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Barger blazing new trails

After moving to Auburn from San Jose, Barger swings for Grand Slam title
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Dan Barger completed the Tevis Cup endurance ride nearly 30 years ago at the age of 15. He was a pacer at the Western States Endurance Run at the age of 18 and then ran the 100-miler on his own in 1987. With the trails of the Sierra Nevada and the American River Canyon constantly calling his name, Barger always knew it was only a matter of time before he was an Auburn resident. After building his house on Robie Drive in Auburn, he is the best hope for a top 10 finish by a hometown runner at this year’s Western States. Barger’s time of 17 hours, 36 minutes last year would have been good enough to win at Western States in past years, but the San Jose native settled for an impressive 10th place finish. Barger’s latest top-10 showing came 12 years after a ninth place finish, but he was nearly two and a half hours faster despite the significant mileage on his legs. “I think it was just more focus, more training and somehow I was able to go that much faster,” Barger said. “Even now I don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t really get injured. My lifestyle is more stable, and I have done about 25 hundred-milers now, so I have a lot of experience.” Barger paced George Hall at Western States just three years after completing Tevis with his mother Mary when he was just 15. Barger discovered his running talent early, but not necessarily by choice. A coach at Leland High School in San Jose reprimanded him as a freshman by making him run one mile on the track. After the youngster completed the task, the coach told him to show up for cross country practice the following Monday. Barger went on to run for the Chargers, then at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and San Jose State before discovering his true passion. “I did better the longer I ran,” he said. “I ran my first marathon and ultra at age 15. If I went a little farther, I did better. Now the 100s are where I try and concentrate my efforts.” Barger has spent much of his professional life helping others embrace outdoor challenges. He owned and operated a sports marketing company until 2006, putting on several events in the foothills, including the Cal-Eco Adventure Series and the Subaru Primal Quest Adventure Races in the past decade. Most recently, Barger worked as a race coordinator for an NBC television show called, “Love in the Wild.” The program, which was shot in Costa Rica, is set to premier on June 29. Now that he’s living in Auburn full-time, Barger is focusing more of his time on his contracting business. He recently obtained his general contractor’s license and he focuses on green construction, including solar panels and rainwater collection systems. This summer, Western States is the first hurdle in Barger’s daunting quest. He’s aiming to break the record in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning — a series of four of the toughest 100-mile runs in the country. Barger claimed the record in 1998, but it’s since been broken several times. Last year, Neal Gorman completed Western States, the Vermont 100, the Leadville Trail 100 and the Wasatch Front 100 in a combined time of 74 hours, 54 minutes. That’s the mark Barger is taking aim at this summer. His ambition isn’t far-fetched. In 2010, Barger won the H.U.R.T. Trail 100K, the Massanutten 100-miler in Virginia and the Swan Crest 100-miler in Montana. Barger will travel across the country for races this year, but the most prestigious title is on the line in just eight days, right in his backyard. “Every ultra is different,” he said. “The conditions or the heat or the competition may make one or the other extremely difficult. But Western States is certainly the most competitive that I know of. It just brings the cream of the crop out every year.”