It's Not All About Winning - Racing for the Line, Racing for Time and Learning from defeat with John Burton
John Burton is an ultramarathoning badass! Not only is this ultra-fit speed demon from Michigan known to rock the speedo from time to time, but what really struck me is how humble and warm John really is.
Sure, he has so many race wins, podium finishes, and has absolutely crushed a number of different events. But John also highlights the numerous times that races didn't go his way.
We often talk about the GRIT needed to achieve your best, to dust yourself off when you fall, and become a better version of yourself. John has this in spades, and it's so evident throughought the conversation. Maybe it was highlighted the most when we talked in detail about his participation in the Barkley Marathon - a race known for being the most grueling on the planet!
Where only the most elite are invited, and after hearing his story - you'll understand why. Shortly after recording this episode - we found out that John suffered a fairly significant injury - so we want to wish him a speedy recovery.
We're also happy to announce that John will be a weekly RaceMob contributor! John will be answering your running questions in a weekly column on our site. So subscribe to our newsletter to ask questions and see John's answers.
Links For the Show
Podcast TranscriptionThe following transcript is provided for your convenience. It was created through a program, and may not be entirely accurate to our conversation.
[00:00:00] John Burton:
And that's when I realized this is a stout time. I finished second, the only guy who beat me with John Paul and some of the guys I finished ahead of are guys that I've respected as much stronger, much faster runners.
And I wrote a blog. A race report in my blog, which essentially said, you know, I actually feel like a real runner. Now I'm not an imposter. I'm not this, you know, kid who would run with his dad and be struggling in a 5k and pretend to that and hurt himself just so he could stop running and have an excuse to quit.
[00:00:34] Kevin Chang:
Hello and welcome to the RaceMob podcast. This is episode number 62.
I'm Kevin entrepreneur technology and fitness nerd. And I'm joined by the head coach of RaceMob and master motivator, the incomparable Bertrand Newson.
[00:00:52] Kevin Chang:
John Burton is an ultra marathoning. Not only is this ultra fit speed demon from Michigan known to rock the Speedo from time to time. But what really struck me is how humble and warm John really is. Sure he has so many race wins, podium finishes and has absolutely crushed a number of different events.
But John also highlights the numerous times where the races didn't go his way. We often talk about how grit is needed to achieve your best to dust yourself off when you fall down and become a better version of yourself. Well, John has this in spades and it's so evident throughout the conversation. Maybe it was highlighted the most.
When we talk in detail about his participation at the Barkley marathon, a race known for being the most grueling on the planet. We're only the most elite are invited and after hearing his story, you'll understand why shortly after recording this episode, we found out that John suffered a fairly significant injury, so we really want to wish him a speedy recovery.
We're also happy to announce that John will be a weekly RaceMob contributor. John's going to be answering your running questions in a weekly column on our site. So subscribe to our newsletter, to be able to ask questions and see John's answers.
All the show notes that are going to be found online at RaceMob dot com slash podcast and without further ado here's our conversation.
Start of the Interview
[00:02:16] Bertrand Newson:
Hello, RaceMob family. We are in for fantastic. A treat. John Burton, the John burden renowned trail, ultra marathon blogger, renowned trail runner. Yes. Western states, participant finisher, two time Boston marathoner and has participated in the acclaimed a Barkley marathon. Welcome John.
[00:02:39] John Burton:
Okay. Hey coach and Casey. Thanks for having me.
John's Origin Story
[00:02:42] Kevin Chang:
Awesome. Yeah. I mean, we're, we're thrilled to have you on, the podcast, obviously, historic career, done a lot of things that runners can only dream about doing, I guess, talk to us about early life. Where did you grow up?
[00:02:54] John Burton:
Yeah. Yeah, sure. Casey, but first, you know, I just wanted to say the intro there, you guys kind of cherry pick some of the highlights for the Western states finisher they're in Boston and the Barkley marathons, but yeah, I find it odd.
No one ever introduces me as, you know, John Burton who DNF his first 200 or attempts or the Barkley marathons loser or John Burton who dropped out of the Oakland marathon and walk back to his car and a Speedo and a Cape, you know, in shame through the bad part of town or people had no idea that there was a race going on. It's like, what is this guy doing?
Or, you know, John Burton who dropped out of the Mount Charleston rebel marathon, Called an Uber at mile. It's funny and sat down on the side of the road. Cause he couldn't even walk. The last six miles had an, an Uber with escorted by two police. Come pick him up from the side of the road.
So yeah, but thanks for the introduction. No, but I, I guess I, I was going to say here is, you know, one of the thing I often mentioned the people who said, yeah, I have some successes, but I also have a lot of failures and you know, people don't always notice those. And you know, if you look through my ultra signup results, I actually have more DNS than race wins.
And I'm sure you guys probably are familiar this, but you know, I love that Michael Jordan quote, where, you know, the guy has what six NBA championship brings and he's been MVP. And, you know, he just says I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. Right? Last 300 games, 26 times, I've been called on to make the game winning shot and missed it.
And I think that's important that, you know, it's good to talk about the accolades and the successes, but it's also, I think, good to mention and full transparency, there's setbacks and there's injuries, and there's races that didn't go according to plan. And you know, just because you fail at something, doesn't make you a failure.
And yeah. So, but again, thanks. Thanks for the good introduction.
[00:04:54] Kevin Chang:
Yeah. I mean, you know, you miss a hundred percent of the shots that you don't take and it takes so much guts just to show up at the starting line. That's what we always tell our athletes. Right. I mean, just show up there at the starting line.
And just the fact that you're showing up the starting line for these hundred milers, I mean, that's head and shoulders above what most of us will ever, ever, ever think about being able to do. And and so yeah, kudos to you for, for doing all that.
[00:05:20] John Burton:
Well, I think most of us can do it, but yeah, you're right there. Kevin, most of us think we can't, or don't even bother to try, but yeah, you can do a lot more than , you think you can. Okay.
