The North Face Mountain Athletics training into my routine, it has made me a lot more durable and has helped to prevent those nagging injuries.
How are you preparing for upcoming races?
In the off season, I try to train the areas that are weakest and work out in the gym for an hour three days a week with series of Mountain Athletics excises designed specifically to increase strength, balance and coordination.
I do a lot of jump lunges. It’s glaring how weak I am in that area. It’s a product of running, and it’s important to be able to have that strength and balance for trails—especially in the ankles and feet. You basically just lunge onto one leg, jump up, then land with the other leg in a lunge. I do four sets of 25.
I also do Turkish get-ups with a 25-pound plate. My awkwardness with it helps my coordination, and it hits just about every part of my body. To do the exercise, you lie down with the weight in one hand above your head, then make your way to a standing position. I’ll do five sets of 20.
The painful one is Jane Fondas. Lying down, you make circles with your leg. It hits these tiny muscle groups in your hip that are usually weak but so important for running. I’ll do 25-50 on each leg.
What about when you’re in season?
I’m mostly just concentrating on running. I do a two-hour run each day. And then one day a week I’ll put in a four-hour run. But the Jane Fondas are great then, too.
How do you fuel yourself?
I’m a high carb guy. I’ll do two bagels a morning. Lots of high-carb sports drinks. I eat pasta at night. And tons of fruits, either as juice or whole fruit. My favorite is eating frozen blueberries, I’ll eat a pint of those a night instead of ice cream.
Do you take supplements?
Right after I finish running, I’ll mix protein powder with a juice and drink it. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I don’t recover as quickly and ingesting protein and carbs right after exercise helps. I also take an adrenal supplement, ground cow adrenal gland. I feel like it really works. Running so much wears down your adrenal glands. If they’re not spitting out what they’re supposed to anymore, then this helps.
Do you do anything else to recover?
I go to the chiropractor at least once a week. Sometimes twice a week. I’ve rolled my ankles so many times that the ligaments are so stretched out that they get locked up and weak. The chiropractor helps release them and keep them from getting stiff.
I’ll also sit in a sauna twice a week for 30 minutes. It’s mostly just meditative, but it’s also great for mimicking the heat at some of my races in California and Arizona. Plus I own my own cornhole set. I get my employees together and play. It’s active recovery. You’re on your feet and there’s some coordination.
Do you have any vices?
I love beer. It’s Oregon so we have tons of great beer. The amount I drink depends on who I’m working with in the shop. Fortunately, the guys I’m working with now would rather run than drink. But I still like one at the end of the day.
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Hal Koerner trains in Kilowatt gear from The North Face. See the entire collection at thenorthface.com/mountainathletics.