John Burton


Age: 40
Running Stats:
2012, 1st place, Ruth Anderson 50K, 3:47:06
2011, 1st place, San Lorenzo River 50K, 4:48:41
2011, 1st place, Rancho Canada del Oro 50M, 9:30:22
2011, 1st place, Montara Mountain 50K, 5:11:58
2013, 2nd place, Headlands Hundred 50M, 8:03:32
2013, 2nd place, North Country Run 50M, 7:10:46
2013, 2nd place, Ohlone 50K, 5:01:15
2012, 2nd place, Silicon Valley Beer Mile Championships, 6:39
2012, 9th place, Tahoe Rim Trail 100M, 23:19:20
2013, 14th place, Pinhoti 100M, 21:22:40
2013, 29th place, Western States 100M, 20:37:23

What is your favorite ultra that you have competed in, and why? 
“Western States would be the obvious answer due to the energy, excitement, and “superbowl” like atmosphere of the race. Though if I had to choose a race based on breath-taking beauty and scenery I would choose Tahoe Rim Trail 100. But my personal favorite ultra is the Ohlone 50K. It’s a point-to-point race over 31 miles of hilly, exposed, nasty terrain; and I love it”.

What is your educational background?
Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary American Poetry, University of Michigan; Master of Business Administration in Management Information Systems, Central Michigan University.

You have an incredibly varied background. Which part of your resume’ translates best to the world of ultra?
“Ultra running, especially the longer distances like 100 milers, are all about being able to keep eating and drinking no matter how bad you feel. As a former five-time collegiate beer drinking champion I am always able to “dig deep” and pound one more beer (or energy gel packet) when necessary”.

Is there a race you always turn as inspiration when training?
“Whenever I am struggling on a run, particularly on a nasty climb, I think about my favorite race – the Ohlone 50K – and I fanaticize myself beating local studs Lior Pantilat and Jean Pommier in a sprint finish!”

Is there one portion of your training that you think universally translate to all runners?
“After years or experimenting with different training strategies I’ve come to the conclusion that only one thing really matters: training volume. The more miles you are able to run each week (without getting injured), the faster and stronger you will be!”

The Ultra scene is changing rapidly—more money, more sponsors—in your estimation is this improving or hurting the running scene?
“I am not a sponsored athlete and have never won any prize money – and I don’t really anticipate that changing as I get older and more-and-more faster “young guns” infiltrate the sport. But I am all for anything that increases the awareness of our sport and allows the professional runners among us to make a decent living. Aside from it becoming harder to get into some of our favorite races, I don’t think money and/or sponsors are “hurting” the sport. If, as an “old school” runner you prefer quite low-key races, you can still find plenty of great races like The Bear 100 or Pinhoti 100 that have that old school local feel to them”.

Describe the moment your realized that ultrarunning was your true passion?
“I was born and raised on an American Indian reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My grandfather, a tribal council member and Indian medicine man, told me stories about how a group of warriors once ran 50 miles through the woods to an enemy camp, defeated the foes in battle, and then ran home. I remember rolling my eyes and dismissing those stories as a child. But as a teenager running on those same footpaths, I began to wonder if those stories were true… if I was the descendant of men who ran 100 miles in a single day, shirtless through the woods in only moccasins?”

What aspects of your training do you have difficulty with? How do you overcome those mental obstacles?
“While I don’t have a problem getting out to run every day, I do struggle with self-supported long runs. I just can’t make myself go out and run anything over 15 – 20 miles on my own. But since I know that long runs are crucial, I tend to sign up for a lot of races – some of which I race, but others of which I simply use a long non-competitive training runs”.

Are you technology driven or do you run by feel?
“Or a combination of both? In training I usually run by “feel”. But in racing, I rely on my watch. Although I must admit that ever since joining a few years back, I also find myself “racing” my training runs trying to break the “course record” for any hill I come across on my run”.

There are so many amazing new products available in today’s ultra running world—how much do you explore all of these options? Are you a “keep it simple” person or do you like to see what the new technologies can deliver?
“I prefer simplicity. In my last 100 miler, I ran the entire 100 miles without ever changing my socks or shoes. (In case anyone cares, I wore Injinji 2.0 socks and Montrail FluidFlex shoes). But I must confess that I had to experiment with dozens of different products before I found something that worked perfectly for me. So my advice is try everything, but keep what works!”

As an elite athlete do you think your training becomes as much a mental exercise as a physical one?
“I have never actually considered myself as an “elite” runner. Though I must say, I have been impressed by how my performance and times have started to drastically improve lately even as I moved from my thirties into my forties. As I young man, I used to make the mistake of only doing minimal training and then attempting to use “mental toughness” on race day; the results were often dismal. Now, as I have gotten older and wiser I realize that if you put in the proper training, race day will be easy and you won’t ever need to dig deep”.

During a race—cuss words or words of encouragement—and how do you use these mental pokes to push it to the next level?
“I am a firm believer in positive encouragement. Rather than cursing yourself (or the hill in front of you) I find that the simple act of smiling (and breathing) can do wonders”.

Getting lost out on the trail is no fun but in hindsight is there a time that it happened to you that can be considered humorous now?
“Thankfully I no longer get lost. But yes, now I can look back and laugh about a time I was leading a 50K race and on my way to my first ever win! But alas I ran right past a turn and ended up in a parking lot a mile off course. By the time I retraced my steps I was in 7th place and had a lot of ground to make up. I ultimately ran out of real estate and finished in 2nd place just a minute behind the winner”.

Is there a difference between sports becoming life and sports being part of and enhancing one’s life?
“In other words, how do your balance your life as an athlete with your life outside of athletics? My wife and I are both ultra runners, and our 6 year old son loves hiking and running trails. So we are pretty luck in that ultra running is big part of our lives. Also, we sleep at home in a hypoxic altitude tent at 11,500 feet. We don’t go so far as to eat PowerBar gel shots for dinner, but yeah… ultra running definitely dominates our lives”.

What does the next 12 months hold for you? Do you work on a long arc or just take life as it comes?
“My ultimate dream is to someday run Hardrock 100. But until that lucky day I will just keep “slumming it’ and run these other silly races where they actually mark the trails and have breathable oxygen”.

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