So you'd asked about you know, kind of background and growing up. I was born in a small native American Indian reservation in the upper peninsula of Michigan. And Coach "B" knows this, but, how do I preface this I'm pro and a little bit to exaggeration or stretching the truth.
I was an English literature major in college and, you know, writer, I've written some books and magazine articles and things, and there's an expression, never let the facts get in the way of telling a good story.
So, so, so if you, my family listens to this podcast, they might be doing a little fact checking and saying, wait a minute, you, you didn't technically grow up in a goat shed or a chicken coop. But but yeah, so.
My father when, when I was born he built this kind of 12 by 12 shed out of a lumber that he did. Found a repurposed on a neighbor's neighbor's yard. And yeah, it was just a simple 12 by 12 shed, no running water. I think we, we did have electricity and he built me a career out of wood and stuff.
And so that that's was my introduction. And later after we moved out, then my grandmother turned it into a coat shed and a chicken coop. So it wasn't like we, we kicked the goats and the chickens out. But, but when I tell the story, yeah, I was, I was born in a goat shed and...
Yeah, we had set some rough times the first couple of years and we were homeless for a bit. So my father, I was working at a gas station and Ypsilanti, Michigan, back then when it was a full service, you know, you had someone pump your gas and clean your windshield, check the oil, all of that.
And we had, we slept in a, I think it was a rambler station wagon we had there in the parking lot and took showers with a hose on the side of the building. And during the day is, this is kind of how I got my introduction to a endurance sports or athletic training. You know, sometimes it was pretty busy when, when cars are coming in to get serviced.
And so my father bought me a tricycle. And in the storeroom of a gas station, he'd moved all the boxes and things into the middle of the room. So there's kind of this nice little track around the outside perimeter of this little storeroom. And I would ride my tries to call, just ride laps around there.
And there was, you know, four corners obviously. And in the third turn, the third corner, there was this big, giant deadly spiders, probably, you know, a daddy who, the long leg, but in my mind as a child, this was some deadly poisonous spider that was trying to kill me.
And so essentially I was doing hours of interval training, before I even knew what intervals were. Right. I ride slow until I got to that corner. And then sprint as hard as I could get to safety and then catch my breath for the next three turns and then sprinting out of that corner again, so.
I mean, I'm sure it was a little bit traumatic and I probably explains why I'm still scared to death of spiders to this day, but it was, it was pretty good training and I, you know, it was a three-year-old, I'm pretty sure I would've beaten anyone else in the trycicle, tricycle racing, but yeah.
Then we kind of, my father got his feet under him and got a job at General Motors, got a house, did not have to live in the back of the station wagon, and shower, and bathtub and all that great stuff, you know people have.
And my father, you know, he struggled with substance abuse and a lot of things like that, but he is a really good guy and always there for me. And he was a marathoner. I mean, he was a three-hour marathoner and yo he, every day he'd have a cigarette, his cup of coffee then you go first run after us riding down another cigarette. And, you know, I guess that was the seventies, things like that. Or the eighties.
But, yeah, that's where I got my, my love of running. He used to take me running in the evenings. It was probably just a 5k, but we we'd run every night. And he also got me into cycling. I'm a big cyclist and we rode, well, I remember a couple of hundred miles.
We'd go on these back packing trips together, just riding in the rain. I think
one point we were riding on the highway and people pulled over and told him I was child abuse to have as, you know, young kid riding on the highway in the rain. But, but I loved it.
So yeah, those are good times, but I think that's where. A lot of my athletic came from, I have to thank my father for keeping me active and getting me out there.
But yeah, I ran cross country in high school. I was not particularly fast or anything, but I enjoyed it. And I was on a cycling club with some buddies.
And even in high school, we'd go ride a hundred miles a day. And I'm like four days riding across the whole state of Michigan. And this was before gels or at least, I didn't know anything about nutrition and sports strengths. And it was all fueled on McDonald's French fries, I guess that's where my son gets it from.
And I'm sorry, you guys, we had a story before we went on air of my, my son in McDonald's French fries, but yeah, we Mike and Ike's mountain Dew. I mean, those were, those are the fuel back then.
So I'd always been pretty active running, cycling. And when I moved out here to California, that's when I was first introduced to the trail running scene and really found my stride there or something that I enjoy, which is, Hey, I still will go out and run on the road.
So the bike paths and do an occasional marathon. I think trail running is really where my heart is at.
Moving to the Bay Area
[00:10:37] Kevin Chang:
Incredible. Yeah. So what brought you out to the bay area?
[00:10:40] John Burton:
Money show, show me the money here. So I got my central Michigan university. And can you see your parents went to Michigan state,
[00:10:50] Kevin Chang:
Yeah. Yeah. that's right. They went to Michigan state.
[00:10:52] John Burton:
Yeah. So I'm from, from Lansing, Michigan. That's where I went to high school and my mother lived in Spartan village over there at Michigan state. So I spent a lot of time over there, but I went to the university of Michigan. So it was kind of a yeah,
[00:11:04] Kevin Chang:
I see. Yeah.
[00:11:05] John Burton:
Tough times. So Thanksgiving and Christmas, a lot of family drama over football games, but, but then I was doing my graduate work at central Michigan university where they had an SAP software installation and I was teaching business, computer classes there, and a recruiter came out to recruit some of my students and you know, was telling me the starting salary and all the benefits.
I'm like, man, that's like twice what I'm making here. And so I said, I have one resume for you. Gave him my resume and got the job at SAP. And I spent 21 years there until last November when I was traded or sold off to a Swedish company called Sinch. They do a telecommunications, SMS messaging stuff.
But but yeah, that's what brought me out here was job opportunities back in the 1999, late nineties.
[00:11:54] Kevin Chang:
Wow. Incredible. You're a software product manager, right?
[00:11:58] John Burton:
That's right. Yeah.
[00:11:59] Kevin Chang:
That's fantastic. Just like me. So...
