Friday, July 20, 2012

Hal Koerner - the David Puddy of the Ultra World

I don't have cable.  I don't even have broadcast TV.  I don't even have internet at home.  And no Netflix either. 

All I've got are a few movies.  And Seinfeld.

That's all I watch.  Mostly just Seinfeld: Seasons 1-9, I'll pop in a DVD and casually watch while I go about my business - before and after work, and running.

AJW recently wrote an insightful piece about the ultra icon and 2012 Hardrock Champion, Hal Koerner.  In it, he and others reflect on their first encounters with Hal, and of his place in the ultrasphere since he began racing, over a decade and a hundred-plus ultras ago. 

But in the ensuing comments, the discussion turned to his place in the Community: "under-rated", "maybe now he'll be noticed".  Indeed, even our discussions over post-run beers after the "Tuesday Night Hunt" in Eugene turned to the same topic.

I began to reflect, myself, on Hal's place in ultrarunning, past and present.  Indeed, he's a star...but not as hyped as others.  He's talented, but is he as talented as the "Young[er] Guns"?  He's accomplished, but do those accomplishments shine as brightly as others (who, arguably, have acommplished much less)?

Who is Hal?

It hit me: Hal is David Puddy.

David Puddy, played by Patrick Warburton - the consumate chill.
A youthful Hal Koerner, Chill-Plus, at Rogue Valley Runners.  Photo credit: Ashland Daily Tidings.

Anyone who's watched more than one episode of Seinfeld knows David Puddy: the tall, dark and handsome auto mechanic (who later progresses to saleman) love interest of Elaine.  Played admirably by Patrick Warburton, he is described as such:

"...Unflappable and calm, yet can be a surprisingly passionate individual at times"

(*courtesy Wikipedia)

A spot-on description of Hal Koerner.  Some other comparisions:

Honest and conscientious.  In Seinfeld, David Puddy is referred to as "the only honest mechanic in New York".  Hal as a runner, business man, and ultra community member, is equally honest and noble.  Hal would be willing to give you the shirt off his back (as, it seems he might've, during Hardrock).

Hal, sans shirt, but warmed by the skull wrap, at the 2012 HRH.  Photo credit:
The emobodiment of cool, counterbalancing those around him.  David Puddy was the perfect contrast to the silly, high-strung characters around him.  So is Hal.  In a sport comprised of both attention-seeking showmen and repelling introverts, Hal is the perfect balance of friendliness and casual.  The consumate "chill". Even in the heat of an ultra battle, Hal is eternally cool, sharing the same blood lines as predecessors like Trason and Twietmeyer.

Prone to the outrageous that, with the backdrop of his cool, only multipies the effect.  Because he's so laid back, when David Puddy does get excited or acts out, its effect is tremendous.  And for both Puddy and Koerner, those acts are typically in the realm of fashion:

Carly: What is that?
Hal: My visor is tilted egregiously to one side.
Carly: (still in disbelief): You're tilting your visor?
Hal: Yeah.
Carly: Why?
Hal: You know, support the team.
Carly: Well, you can't walk around like that!
Hal: Why not?
Carly: Because it's insane?
Hal: Hey, you gotta let them know you're out there, this is Western States!

Whether it's visors, or color-coordinated racing outfits complete with matching "leg panties", or the post-race khaki capri pants, Hal does what he does. Not to garner attention, but because...well, that's Hal. And so it goes with David Puddy.

Can Hal rock the sideways cap/visor better than anyone?...  Photo Credit: Craig Thornley/Facebook

..."All signs point to YES!"
Talented and skilled at many things, yet not driven by ambition.  David Puddy, besides being an honest professional, is extremely skilled - among the best auto mechanics in NYC.  And only when he tires of the garage does he move into the showroom to become a car salesman.

Hal has talents that go beyond simply running fast or far.  He's proven successful as a businessman, community organizer and race director.  Yet his persona belies those talents.  Hal, I believe, does what he does - not because he can, or should, as self-promotion - but only if and when his interests and passion are sparked.

The consummate Every-Man.  What draws the viewer to "man-love" Puddy as much as they do is his persona of The Every-Man: talented and charismatic, yet incredibly approachable. 

I don't think many folks in the ultra community really know Hal Koerner very well.  Neither do I.  That's because you don't need to in order to engage with him.  Ultra runners - from the DFLs to the very top - frequently comment on how approachable, friendly, and - surprising to almost all - how familiar he is of them! 

I think, that combination -- his talents, his relaxed personality, his lack of self-promoting ambition, and his degree of approachability -- what makes Hal who he is - and isn't - in the Ultra Community. 

Will he ever be the most hyped runner character?  Probably not.  But I don't think Hal wants that.

Ultimately, Hal wants what he wants: a place as a giver in the community, an accomplished ultra resume, and the ocassional skull wrap and mango-colored arm panties.  :p

A Champion's embrace. Photo credit:
Cheers, Hal, to a tremendous HRH victory.  Keep it up. All of it.


  1. Gota support the team!
    Cheers Hal

  2. Incredible report! Ashland is home to some kick butt ultra runners! Very well written. The Puddy comparisons were funny!!

  3. Hilarious! Spot-on characterizations and comparisons.

  4. Now everytime I see Hal (which will be shortly at Waldo), I'll want to say, "Hi five." .....Good stuff.

    Elaine: "David, I'm going to HELL, don't you care?!"

    Puddy: "Its gonna be rough."

    Classic Puddy.

  5. Cool dude fo sho. Great comparison!