Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Trail runner Spotlight: Hal Koerner

The North Face sponsored ultrarunner, Hal Koerner
A week or so ago I received an email from The North Face asking me if I would be interested in asking Hal Koerner a few questions for my blog. After pondering this for a moment (more like a nanosecond), I said, "Interview Hal?! This year's Hardrock 100 winner and all out ultrarunning living legend? Duh, hell yes!" I was flattered and honored for the opportunity. I didn't waste any time in typing up a few questions and I forwarded them on. I waited patiently to get the email back with the answers and I was excited to see the email today with Hal's responses. Below's my Q&A with Hal…enjoy!

Congrats on your Hardrock 100 win this year! Will you briefly share how that experience went for you and what it meant to you to win that race?

Hardrock is such a special race, it takes a ton of commitment both physically and mentally.  The extremes are unlike anything in ultrarunning and with that, the highs and lows become incised like no other endurance event I know. It was really special for me to head back to Colorado, where I grew up and cut my teeth as far as trail running is concerned, and then to have my family and friends there to experience it well that is what ultrarunning is all about.     

I was reading on your blog that you've had some time to rest and recharge. How are you feeling going into The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 in Georgia?

Hal refueling at the Western States 100
(photo: ultrarunnerpodcast.com)
Funny that you mention that, I’m actually writing you from Utah where I’ll be competing at the Bear 100 this weekend.  I’ll have to get at the recovery side of things here on Monday, but I always look forward to the shorter distances after a hundred. They just seem to fly by.  At The North Face EC race in Georgia, I would like to run faster this year, because I was out there for a long time last year and I do enjoy the finish line festival. 

You ran and won this race last year. What do you recall of running the Pine Mountain trail last year and what would you advise to someone running the course for the first time this year?

It’s deceivingly long in that you would think a first rate effort for a seemingly “flat” course would take much less time. That being said, I think folks need to take it easy and prepare for being out there a long time.  Execution will be key, take the time to stay up on nutrition and hydration as well as pacing. Then, when you think you have nothing left you can tap into a little bit of that ultrarunning grit to get you across the finish line. Also, watch out footing wise. It’s a rather technical, windy/weaving course that doesn’t allow for much speed. Knowing that will keep you from burning out on the front end.    

As far as racing is concerned, what's left for you in 2012 besides the TNFEC Georgia and what do you have planned for 2013?

My oh my, I’m still trying to figure all that out.  I would like to run in New Zealand this year as well as take a stab at UTMB one more time.  I’m looking into some cool expeditions with my TNF teammates like traversing the Wind River Range in Wyoming as well as attempting a speed record on the John Muir Trail in California.  I’m sure I’ll find a few other things as well.  

Seems that running the fastest Grand Slam in history is a goal for several top ultramarathoners next year. Is that something that appeals to you and would we ever see Hal Koerner running the ultramarathon Grand Slam?

Definitely, although I don’t think it’ll be next year.  I want to be really competitive at Leadville 100 and Wasatch still and that’s an impossibility considering the SLAM.  I like the idea of running well at Western States too, but it’s a quick summer when you start running a 100 every few weeks.  More power to them, I hope they set the bar high.

Last question, can you hook me up with a Rogue Valley Runners sticker?

Sure, it's in the mail. Ha, ha!

Thanks Hal and good luck at Bear 100!


Hal tackles the Bear 100 in Utah this weekend before making his way to Georgia in a couple of weeks for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler on Saturday, October 13th. You can follow Hal on Twitter at @HalKoerner and you can follow his blog at http://halkoerner.com/. Visit his The North Face team profile page at http://www.thenorthface.com/en_US/exploration/athletes/4-hal-koerner/.

You can toe the line with Hal at The North Face Endurance Challenge Georgia which takes place at Pine Mountain, GA on October 13-14 weekend. Register at http://tnf.ec/0o and follow @TheNorthFaceECS on Twitter. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trail runner Spotlight: John Dove

John Dove crossing the finish line on the final day of The Dragon's Back Race in Wales.

When I think of the local ultrarunning community here in Georgia, I'm hard pressed to name someone with a more impressive racing history than John Dove. There are only a handful of others that surpass his accomplishments. A veteran of thirty 100 milers, an avid adventure racer and a dedicated mountain bike rider, John is at once humble and personable. He's always good for a laugh and he's supportive of trail running enthusiasts of all abilities.

John recently found himself looking for a new challenge. A buddy clued him into a multi-day stage race in Wales called The Dragon's Back Race. It's a grueling five day stage race covering almost 200 miles and an insane amount of climbing along a Welsh mountain range. Originally run in 1992, it took a twenty year hiatus until the next time it was produced, which was earlier this month. Only 29 out of 90 participants finished all five stages this year.

After returning back to the States, I recently had an opportunity to catch up with John and ask him about his experience. Here's how it went…

John, congrats on your Dragon's Back finish! I'm curious, how did you hear about this event and what inspired you take it on?