[00:12:00] John Burton:
Getting into Running
[00:12:02] Kevin Chang: Same field, same field. So, I mean, I guess, talk to us a little bit about your start into running. So you said trail running was kind of one of the major things that you got into when you got out here in the bay area.
[00:12:13] John Burton:
Yeah. Like I said, I ran a lot in cycle blot when I was young and was always active. I was out doing something, camping, running, cycling, and but then college it's a stressful time and I was a 4.0 student in high school and I got an academic scholarship to the university of Michigan. I took academics pretty seriously.
People who know me are like John, you took party and seriously. Okay, so I took academics and partying very seriously, and that did not leave a lot of time for training. So during college, you know, I'd probably put on 15, 20 pounds and I would still go out in the evenings.
Running too Fast
[00:12:45] John Burton:
I had a couple of buddies Doug Williams, who's a sheriff down in Southern California. If Doug's listening. He will want me to tell the story about the time we were out running one evening and got pulled over by the police for running too fast.
[00:12:58] Kevin Chang:
Running too fast.
[00:13:00] John Burton:
Yeah, well, that's how we tell the story, but in fairness it was 10, 11 o'clock at night, and we wanted to go out and for a little, you know, five mile run or whatever.
And my father had instilled in me that you always sprint at the end of your run, no matter how long it is. And we get to it's the smell of the barn, you know, turn the corner and see the house. We'd always have that final sprint to work on our finishing kick. And so I kept that even, you know, in college.
And so my buddy, Doug, and I would have these sprints at the end of our runs, but we'd progressively start launching them further and further out because it was like a whole kilometer, you could see our dorms from the street.
And so we got to the point where as soon as we turned that corner, there was one kid to go. We started sprinting. So yeah, we're just running as hard as we can down this road, 11 o'clock at night and a local police officer sees us. I don't know, things are up to no good.
So he turns on his lights. We don't stop or pull over cause we want to get to the finish line. So he's chasing us for a good minute or two, and then luckily it turned out all right. We did not get shot or tased or teargassed or anything. Yeah, but wait, there's the story going? Oh yeah.
So, I was a sporadic athlete in college, you know, it was, it wasn't really training that much. And as I said, academics and probably partying getting in the way.
Running After College
[00:14:16] John Burton:
But when I got the job at SAP and moved out to California, there were a couple of guys who do running my buddies petite. We do running at lunch and I'm like, well, yeah, I'm a runner. I'll go out and run with you guys. I couldn't make it around the block without walking.
Right. Like I'd been a decent cross country runner. I was fourth or fifth on my team, you know, lifetime athlete. Consistency consistency, consistency. And that's why I never take a day off anymore.
I try not to have breaks because I remember how terrible that felt like what's going on, am I at altitude? I mean, I can't even run around the block, but having to stop to walk. And it was probably several weeks that were just run a block, walk a block, and just, I was so embarrassed, what's happened to me.
And that was, that was definitely a wake up call. And so that got me back into both cycling and running. And then I think I joined Silicon valley triathlon.
[00:15:09] Kevin Chang:
[00:15:10] John Burton:
Cause I'd been a triathlete in high school. And so I did some triathlons out here and he had a group of, you know, as Kevin Casey, as you always preach community, right. Just having people keep you accountable and show up to do the ride or the run together, you know, Tuesday night track or whatever, Sunday morning, early bike rides.
And that really helped me just having a group of people kind of similar speed that we trained together. And I thought I got in fairly decent shape, like, oh yeah, I'm in great shape now.
And so I signed up for this half marathon at hunter park. I don't know if you guys know Woodside hunter park Hills.
[00:15:47] Bertrand Newson:
[00:15:48] John Burton:
I was not training on the Hills. So the race starts my first mile, I think is flat or down hill. I'm in the lead. Right, I already plotting my victory speech, my celebration. And this was before Facebook. So I wasn't planning what I was going to put on Facebook.
But man, after a mile or so we hit the first switch back and it kicked up hill and a few people pass me and I thought, yeah, all right, it's cool. No worries. And a few more people pass me and I start walking and then it's, you know, the first people were passing me were wearing singlets and 135 pounds, looked like serious runners.
And then people started passing me who, you know, were in high top shoes and, you know, carrying a few extra pounds and pushing baby strollers. I just, oh man, I was demoralized. And that's, that's when I realized California kills is a whole another thing. And I was not in the shape that I thought I was, but yeah, I kept at it. Kept plugging away at it.
Years later, I went back and did that same race. And I think I finished maybe third. And that's where I met my wife. She'd won the women's race. And we were both just standing around the food table at the end stuff in our face with whatever, you know, unhealthy food they have at the end of those races, m&ms or I don't know what it was.
But but yeah, it was a, it was a long road. You have many, many years of thinking I was where I wanted to be. And then realizing no, still, still a long way to go, but yeah, eventually kind of found my groove there in, in trail running.
My wife had mentioned that she had one of her friends Christina Ervin, who she was a 10 times Western states finisher. And I think she's done the hard rock Hardrock, which is my favorite ultra marathon. I've done that one twice. She'd done it. I think 10 times finished eight times.
And so having someone like that, just old school ultra run her back before social media. And before you could find, you know, podcasts and blogs, you just had to talk to people who've done it before.
And so I learned a lot from that and that that's how I got introduced to trail running and ultra running. And yeah, I mean, never really looked back. It's it's still kind of where my heart is up in the mountains.
[00:17:57] Kevin Chang:
That's incredible. Yeah.
Meeting Someone Special
[00:17:58] Bertrand Newson: And how was that? I mean, let's take us back to that, that that was a the, the run, when you came back in conquered hundred park, second time, a third place finish, but you also won the big prize and you met your wife.
[00:18:11] John Burton:
[00:18:12] Bertrand Newson:
How, how was that? I mean, you know, couldn't, you know, do you want some of these m&ms how was that conversation?
[00:18:19] John Burton:
[00:18:20] Bertrand Newson:
I won third place. You look at my, look at my metal, huh?
