- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Brian Johnson had a break between his massage-therapy clients Monday when the trail-running jones sent him to Roxy Ann Peak to get in some mileage.

Impromptu solo runs on outlying trails are standard for distance runners who can become slaves to their training schedules, but Monday’s run brought a new caveat into this equation for Johnson.

“This time, I texted my girlfriend and said, ‘I’m going up Roxy for an hour, I’ll text you when I get down,’” says Johnson, 39, of Central Point. “It was just an hour, and I took my cellphone with me, as well.”

A bigger focus on safety and more communication with the outside world is becoming the new normal for local trail runners in the wake of last week’s death of one of their beloved own.

The death of 46-year-old ultra-marathon runner Todd Ragsdale while taking a solo training run in the Ashland Watershed’s trail system during a cold, rainy day has some local runners rethinking their running routines.

Ragsdale’s disappearance led to a vast search that involved search-and-rescue teams from eight counties and an army of more than 100 fellow Southern Oregon runners and other volunteers, who combed the network of official and illegally built trails that snake through the mountains above Lithia Park.

Ragsdale was dressed in light clothes and was not carrying a cellphone when he took off for his solo run, but investigators have yet to piece together a likely scenario of the events leading to his death. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department has said there was no evidence of foul play, but autopsy results have not been finalized.

The running community has been rocked by the loss of Ragsdale, known for his frenzied affection for running and showing up at local races wearing everything from a kilt to a Sasquatch costume.

But the laughs have turned to sorrow and introspection among this dedicated cadre who often run alone on area trail systems during training sessions that often start the same way Ragsdale’s did.

Communicating when and where they’re running before they head out, wearing more bright clothing that might help them be more visible during a search, carrying a cellphone and looking for more regular running partners are all changes local trail runners are mulling after Ragsdale’s ordeal.

“It definitely makes you think a lot about that issue,” Johnson says.

Yet trail runners think and live within a paradigm that even other athletes, let alone the general public, don’t get.

Even most active people would not be on one of those Ashland Watershed trails on a cold, rainy day, let alone without rain gear and heavy clothing and a cellphone that may or may not work in the hills.

But for Ragsdale and others like him, it was just another Thursday.

“What’s normal for us isn’t normal for the everyday person,” says ultra-distance runner Hal Koerner, owner of the Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland. “They’re not like us.

“What you do every day becomes a routine to you, and you don’t assess the risks, even though 98 percent of the people are never going to do what you do all the time,” Koerner says. “You always think it’s going to go routinely. But when it doesn’t, do you have a plan for that? It’s a scary thing.”

Johnson says he isn’t necessarily scared, but he is clearly more aware.

Johnson says he may forego some running forays into Jacksonville’s somewhat remote and underused Forest Park, opting instead for the more urban and popular Jacksonville Woodlands Association trails criss-crossing the hills above the Britt Gardens.

When he does return to Forest Park, he’ll carry more than a watch and water bottle.

“I may throw on a hydro-pack and toss in my cellphone, just in case something happens,” Johnson says.

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Information from: Mail Tribune, https://www.mailtribune.com/

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