Photo Courtesy Emily Halnon

Running Through Grief

Eugene’s Emily Halnon now holds fastest known time for Oregon portion of PCT after running it in her mother’s memory

Hiking any portion of the Pacific Crest Trail takes a large amount of willpower. But running it? That takes superhero levels of strength, which Emily Halnon of Eugene displayed Aug. 8 when she completed the overall fastest known record for the Oregon portion of PCT, a 455-mile stretch of the 2,650-mile trail with an elevation gain and loss of about 120,000 feet.

Supported by her boyfriend, friends and dog, she ran through the state in seven days, 19 hours and 23 minutes. She ran the trail in memory of her mother, who died from a rare uterine cancer in January, and raised $32,402 for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, a rare cancer research group.

Halnon says she had run five 100-milers in the past, as well as 100km races. She had been thinking about running the section of the PCT, but when her mom died in January, that’s when she decided to commit “1,000 percent.” 

On July 26, she created a GoFundMe, raising money for Brave Like Gabe Foundation, an organization that supports rare cancer research and empowers cancer survivors through physical activity. The professional runner Gabe Grunwald founded it as she battled a rare cancer, one she ultimately died of in June 2019.  

Halnon  wrote on her GoFundMe post that the Brave Like Gabe Foundation honors Grunwald’s legacy of “spreading hope and empowering people to stay active through their hardest struggles — something my mom did with inspiring dedication.”

From the start of Halnon’s plan to run the Oregon section of the PCT, she says she aimed for the fastest known time. At first, she planned on the women’s FKT. But after she drew out the plan for her run, she says she thought why not go for the overall time. 

Running for several days nearly nonstop, Halnon experienced dance parties, friends cheering and thoughts of putting one foot in front of the other. 

But she also thought about her mom a lot. She says she remembered how her mom had a goal to run in every single county of Vermont (where she lived), and when it came to the last county on her list, she brought two left-foot running shoes — but ran anyway. And how they both had fears of reptiles, which Halnon thought about as she ran through rattlesnake territory of southern Oregon. 

Getting through those hundreds of miles got rough physically. She says her second and sixth days were the toughest on the trail. 

Because Halnon was aiming for a FKT pace, she says she had to cover 130 miles in two days. So on day two, she ran 70 miles — which according to data from her Strava account meant she was moving for 18 hours and 47 minutes.

“I remember hitting the 100-mile mark,” she says. “Thinking I still had another 30 miles for the day and another six days of monster miles was a lot for me to mentally process.”

But day six might have been harder physically. Not only did it have the toughest terrain, including lava rock and river crossings, she did it all underdressed for stormy weather — and was almost blown over by the wind. 

“I think there was a 30-mile stretch where the weather was at its worst,” she says. “We were stuck with what we were wearing, which wasn’t enough, so being hopelessly cold and pummeled by storms for 11 hours.”  

On the last day of her run, Halnon says she decided to spread the word on social media that she was going for the overall FKT as a way to get more donations in. As Halnon pounded away on the final miles of her journey through Oregon, finishing up at the Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia River, she says a lot was going through her mind. 

She thought about the increase of donations to her GoFundMe, which doubled from about $14,000 to nearly $30,000. She thought about her friends at the finishing line. She thought about how she had done something so extraordinary but couldn’t call her mom to talk about it. 

And, of course, she says there was a relief that she didn’t have to run anymore.  ν

Halnon’s GoFundMe is still taking donations to benefit the Brave Like Gabe Foundation.