This weekend just gone, I had the pleasure of speaking with a legend of US ultra running, Hal Koerner. He was in town to help launch the newly formed Blue Mountains Running Company, a much-needed trail running shop in the lower mountains, based in Glenbrook. Being a regular around those trails, it’s awesome to see this shop spring up, right next door to one of the best cafes in town too, 2773.
Owners Shane and Belinda Simpson are looking to recreate the kind of vibe you get over in the West Coast of the US trail running scene, something Hal is firmly a part of with his own trail running shop.
Flitting between getting my kids ready for their Saturday dance class and the countless other family things us weekend warriors do in between our runs, I managed to grab 20 minutes on the phone to Hal, nowhere near enough when chatting to a thoroughly awesome guy with some great stories to tell about trail running over the years.
How did the launch go and what’s been your favourite part of Australia in your visit?
The launch was awesome and it was great to see so many people come out and support what is a fantastic addition to the trail running scene in Australia. I think there were around 150 people and the vibe I got was very much like we have back at home in Oregon. But I also learned a great deal about the way you guys do things and attending one of the training camps run by Brendan Davies was a great way for me to meet and understand a bit more about the scene down here.
We don’t tend to do camps over in the US, so it’s definitely an idea I’d like to take back with me. As for my favourite thing, I got to run in the Canyons up at Blackheath and for me personally, I haven’t been in anything like that for such a long time. They’re an amazing sight, you guys really have some magnificent trails to run on through. I also got to see some kangaroos down at Euroka, just here at Glenbrook, so that was a big tick for me too.
How do you think trail running has changed in the last few years?
I’d say the single biggest thing that’s happened to our sport in recent times is that it’s become so much more competitive. I mean, it always used to be, but that aspect has been taken up a notch in the last few years and it holds a bit more importance now than it did when I was racing.
Back in the day, you used to be able to hang out with mates and take things pretty easy for the first half of a race. Then in the second half you’d pour it on somewhat. The talking would stop and things would get serious. Nowadays, you have guys that come in to the sport and they have a time they want to run and if I’m honest, to demolish course records. These guys are coming in and redlining every event they enter. Things have certainly moved on and become more serious.
Speaking of demolishing course records, we recently had Jim Walmsley do just that at Tarawera with a run that was unbelievable. How’s the Jim train traveling in the US?
Jim’s ability to run on the trail and just being super fast with great leg turn over is amazing. He’s clearly a quick guy on the road, but he’s also been able to convert that remarkably well to the trails too. It’s amazing to watch and see him go about his business.
And just on that, there’s much talk of a possible sub 14hr WSER100 – will it happen?
Right now I don’t think it will. It’s a huge amount of time to take off the existing record and when you look at the conditions we have, which is generally packed snow and then crazy heat, it would take some serious doing. However, Jim’s been there and knows the course from last year, never say never, but maybe not this year.
Finally, you’ve got a young family now with two children. Many of our readers are in exactly the same boat, how do you balance life with running and a family?
It’s hard! There’s certainly a lot of give and take and whereas previously I had a schedule for my running, I’m now set to a schedule with kids and family, so the running has to be very flexible. I’m sure we all know that best-laid plans can sometimes go off track. You may have planned a run and your kid gets sick, so the run has to wait for another day. But you know what, we all figure out how to make it work, it’s just about realising what’s important in your life and then realigning your expectations about running accordingly. Whereas before I’d focus on quantity, I don’t have that luxury anymore, so it’s all about the quality.
Many thanks to Hal for his time and all the best for the year ahead in both family and running.