[00:18:23] John Burton:
yeah, I mean, I say third, it might've been Seth. I don't, it might've been forest. Sorry. I'd have to go back and check. I don't even know if those results were online, but yeah, no, she confessed later. She thought I was like some young Stanford collegiate college kid. And cause we both kind of look a little young for our age, I guess.
And I'm pretty sure, you know, I don't have a lot of, a lot of game. I'm pretty sure she's the one that came and talk to me and then I was like, oh yeah, nice meeting you I'll see you later. And she's like, well, do you want me to give my phone number or something?
So yeah. You know, like I said, you think you're at one level and then you realize, no, I got a lot to learn.
[00:19:00] Bertrand Newson:
And how cool that you, from the point of first meeting each other, that she knew you had something in common, right there it's one thing to be involved or meet somebody who you just like in general, but for them to share the same passion just takes it to a different level, man, so...
And very accomplished. She won the race. First of all, we have a little girl.
[00:19:18] John Burton:
Yes. I mean, I'm a little faster than her, but you know, she's a, a better runner or she wins more races than, than I do. And I think one time she even At the Tahoe rim trail, a hundred mile race. She was the first runner from our Quicksilver writing clubs. So she beat all of us men as well.
She was right up there, just, I think, a little over 24 hours for that, for that race. Yeah. But now we've got a, well, he's going to say 13 year old son, we got our son's about to turn 14 and he used to be a runner, but now he's, he's really into mountain biking these days, but you know how kids are one day they're playing roadblocks one day it's Fortnite, one day it's Minecraft.
So I expect he'll, he'll find his way back to running at some point, but I'm not one of those fathers who tries to workout today. You're going to do five by 800 ads, you know, just I'm happy that he enjoys being outside hiking and definitely running and mountain biking.
So yeah. Being active, being outdoors for me. That's, that's what, it's all about being healthy. We won't tell them the McDonald's story. Or should we?
[00:20:24] Bertrand Newson:
I think we should. We've referenced it.
[00:20:26] Kevin Chang:
The McDonald's Story - A Hussling Tale?
[00:20:26] John Burton:
The other day my son asked me to take him out mountain biking. Cause we sent him to a mountain biking camp for a week, were hit a lot of fun and he's never really been that good of a climber on Hills. You know, just even a mild hill. He'll have to walk his bike and push it.
So, you know, I'm always reluctant to take a mountain biking with me. I'll go do my workout. And then, you know, I'll, I'll take him somewhere.
But you know, he said, Hey, I want to go to this park. And I thought, yeah, all right, let's go give it a shot. And we're riding in the first hill. It's a pretty steep hill. And I'm like, well dude, come on, don't go that way. Let's go around and take the other hill and sure enough, he rides up it, it makes it up this reasonably steep hill. I'm like, oh man, that camp 707, 5 days of training suddenly he's riding Hills.
But then he points to the steep of silver in the park. It was just this ridiculously steep hill. And it's like 40% grade it for people who are from the bay area, you're familiar with Montgomery Hill Park. Then you'll know the steep hill that I'm talking about over there by evergreen college.
And so I'm like, yeah. Okay. Well, let's, let's ride out that I'm going to give you some space that when you roll backwards, you don't crash into me. And, but he's, you know, he's confident talking smack about how he's going to make it up to the, the garbage can, you know, it's a three quarters of the way up the hill where it kind of flattens out.
And I feel like he was hustling me a little bit now in retrospect, cause he's like, if I make it up, there will be buy me McDonald's for lunch. Cause we don't need a lot of fast food. I'm like, dude, if you make it up there, I'll buy you everything on the McDonald's menu.
So he takes off sprinting and I'm just laughing to myself he's way ahead. And you're like, ah, too young and naive. I got him, I admire his heart.
And so it gets, it starts getting steeper and steeper and it hits the really steep part. And I see him slowing down. I just start chuckling like, ah, here, here we go. And then but I'm cheering them on like yeah, I do it for the burger or you got this.
And then I hear him talking to me and there's no strain in his voice. He's like, oh, I'm getting that bird. And then I look at he's riding pretty strong. I'm like, oh, no, no way. Sure enough. He's just grinded makes it all the way up to the top.
And you know, I'm cheering for him to crash, cheering for a squirrel to run through his folks, take them out, anything to save me from having to buy him several thousand calories worth of junk food.
He made it up there. Yeah. And we ended up negotiating a little bit and he settled for some taco bell for, for three tacos, not every figure on the menu, but yeah. Yeah. Yeah, man. It's
[00:22:49] Kevin Chang:
Oh, he was definitely hustling you. He was definitely hustling. Yeah.
[00:22:52] John Burton:
All right. I got hustled for sure.
Tales of Failures
[00:22:55] Kevin Chang:
Well, I want to get back to a couple of stories and some that you mentioned kind of in the intro. So, I mean, talk to us about that. The, the golden Speedo you know, Oakland marathon you know, talk to us about a couple of these failures as well. I mean, I'd love to just get into, you know, some of the stories and, and when you started hitting some of your successes, because we know you that you're accomplished runner as well, so
[00:23:17] John Burton:
Yeah. Yeah. Thanks Casey. So, when people ask me about some of the successes and, you know, I've run Western states, I think I did 20 hours, 37 minutes, one time, and then 21 hours. Yeah. You know,I this race in Canada, a fat dog, 122 miler, which is a hardest ultra marathon in Canada.
I've had some successes and people, I think sometimes, well, you know, you got good genetics or it's this amazing runner crushes, everything in there. There's probably some truth to the genetics part. And everything probably do have some genetic gifts, but a lot of it is just trial and error. And, you know, like I said, I've lost more race or DNS, more races than I've I've won races.
[00:24:01] John Burton:
And I think one of the, one of the things is, you know, some people kind of go out and run the same pace and all their training runs. And then, you know, if you're training at nine minute mile, for example, and then you think I'm going to go do this marathon and I'm going to run seven minute miles cause I'm just going to dig in on race day it's all going to be there.