Thanks! My friend Jon Barker saw the race mentioned on the Sleepmonsters website. We had been talking about doing a multi-day adventure race or multi-stage running race for a few years. We signed up back in November, so I had a lot of time to think about what I was getting myself into. I wanted to do something out of my normal ultra running comfort zone. Not to say that a 100 miler is ever easy, but after completing thirty of them I wanted to do something that challenged me in a different way, something unknown to me.

What would you say is the biggest difference between racing in the states and racing overseas?

The biggest difference is the navigation aspect of most of the races in the UK. This was not a marked course. Each morning you were given a map with several checkpoints marked on it. It was my decision what route to take. Now some of the route choices were very obvious, trails, roads bridal paths, but sometimes your best route didn't include any kind of path or trail, just pure cross country running. We scrambled up climbs and ran through miles of grassy, sometimes muddy open land to get to the checkpoints along the course. The closest thing we have to this in the States is our adventure races, but the navigation in the Dragon's Back was much more straight forward.

Racing stage races involves a whole different approach than racing ultra distance races. How did you prepare for the Dragon's Back Race and what would you advice to someone considering their first multi-day stage race?

I ran every day for 131 days leading up to the race. I would run the day after an ultra when I really felt bad, run in the rain, run when I was lazy, anything that would mimic how I might feel during the five days of the race. I did a few three day weekends where I ran 30, 30, and 20 miles and the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race in June to see how that third day would feel.

My biggest advice would be to make running routine especially back to back long runs. Also try a lot of different food in training. What I eat during 100's is fine, but on day 3 of the Dragon's Back I was absolutely sick of my food choices and had a hard time getting it down. Luckily, we passed through a couple of villages and I was able to grab some food. Taking 60 gels and a handful of bars was not the best food plan. I will have a much bigger variety at the next one I do.

What was the most grueling day of the Dragon's Back race and why?

I would say day one. It was 37 miles and had 15,600 feet of climbing. That's a lot of climbing in such a short distance! Most of the day was spent on the ridges so there was no water sources. I went a couple hours without water in the first half of the day and really paid for it later. I felt my best on the final day, Friday, better than I did all week. Guess it was knowing it was the last day.I was surprised that I had any pep left in the legs on Friday and that I was still able to run well for the second half of the last day.

Next up for you is the Pinhoti 100 in November, a race you have won in the past…how are you feeling going into that race and how are you managing recovering from Dragon's Back Race to racing a 100-miler a couple of months later?

Right now I am not thinking too much about Pinhoti. I know I will feel better closer to the race, but it is too early in the recovery process to start thinking about running a 100 mile race. I had been doing some short runs and some mountain biking up through the weekend (a week after the race) and felt okay. I got my weight back up to what it was going into the Dragon's Back, so I thought I was coming along well. Then I ran for an hour at lunch on Monday and went back out that afternoon for another hour and thought "ok I am ready for some mileage." Tuesday morning I was dead and I dragged along all day at work. I got home and couldn't motivate myself to get out and run.

So 11 days after the race and I am still feeling fatigued. I will listen to my body and not force anything for the next week to 10 days. I am racing the Stump Jump 50K in 17 days on October 6th. That will be a good time to push hard and really see how my recovery is coming. After that I will have a month to run some higher mileage weeks to get ready for Pinhoti. I hope all the training I put in for the Dragon's Back and the 192 miles I ran during the race will help me at Pinhoti.

What's in store for you in 2013?

For 2013 I will throw my hat in for another chance at the Hardrock 100. If I could run only one 100 miler a year that would be my choice! Also put in for Wasatch 100. I have never run it and the course looks great. I will do a few endurance mountain bike races again early in the year and a couple 50k's. I will also run the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race again in June to see if I learned anything over in Wales. I want to run the Double Top 100 in March and of course, Pinhoti 100 again in November and maybe the new Deliverance 100 mile in South Carolina in late November.

Ha, ha! John you went from saying you'd like to run one 100-miler every year to rattling off five different 100 milers in 2013. What'll it be?

Too many races out there to choose from, I guess.

John, Thanks for answering a few questions. Good luck at Stump Jump and Pinhoti and hopefully, if my injury recovery goes well, I'll see you at the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race next year.

Thanks, my pleasure! See you then.


You can follow John on Twitter at @jcddove and you can follow The Dragon's Back Race at @TheDragonsBack. Check out John's blog and his race report of the race at johndoveblog.blogspot.com.

View an amazing gallery of photos from The Dragon's Back Race on the UK's Guardian website, click here.

Great recap videos of all five stages are on YouTube, click here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trail runner spotlight: Julie Wolfe

Julie Wolfe crossing Sweetwater Creek during her first ultra race at the 2012 SweetH20 50K.
Last week, I posted an interview with Roxanne Zobava, a veteran trail runner with a number of ultrarunning highlights on her running resume. To contrast that, I seeked out someone who, while may have the road miles under their belt, was just getting their feet wet, literally, in the world of trail running and ultra distance races.

