This past summer TrailRunning Canada returned to Colorado to run the Transrockies 6 Day for the second time, while there we met the energetic Michelle Barton. We crossed paths on the way down Hope Pass and then again on a rainy windy run into camp on stage 3, where her positive and fun trail attitude convinced me we want to know more about this amazing ultra runner.
TRC: Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up, when did you start running, when did you discover this was a life passion of yours?
Michelle: I started running 14 years ago, I grew up in Laguna Beach, California. I was exposed to high alpine mountains at a very young age. My Dad would take me backpacking in Yosemite (Tuolumne Meadows), every summer for a week, starting at age 3. Those are my most vivid and favorite childhood memories. I discovered running was a life passion when I raced the Big Baz Winter Trail 15k (it was my longest run)… On the drive home from the race I told my Dad… the Los Angeles Marathon is next weekend, I might go for it’. Dad says ‘oh, you can’t run a marathon without long runs and a training plan’. I thought to myself … yes I can. So I signed up and ran it without telling my Dad. It was not easy, I was thrashed. I had no idea what I was doing, I was in such bad shape at the finish I had to borrow a cell phone from a fellow runner to find my family and tell them to come and get me. The man handed me his phone and I couldn’t dial because my fingers were totally cramped up into claws…I couldn’t stop laughing. That moment must have been my first runners high. There is something magical about pushing your mind and body somewhere it had not previously been. I ran my first ultra (San Juan Trail 50k) in March 2002. I trained hard and came in second…I wanted first. I believe you learn twice as much racing as you do in training. I raced everything in Southern California. Before my second 50k, my neighbor said just run it like you already won it (meaning visualize the win is yours). I placed 1st woman and 2nd overall in 4:12 at the Lake Hodges 50k.
I met Dean Karnazes after Western States 100 in 2004, we became great friends. He inspired me to go faster and further and so I did. It took me 4 years to win my first 100 miler (Javalina Jundred 2006). I chick’d ALL the guys at four 50k’s and 2 100k’s. That is always FUN for me! Ran and won TransRockies co-ed mixed division in 2007. 14 years later – I won over 70 races and currently hold over 2 dozen course records. I ran Badwater in 2010. I raced everything I could, back to back weekends, back to back months. I don’t really taper, I don’t like to cut back on running because I love it so much. I made every mistake possible over the past 14 years and learned on my own from trial and error. I have had broken bones it’s part of the game.
TRC: How did you like running and racing in Canada?
Michelle: I’m fully and completely in LOVE with running and racing in Canada. It took me many years to go to Canada, I wanted to go there before I was even a runner. Now I have been to Canada three times in the past 2 months. I never saw mountains so beautiful in my life. Canada is my favorite place to run. It is so lush green in Canada as compared to brown and dry California. The turquoise colors of Lake Loiuse and Morraine Lake are spectacular. Beauty that seems almost surreal to the human eye. So far, I have been to Calgary, Croswnest Pass, Lethbridge, Waterton and Banff National park. Majo Srnik, my Vitargo teammate took me on a trail a few days before we ran Sinister 7. It was the greenest greens I had ever seen. Tall grass, beautiful rolling hills. I was not used to running in grass at all and not used to running where I can’t see where my feet were landing. Majo said to trust your feet…The more you can feel the ground, the greater the body understands its surroundings and natural movement.
TRC: This year you ran two races that I would love to run some day! Can you tell us about your experiences at Sinister 7 and Lost Soul Ultra?
Michelle: I have wanted to race in Canada for many years. Some things are worth waiting for…and these races and mountains touch my heart and soul. They are so rugged and beautiful. My main running sponsor Vitargo www.vitargo.com expanded in Canada. Finally people can buy Vitargo in Canada. I took this opportunity to race in Canada with my Vitargo teammate Majo Srnik.
These races are hard. Racing in Canada is tough. This is no groomed fire roads, like I am familiar with in Southern California. These are rugged mountains, steep unforgiving climbs (even at mile 99 at Sinister 7), lots of water crossings, rocks, slippery roots and deep mud, did I say STEEP climbs?! Let me reiterate STEEP at both Sinister 7 and Lost Soul. I was super impressed with the personal touch of the race directors and all volunteers.