And at least from my experience that that's not how it works, right. You need to have racist, call them trial racist, you know, maybe a race you don't care about as much a half marathon. And you go out at that seven minute pace and see if you can do the half marathon at seven minute pace and then sign up for another marathon.
Maybe not the Boston marathon, you know, local one by you, something here, maybe CIM and go out and try your, you know, your goal based on that one and see if you can make 1820 miles before you blow up. And at least for me, that's been a strategy that's been successful is to try to start with smaller, smaller races, smaller distances, and see if I can hit them, the pace that I'm going for.
But you know, like you were saying, sometimes you shoot for the stars and you don't make it. And I think that's okay. Not every race has to be. I crushed it. I hit my goal. So it's okay to take a risk, sometimes set some big audacious goal that you think you probably can't hit. Maybe there's a 5% chance that you can and go for it.
And if it doesn't work out, there's no shame in that. At least not for me. Right. I was just, I was trying something I knew I probably wouldn't be able to do. I thought maybe I could. And if it happens amazing.
If it doesn't, you don't hit that goal. You can probably still sell it, which something from it. Right. You go back and you look at that race and you say, okay, what were the positives?
Well, I was able to hold that pace for 18 miles or, you know, what went wrong, but I, I learned from it. Maybe you can correct next time. Well, maybe seven minute pace. Wasn't I'm not quite in that shape. Maybe seven 15 pace I can hold.
Yeah. So that's, that's been, my approach is, you know, go hard, take risks. They're not always gonna work out, but the consistency and the constantly, well, not constantly, but the occasionally pushing yourself because what you need to do to have those really big breakthrough races where you crush a PR or you finish your racing, you never thought you could finished.
The Golden Speedo
[00:26:05] John Burton:
But yeah, let's look at some of the examples where maybe things didn't go great. And you brought up Oakland and just
for the record, it was not a golden Speedo. I do have a golden Speedo, but it was an Oakland Raiders Speedo.
[00:26:18] Bertrand Newson:
[00:26:20] John Burton:
And technically, technically I think it was boy shorts, not even the Speedo. So, you know, like I said but never let the facts get in the way of telling a good story.
So there I am in my golden Speedo in my, my Oakland Raiders Cape, and I'm at the starting line feeling a little self-conscious, but, you know, I was in pretty good shape that year and the abs were, were out and ripped. And like, you know, what, if you got it far on it.
So I'm just standing there, hands on hips and the front of the starting line for the race, the Oakland Raider cheerleaders are there and pointing and whispering. And they're probably saying, look at this store, but in my mind, they're like, Hey, check that guy out. He's gonna, he's gonna win this thing. So the gun goes off and I go off man in the lead.
First couple miles. As you probably expect things are feeling great, but around mile six mile eight, that old Oakland, the marathon course had this big hill, about 800 foot hill. I think it starts kicking up into Piedmont Hills. People who know the area and I'm a good heel runner.
Now I am now back in the days when I was walking up on her park, but I've since become a decent hill runner charging up that hill feeling great and things are still going well.
I don't know where it was somewhere, let's say mile 20. That sounds about right 18 mile 20. It just hits me like the wheels come off. The bus energy system gone and everyone starts passing me. I'm walking. And you know, obviously I could, I could probably walk another six miles or eight miles. So Harvard was the finish. But, yeah, I just, I didn't feel like it.
This is what's the, it's not training that point, right? It's like, okay. I finished marathons before I finished. I think I was a, I won a trophy first masters that Oakland marathon and had one of those giant checks with $150 you know, check that the mayor Libby presented.
So, you know, it had this kind of positive experience there and I thought, well, do I really want to walk it in? And I just take a shortcut through town and drive home and, you know, try again at the next race. Yeah, just start cutting through the shortcut.
And then I'm tired. Just even walking. I sit down on the curb, I'm like, I got to catch my breath and I look around at the other runners sitting on the curb and then I realized, no, these are not runners. It's, you know, homeless people, maybe some early morning meth. users, I'm not sure.
Some sex workers possibly, and the police are rolling by. And then I looked down and I'm in my speed on cave. I'm like, oh no, they're going to think that I'm fired as you know, this sex
[00:28:54] Bertrand Newson:
What is going on over here?
[00:28:55] John Burton:
Yeah. Let's, let's see.
[00:28:56] Bertrand Newson:
[00:28:58] John Burton:
I quickly, you know, get my race bib out of my pocket. Yeah. Go Raiders to show the race BIM to the place. And I'm in the race. And I had to start walking back to my car and I eventually made it back to the car.
But you know, when some lose some, I guess.
Calling a Cab
[00:29:13] John Burton:
I think at the beginning I also mentioned this Mount Charleston, rebel marathon out Las Vegas, some of our listeners are probably familiar with that or hasn't even run that one.
So it's rather famous than that. It's a downhill marathon with several thousand feet of downhill. And the idea is that it will help you qualify for Boston. If you're one of those runners who are kind of, you know, just on the cusp there, you may be, you just need to take a minute off your time, or a couple of minutes off your time.
The attraction is sign up for this downhill marathon. You'll you'll crush it, which is true. If you've got, you know, quads like Dean Karnazes' or, or somebody, but if you're a regular person and you have. 20 miles down a mountain on pavement. What's probably going to happen is what's happened to me, is your legs are mushed when you get to the bottom.
And then suddenly, you know, I was doing 6:20 6:30 miles down this hill feeling great. Like I've never run so fast. I'm going to crush my I'd run, you know, 2 59, 52 at Boston. So just under three hours. And I thought I'm going to destroy my Boston time and run a 2:55 here, hit those flats. And I think the road kicked out maybe 1%, right?
Like, it's tough to say if it was flat or if it was a slight uphill and I'm like, oh, this is uphill. Well, forget this I'm done.