I caught up with local Atlanta TV "backpack reporter", Julie Wolfe, for a quick interview. You'll read in her own words how running has been a part of her life for some time now but also how she's getting started in the trail running community. As a reporter, Julie has a crazy schedule, but she still manages to get her training in. She's getting geared up for a very busy Fall racing season including The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Georgia in October.

Here's our little chat...

Crossing the finish at Mayor's Alaska
Marathon with Team In Training.
How long have you been running and when was your first marathon? What attracted you to trying 26.2 miles for the first time?

I grew up in a family where my three sisters and I would shudder with embarrassment when our dad came running down the block in his tiny bright-blue nylon shorts. My whole life, my dad has been a runner.  I was never interested until I turned 19. A young man I went to high school with was killed in a car crash during his senior year. It marked the time in Metro Atlanta before license restrictions when it seemed like teen driving tragedies came so often we were numb. My dad was a member at his church and started a 5K to raise money for the scholarship in his name. I couldn’t run 5K when I started training, but I ran it that day and never really looked back.

Over the years, as I’ve moved from city to city following my career in television, I’ve always sought out local running groups for support and friendship. When I first told my dad I was running a marathon, he laughed. But that was 15 full marathons ago and too many halves to count. It includes a few my dad and I have run together. He still owns those blue nylon shorts.

What was your favorite road marathon experience and why?

Every marathon is good and bad for different reasons, so that’s hard for me to say. My favorite destination was Anchorage. My favorite post-race was Napa to Sonoma. My fastest time was in Buffalo, NY. My most social run was in Chicago. I haven’t found the “perfect” marathon yet. I guess that’s why I keep running them.

Earlier this year, you decided to try your hand at trail running and you ran your first 50K. What inspired you to do so?

I was bored. I either had to get faster or run longer. Running is like therapy to me.  I believe every person with a stressful job must have an outlet. Your choice is whether it’s going to be a healthy one or a destructive one. Running relaxes me and brings back focus. Because of that, I’ve always shied away from the intense training effort I’d need to put in to push my times into the competitive region. I own a Garmin, but I don’t want to be a slave to it. I’m afraid of making running another job, of making it a source of stress instead of a stress reliever. And so, running longer was the only choice left.

How would you describe your experience at the SweetH20?

I loved it. It’s been so long since I ran a race I wasn’t even sure I could finish. I forgot how scary, fun, and exciting that can be. Everything that was making me feel stifled in marathon road races was nowhere to be found on that trail. Both draw amazing, incredible athletes and intense competitors. But there is such a feeling of community on the trails that you don’t feel in a road race, even the smaller ones.

What first attracted you to racing a TNF Endurance Challenge race?

After the SweetH2O, I was searching for another 50K. The TNF was close to home and good timing, so it was an easy choice.
After the 50K distance, do you have plans to go even further in a race? Why or why not?

I’d like to do a 50 mile race in 2013. Right now, I have no desire to do a 100 miler. But if you’d asked me five years ago if I’d be running ultras, I would have laughed. So, we’ll see what the future holds. If I’ve learned anything from running over the years, it’s that the “post-race glow” is a strong pull towards the next big challenge.

I think the biggest hurdle for me on increasing distance is training time. Between working six day weeks during the Olympics, getting sick with the cold that’s sweeping Atlanta right now, and traveling; getting those extra long runs (20+ miles) has been a real challenge this year. I’ve learned if you want to be a distance runner and you want to have a life, there are compromises on both ends. I think like all of us, I do the best I can and hope it’s enough on race day.

What is your goal at this year's TNF Endurance Challenge?
Leading up to my first 50K I posted my 3 goals on Facebook: (1) To not die (2) To Keep Moving Forward and (3) to not get swept.  I wasn’t really kidding. Because I’d never run an ultra, I had no idea what to expect. This time, I have a reference point. Still, I’ll keep those original goals plus the hope of finishing in a better time. This ultra is part of a triple-header I’m running this fall: Wineglass 26.2 in September, the North face Challenge in October, and the Savannah Rock n’ Roll 13.1 in November. Instead of treating them as individual races, I see it as one big “fall race plan”.
What would you advise to someone trying trail running for the first time?
Curb your expectations and just let go. For me, trail running is very different than road running. You use so many different muscles. You have to stay mentally engaged. You burn about 15% more calories, so I’m also much hungrier after and during long trail runs. But I think us running nerds over think it. It’s still just putting one foot in front of the other. Consider leaving your watch at home. Explore the trails. Stop to take pictures of the sunset and gape at the deer staring you down. There’s something about trail running that makes me feel free and very, very far away from everything. It’s a whole new kind of running high.

It is still about putting one foot in front of the other and I agree, go exploring. Thanks Julie and good luck with your races this Fall.

Thanks and my pleasure!


I was glad to catch up with Julie and get her thoughts about her upcoming races. You can follow Julie on Twitter (@JulieWolfe), and drop her a note of encouragement as she gets ready. You can also join Julie at The North Face Endurance Challenge Georgia which takes place at Pine Mountain, GA on October 13-14 weekend. Register at http://tnf.ec/0o and follow @TheNorthFaceECS on Twitter. Happy trails!