Sinister 7, I was super excited for this race and to run my first race in Canada!! The race director Brian Gallant is awesome. He really puts a lot of love and care into his race to take care of 1,200 runners. I jumped into this race unprepared for a 100 mile. I had not run 100 since Badwater 2010. Majo Srnik (Team Vitargo) and I decided to run this race together. We pushed the pace in the beginning and switched to training mode and enjoy the beautiful Canadian mountains and the race together. We wanted to learn from this run as much as possible and use the 30 hours as TOF (time on feet) that we were given to finish. We decided no crew. We wanted to do this on our own; The course is divided into 7 loops. Each loop has its own personality. The climbs are super steep up and down. The hardest and prettiest loops being loops 5&6 in the dark. There were 1,200 runners at Sinister 7 and only 218 were 100 mile solo runners. This race is a good example to prove your toughness. In my book, is still respectable to finish in any time. In this race every finisher is a winner, considering
It was incredible to be able to run 100 miles with Majo. Not many people on the planet can say they have run an entire hundie with someone. We finished together in 29:20. When you cross the finish line you received a Sinister 7 medal & a custom engraved wine bottle with your finishing time etched in. Different from the US hundreds where most times you receive a belt buckle.
Lost Soul is the only Canadian qualifying race for Western States 100. The race is held in the river valley of Lethbridge Alberta, Canada. One loop is 53 Km with approximately 1200m (3600?) of elevation incline and decline. Two days before the race Majo and I found out the race started on a Friday, not a Saturday. That was comical in itself. In Lost Soul you have to remember simple rules. If you came from the river, you go to the river. If you came from the hills, you go to the hills. The Lost Soul course was hard. It was very, very hilly and overgrown and steep cooleys. I saw a few friends at Lost Soul that I met at Sinister and that was awesome. They made me feel like part of the family. Canadians rock, eh!
I definitely feel like this hundred miler went by quickly and the Sinister helped me. Majo smoked the course and took 6 hours off his time. He finished in 22 hours. We ran without a crew and pacer. We did it on our own, no formula one pit stop crew. We both finished 2nd overall. We received amazing etched tiles with your name and finishing time, they look like tombstones. We also received the famous Lost Soul Rocks for placing 1st on our age group. These rocks weigh about 20 lbs each. Pretty cool prizes. The race gave very nice New Balance Windbreaker Jackets with the Lost Soul logo to everyone. It was a very down home type race feel.
TRC: Do you train year around on a specific plan? Or are you more casual and random with your running plans?
Michelle: Living in California, we can train and race year round. I do not have a strict or conventional training plan. I never owned a Garmin and often time’s race without a watch. That being said, I am always open for change to improve and better my training methods and time. I typically train by feel/perceived exertion or what sounds most fun. I run, bike and swim every day. I don’t run a lot of miles during the week because I race often and find that my legs perform best with the run/bike combo. If I know I have a hundred mile run in my near future, I will increase my running miles and back from time on my mountain bike and cut back on gym time. If I know I have a 50k or shorter coming up, I incorporate speed work – tabatas/intervals/accelerations/ladders/tempo paced runs to get the turnover in check and breathing dialed. I coach running and have taught my clients the importance of speed work. It is remarkable how fast one can improve if you do the work.
TRC: What’s up next and do you have any specific plans for 2015?
Michelle: Thanks for asking! I still have three races left this year 50k, trail marathon and hopefully another hundred miler. Next year I plan to stick more with hundred milers. I would love to run both Sinister 7 and Lost Soul again and better my times there. I will run the 218 mile John Muir Trail next summer. I would like to run Fat Dog as well (if the timing works with TransRockies). I will run Chris Kostman’s Salton Sea 81 mile point to point race in the spring and would like to run Badwater again as well. I will race TransRockies with Majo. I would love to run TransAlpine in Europe. I will toss my name in the hat for Western States. Lost Soul was a Western States qualifier – a runner needed to complete the 100 or run a sub 16 at the 100k in order to qualify for the lottery, which is held in December). I will run Shadow of the Giants 50k in Yosemite –www.bigbaztrailraces.com Whoo’s in El Moro 50k http://whoosinelmoro.com/
TRC: What are your favourite running goodies?
Michelle: Vitargo (Tropical and grape), www.vitargo.com Vitargo-POST Recovery, INKnBURN apparel, Swiftwick Vibe zero and aspire zero, Vivo Barefoot trail freak shoes, Nathan Hydration (Speeddraw Plus handheld/Firecatcher race vest), , Zero Point compression sleeves, Coast Lights (LED Lenser P6), Saltstick, Patagonia windbreaker Jacket, iPod.
You can find out more about Michelle through the following social media sites;