I just sat down on the road and caught my breath and tried to start running again. And I was just, my legs were completely trashed. And this time I honestly thought, I don't think I can walk eight miles, like without doing serious damage to my kid, my muscles and my legs.
And I had my phone on me. I wonder if I could call an Uber, is there service here? And I check and sure enough, cell service. So I'm like, oh yes, thank you. I call the Uber and I'm talking and then, oh, you mess up, you text Uber or whatever. But then I actually call the driver and explain where I'm at.
I'm like, now there might be a roadblock there. I don't think they're letting traffic through. So you might have to like drive up on the side of the road or something to get here. And then a minute later I see these two police cars with their lights flashing and there's this black Uber behind the police. And he's getting a police escort down the road and rolls up.
And then I feel like such a jerk, right? Cause I'm like, oh no, this is making a huge scene. The other runners like, oh, is this what's going on here? And Uber. And then we're driving on the side of the road to get out of there. And I just. Trying to tuck my head down so nobody sees me through the windows, Uber it off the course.
[00:31:48] John Burton:
But yeah, you know, it was actually a friend of mine. Bill Pritchett from Michigan just reminded me of a time. We did this marathon in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I got an ambulance ride off the course and this one was not my fault. Well, okay. I say it's not my fault, this my responsibility, sure.
So I went out hard thinking I was going to win this race and humidity. Michigan has heat and humidity, California. We don't have humidity here in the bay area. And man, that humidity just destroyed me.
And again, somewhere around mile 22, I just, I had nothing left. I was puking stumbling, and I, there were some fans in the side of the road and they were drinking mimosas, you know, Saturday morning or whatever, Sunday morning.
I don't remember. Yeah, because I had a mimosa and were like, yeah, you want one? And I just reached out, grabbed it, crushed it. And then I, I felt reinvigorated. I started running again, passing people. I'm like, oh yeah, I'm back. This lasted maybe what, two, three minutes. And then I was back in the shade, like under another tree this time, worse than before.
And I don't know that somebody saw me and called an ambulance, but, or if there's an ambulance just happened to be randomly driving by, but stop dude get the air conditioned ambulance. I'm like, no, no. That's for people with serious injuries or health conditions. I don't want to take away from someone who might need it. I mean, I'm fine over here. I think I maybe just have a little heat stroke or something.
The EOD is like, oh my God. Get in the ambulance. Let's rock. And I didn't want to explain that. I just know the mimosa because that's a lot, a lot more to it, so, yeah, it's good. Again, I refuse to get in the back, the ambulance stuff. I sat in the front seat and he drove me back to the start and then they, they checked me out.
But yeah, you know what I mean? These things happen to all of us, right? Like raise your hand, who hasn't called Uber in the middle of a marathon or, or been carted off the course in an ambulance. Just part of normal, normal running I would say.
[00:33:50] Kevin Chang:
Yeah, I guess when you, when you run enough races, when you, when you do enough of these things, then eventually some of these things catch up to you or you have some of these amazing stories, which some of us don't have. So that's fantastic. I mean, that's awesome.
How Many Races?
[00:34:03] Kevin Chang:
How many races do you think you've run over the 20, I guess 20 years now that you've been running races. If you were to venture a guess, how many races do you think you've run?
[00:34:16] John Burton:
Yeah, Casey. I mean, I don't know. I think ultra sign up has or athletics. One of those have like 121, but, you know, I was also running back in the the eighties and nineties as a kid. My parents would take me out to the little Turkey trot or whatever 5k or 10 K.
I remember I was probably 10 and I was out doing a 10 K race. And my parents were driving behind me, you know, we might've made sure I was okay. And that I've finished it. And there was an awfully dog and they came up in there.
What are you doing sitting down. I'm like, oh, there's a dog over there. So they had to drive with me to get past the dog. So none of, none of those, the races are online because they were back in the day, so it could be closer to 200, so.
I'm not the most prolific racer, but yeah, but I've been at it for awhile. And like I said, you know, consistency once, once I took those few years off from working out in college and got out of shape, I never wanted to have that happen again. So I do try to, to train consistently and yeah get out and get out and race a little bit.
I probably, I know you've had some other guests on the show like Verdi, Brene, who's running every weekend or racing somewhere. I'm not that I'm not that prolific of a, of a racer, but yeah, I try to
try to still race once in a while just to stay, stay sharp.
[00:35:29] Bertrand Newson:
We love the fact that you are just embracing adversity. You know, that's going to happen in races, especially with the race distances that you choose and the way you go after it. But also the parallels, you know, Casey and I've talked. Just in life. Life is going to happen. I'm going to be times where everything, you know, the race is going along well in life.
Aid stations are coming up. You fill your stride, you fill your cadence. You feel like you're running with the wind at your back. But there are cases when you maybe feel a little bit overextended you feel yourself cramped. You feel yourself wanting to give up and being able to understand and learn those lessons and to apply them in life.
Like you applying your, your race experiences and saying, Hey it's, and it's not the end of the world. There's no shame in my game. And I can share and speak with confidence and some humor on the occasions where I went for it. And it didn't work out. Yes. I took an Uber off the course. Yes, I hopped in the ambulance after having a mimosa.
We didn't talk, we didn't talk about, oh, that's. Is that a Sprite on the course? All right. We'll have to get back to that story. But sharing that with other runners as well to sometimes get out of your comfort zone, because you may surprise yourself. But always there's something to learn when we navigate life adversity moments, always something learned as we navigate race or training adversity.
[00:36:43] John Burton:
Yeah, Coach B, that's a great point to know, you know, I think you're talking, it's kind of a, as running as a metaphor for life and some of the challenges we face in life, whether it's, you know, injuries, I mean you both and myself, I've struggled with different injuries. I'm actually working through a, kind of a calf injury right now, but not just running related injuries.
It could be, you know, work, you get laid off or you're in between jobs, so this is a stressful project going on at work. Or families, relationships, we've all had, you know, relationships that have ended or gone bad or families, you know? Okay. Maybe you can't end those relationships.
