Running through scenery as spectacular as the Sierra Nevada as fast as you possibly can may seem counterintuitive to some. But for Mike Wolfe and Hal Koerner, two sponsored trail runners, the speed just brings them closer to their environment.
“I think that is one of the controversial elements with trail running,” Koerner said. “The purest way for us to take in the mountains and take in the scenery is through running, We experience that joy on the trail.”
Koerner and Wolfe are attempting a record-breaking traverse of the John Muir Trail. The duo hopes to complete the 221-mile trail in less than three days. The current record stands at three days, nine hours. Wolfe and Koerner left Thursday for their attempt. They are expected to finish some time Sunday.
Both the runners have extensive experience running in the high mountains. Koerner holds the record for the 500-mile Colorado Trail. He has ran more than 100 ultramarathons and made it to the podium in more than 75 percent of them. Wolfe holds multiple 100-mile race records. Recently, he placed second in the Western States 100.
“The whole thing sounds like you’re out there to shatter a record, but it’s more of a calculated consistent push that we’re doing,” Koerner said. “It will be a lot more mental than physical for us.”
But the John Muir Trail is no walk in the park. The trail rarely dips below 8,000 feet. There are six passes over 11,000 feet. The end of the trail is on the 14,995-foot summit of Mount Whitney. Wolfe and Koerner are anticipating a challenge.
“At times, it may feel like the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. I don’t doubt that,” Koerner said. “Three days with less than 5 hours sleep, we may venture into that realm in our minds.”
Often running more than 100 miles in a week, the North Face-sponsored athletes have trained extensively. There’s also a fair amount of strategy to running distances like these, but it’s always difficult to expect the unexpected, Wolfe said. The runners have to be flexible and pace themselves, he added.
“This is so much a patience-and-pacing game, much more so than we’re used to with 100-mile races,” Wolfe said. “We’re going to be out there for so much longer. We really need to be steady, consistent and probably go slower than what we’ll want to do.”
The John Muir Trail was conceived in 1884 by American explorer Theodore Solomons. The final stages of the trail were constructed until 1938. It wraps through Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, the John Muir Wilderness Area and the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area.
The trail is renowned for its alpine beauty. That’s primarily what drew Koerner and Wolfe to the area, they both said.
“We just like being in the mountains. That’s what drew us to the sport in the first place.”