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Challengers abound for Koerner

Host of talented athletes could stand in the way of running store owner’s three-peat at historic race
By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
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Hal Koerner can hear the footsteps. But then, that’s nothing new for the two-time defending Western States Endurance Run champion. This year instead of a faint pitter-patter, he may hear something more like a herd of buffalo. The 100-mile trail run between Squaw Valley and Auburn always draws one of the strongest fields anywhere. And this year’s group may be the best ever. It starts with Koerner, the running store owner from Ashland, Ore. whose experience and course knowledge should serve him well against many of his younger challengers. Koerner broke through for his first victory in 2007, then outlasted seven-time champion Scott Jurek, among others, to win last year. Koerner is in great shape this spring, taking second place at the highly competitive Miwok 100K in Marin County last month. The man that beat him is a friendly foe. Anton Krupicka worked at Koerner’s shop in the winter of 2008-09, but has since moved to Colorado, where he is a graduate student in geography. He will make his much-anticipated Western States debut Saturday at the age of 26. Krupicka’s been waiting more than two years to race Western States after it was cancelled in 2008 and an injury kept him off the trail last year. “I’m ready to get out there and do it,” Krupicka said. “This is one I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’m extremely excited. It’ll be fun. I get to go out and run with a bunch of friends.” Krupicka is well-known for his rigorous training regimen. This spring he regularly put in close to 200 miles a week on the trails around Boulder, Colo. where he lives. “I just like to run a lot, running in the mountains,” Krupicka said. “I’ve cut back a lot. I used to run a lot more, but I’ve learned that to stay healthy I’ve got to cut back a little bit.” Geoff Roes hasn’t put in the same mileage as Krupicka, but he trains in the sometimes brutal conditions in Alaska, where he works as a chef. Ultrarunning Magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year in 2009, Roes served notice that he will be a factor at Western States with a couple of impressive performances in the foothills earlier this spring. He won the American River 50-miler and was third at the Way Too Cool 50K after taking a wrong turn near the end and giving up his substantial lead. Roes has won every 100-mile race he’s entered, though the win at AR50 was his first ultramarathon victory in California. “I was feeling kind of jinxed in California races before this,” Roes said. “It feels good going into Western States with that monkey off my back.” While Koerner, Krupicka and Roes are popular picks to win Western States, there are a host of other talented runners who could provide serious challenges.  Spain’s Killian Jornet is a 22-year-old speedster with impressive credentials. Japan’s Tsuyoshi Kaburaki will look to improve on his second-place finish last year. Young Andrew Henshaw, who took second at AR50, could break through and make some noise. England’s Jez Bragg could also make some noise after taking third last year. Snow could play a major factor in the 37th Western States 100. Slow snowmelt has left much of the first 30 miles under the white stuff.  The runners will use an alternate route to avoid much of the snow, heading downhill before Lyon Ridge and taking the trail along French Meadows before heading back up to Robinson Flat, which is still under snow in places. Tim Twietmeyer, president of the Western States Trail Foundation, said the alternate course could make for a fast race. “The 10 miles from Granite Chief down will be really fast,” Twietmeyer said. “The snow is worth about a mile a minute (slower) for the fast guys and three or four minutes a mile for the average runners.” Of course, Krupicka and Roes are just fine with the snowy trail. “I don’t care if there’s snow on the whole course,” Krupicka said. “Saturday’s just about competing. I’m ready to run on whatever.”