My younger brother, Eric, after one particularly bad fight where we were throwing bicycles at each other, and six, six police showed up with guns drawn. He said, oh, you better go on eBay and buy yourself a new brother. Right.
So, I mean, family is family, and we're not, we're not buying new family members on evade. He and I are talking again. But yeah, you know, you have those, those struggles with, with life and with work and relationships and family and that.
Yeah coach "B", that's a great metaphor. Yeah. Parallels your, your training and racing, right? The ups and downs and just the, the consistency and keep working at things.
From my side, I, I do actually tend to use running as a, I guess, not just running, but cycling as well as a, as a form of medication, because I struggled when I was younger with some depression and some, I was never diagnosed, but whether you want to call it bipolar or just, you know, just being depressed or being a teenager and emo teenager, you know, with long hair and a pony tail, and just trying to fit into the world.
And yeah, I was found that, that running and cycling, and if you can do something every day, it does help with the hormonal levels and just making you, you feel that you've done something worthwhile and that you're making some, some progress and all. Control the things you can control.
Maybe you can't control what's going on with the relationship or with a work project or a difficult person in your life. But you can control whether you get out the door and do that five mile run or go for that bike ride. So, yeah, that's, that's great.
[00:38:43] Kevin Chang:
Talk to us a little bit, John, about you know, starting to go for these ultra distances. Was that always a goal that you had in mind? Did somebody inspire you did, did a race itself inspire you
[00:38:53] John Burton:
Yes. Yes. And, and yes, all, all of the above. So no great, great question there, Casey. So I guess going back, I think I'd always known that I was more suited for, for endurance. So in my school, we, this was back in the seventies when I was young, growing up in fifth grade or whatever it was back before the everyone got a ribbon thing.
Like it was very cutthroat. You're the winner and the rest of you are losers. And I was the loser. I was last picked for kickball. I was the slowest at all the sprints, but the one thing I found out I was good at and maybe cause no one else wanted to do, it was: there was a 600 meter run. And I don't think it was 600 meters.
They just had us run around the grassy field of our school, which was full of gopher holes and needy grass. And you know, who knows what else? And I won it. And I think because the other kids didn't want to run that far or gave up or maybe, you know, I just endurance was my thing.
But then I went to the city championship and I did not win that. But I won the first lap, the first 400,000 lead. And then I blew up a little bit.
But that's when I discovered that while I maybe not a super fast Twitch guy or sprinter, like, you know, my brothers both scholarships, you know, played collegiate football and state champions and baseball and things, and I was more the slow endurance guy.
But yeah, so I always had in the back of my mind that, you know, I watched the Ironman and you know that, you know, they have it on TV once a year. And you see all these stories about people doing the iron man and yeah, that really called to me. And that's how I got into triathlons and how I got into endurance training.
And you know, did some half iron mans and really discovered that going longer was, was definitely better suited to my, my skillset and my gifts and my strengths and maybe my, my mentality as well, just because, you know, I don't mind suffering. I don't know if it's from, you know, things that happened in my childhood.
It's just, I'm quite sure being uncomfortable or, or being miserable. I kind of find it. I don't know, comforting actually. That's probably something my therapist and I discussed that the podcast, sorry.
But no, so Casey then you're can, you know, did anyone help me find that? And, yeah, so when I met my wife, Amy, at that race, she mentioned that she was training for this stuff called ultra marathon. And she had that friend, Christina Irvin who had, would run Western states. And I hadn't really heard about any of this before.
I think my father had once told me that, yeah, there's this crazy thing in California where people run a hundred miles, but you know, it's not really running and they're like walking half the time and it's a picnic and they're eating snacks and it's not serious writing like you and me do, you know? Oh my God. Okay. Yeah.
But but yeah, so I got out here and I heard about it and I showed up for my first run with some ultra runners and we were going to run up this If you guys know at Sierra Azul, Kennedy.
So that's a pretty long, it's like a four mile steep climb up Kennedy, and then you got a mile and a half of rollers, and then you drop down another five miles from the Quicksilver park and that out and back 22 miles or so, it's got thousands of feet of her it's pretty exposed, pretty hot. It's a tough run.
These guys all showed up and they had, you know, Camelbacks with bladders of water and multiple handheld waters and water strapped to their arms and their back. And, you know, I was carrying one of these, you know, like you go to the gas station and you get one of those 12 ounce, plastic bottles of water, right? With the little screw off top. That's what I had on me.
And I took off running hammering, just like these guys over there, walking the hill, we just started, this is nonsense. And so got to the turnaround point. Drank my water and started running back then. Thank you. We all know where the story's going.
There was a lot, a lot of walking and laying down in the shade and it was a hard learning lesson, but that's when I, I really said, okay, I got to refocus and I can do this. And yeah, it wasn't a demoralized. It kind of took it as a challenge. Like, all right, next time, I'm going to bring two of these little bottles of water and maybe a gel.
It took me many, many years of trial and error to understand the role that nutrition and hydration and even training no training. It just never occurred to me. I just thought, you're you go out and you tough it out and get it done. And I didn't realize that if you spend hours and log hundreds or thousands of miles, then it's actually pretty enjoyable.
And not that difficult to do some of this stuff. You don't have to kill yourself and it feel like you're dying, but yeah, that was probably a process of 10 years or so. I think I mentioned in my first two ultra marathon or a hundred mile attempts, I IDNF, so there's a race called Olmstead out in North Carolina.
And I think I got maybe 60 miles there before my body just gave out. And then I tried the Tahoe rim trail, a hundred miler, and I got 75 miles and I got bad blisters and I had. And it was after that, that I really kind of started talking to people and reading any, any blog I could find, you know, finding anyone who would tell me anything they could about ultra marathon and training and trying to piece some of this stuff together.
And that's when I started my blog. So I have this well, I haven't made it paint in a few years, but I had a running blog mainly for my mother who says that I never used my writing a decree to write anything other than workbooks, but she doesn't care to read about SAP software.
So, so I started
writing that blog is, you know, race reports and yes, that first race that I ever finished was a black Hills, a hundred miler in South Dakota. It was pretty special to me being a native American. This is on sacred Indian land. And I wasn't going to quit that one.
So I put in actually put in training. I thought I did everything I could, and I still barely finished by the skin of my teeth. Right. I was walking the last two hours, terrible blisters.
So it's another one of those things where you take things up a level and you think, all right, now I'm here. I've got it. This is as high as it goes. And now I look back, I'm like, oh, that was probably only 10 or 20% of the training and preparation that I should have done. And now I laugh at like, I can't believe, I thought I could run a hundred mile around 35 miles a week training.
So I did Western states back in 2013, 2014. And I put in six weeks of 120 to 125 miles a week training. And that was all, you know, in the heat, in the mountains. And so just to, you know, to look at something like that and say, okay, that's what I need to run my best. And then how did I ever manage to finish a hundred mile race and only 35 miles a week training, but you know, it's a, it's a learning process, right?
You just gotta. Have a community of people who can share information and knowledge with you, you and tell you like, yeah, that's pretty good, but you know, you might want that mileage. Maybe even double it if you want it have a serious performance. So yeah. It's just a learning process, man. And, and relying on people who who've done it and can guide you.
[00:45:38] Kevin Chang:
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Hydration and Nutrition
[00:45:51] Kevin Chang:
Wow, incredible. I mean, talk to us a little bit about the hydration nutrition strategies that you've learned, you know, some of the, the training blocks and stuff that you would tell your younger self now that you have more experience.
[00:46:04] John Burton:
Yeah. Yeah. You know, so much stuff is easier to find online now. So many blogs and race reports and just, you know, Google stuff. But like I had no idea obviously about hydration. I showed up with this tiny little bottle of water, but I didn't realize things like, as you become dehydrated, your blood becomes thicker and the thicker, your blood is the harder your heart has to work to pump that sludge .
And the slower you're going to run and the hotter you're going to get, and you don't have the water in your, and your blood to shunt blood to your skin to cool you off, right. With evaporative cooling.
So all these things that probably most of us realize like, yeah, you gotta stay hydrated or you're not going to be able to cool yourself. You have to stay hydrated or your heart's going to be working too hard.
It just never occurred to me. Like, I don't know, I'm not thirsty. I'm not going to drink. And, and then KC with you know, nutrition, like then I thought, okay, you need to eat. And so I would just pick one. I don't know if it was a particular gel that I liked and that's all I would take.
I just have a bunch of those gels. I didn't understand how. Different types of carbohydrate are absorbed into the small intestine through different transporters. Right? So I do realize that if you're just taking all one type of sugar, whether it's glucose or sucrose or alter dextrin, that you're kind of limited that there's the bottleneck with the transporters that work with that particular sugar.
But if you're eating a variety of foods and taking it in three or four different types of sugars, then you have three or four different transporters and you can get in, you know, three to four. Wow. Silver simplification, about three to four times as many calories or gram of carbohydrate into your muscle.
Yeah. So it just, you know, I knew nothing about the role of mitochondria, you know, creating, creating energy. And so now I realize that you need to do long runs to increase the number of mitochondria in your, in your blood and yourself, but then you also need to do high intensity training in order to strengthen those mitochondria so if you're just doing all long slow stuff, you're, you're leaving so much on the, on the table.
But yeah, if I could go back to my younger self and be like, idiot, drink, carry water with yours, or stricken and drink electrolytes maybe on a hot day. Right. And yeah, eat a variety of, of, of foods. Don't just eat that one jail the whole time.
Cause you know, that works for you and you know, with your training, make sure you're getting in the volume as well as the intensity, because you need both of those to, to maximize your performance.
So I do feel as probably if I could go back in time and tell my younger self, I might've been able to finish those first couple of hundreds instead of DNFing, but it was, it was the process and you know, you can't change it, so
[00:48:46] Kevin Chang:
Yeah. I mean, you learn your biggest lessons from, from failures
[00:48:49] John Burton:
I think so. I do think so. Yeah, because someone can tell you that. And I've done this before people have told me things. I'm like, yeah, yeah, sure. Okay. Thumbs up whatever. Or I've told my son or a friend, but yeah, you really need to get more sleep, man. Four to five hours of sleep. You' e sabotaging your training.
Your, your heart rate, your heart rate variability is, is off. And you're just, you're not going to be able to push. And studies have shown that, you know, if you get 10 hours of sleep, you can not only use your cognitive capabilities higher. You can run faster, run longer, jump higher, all of these things, but just someone telling you that you're like, yeah, yeah, I'll sleep later.
But then actually looking at your performance of when your sleep is bad, versus when you're getting high quality sleep and you have less stress in your life. I mean, wow, I'm really running well these days, I don't understand what it is so odd. And then you're like, ah, okay, I'm actually getting quality restorative sleep.
So, but yeah, you know, some of those things, you just have to learn. It doesn't matter how many people tell you, you know, you gotta do it yourself to figure it out. I think at least I do. Maybe other people have more reasonable and like, yeah, that actually makes sense. Let me try that. No, not me.
From Finish Line to Finish Time
[00:49:59] Kevin Chang:
Well, I was just going to say, we talked to our athletes all the time about finish line or finishing time. And, you know, you, those first couple of races, it was finished line. You were trying to hit the finish line. You were trying to make it you know, before the cutoff, but eventually you started hitting some, a fantastic finishing time.
So I guess when did you realize that you could compete with some of the top of the top and you know, how, how did you push your training? How did you encourage your training so that you could make sure that you could, you know, finish in times that you were proud of.
[00:50:31] John Burton:
Yeah. Yeah. I have to give a little, I don't think about this a lot, but I do realize where it came from and I have to give credit and a lot of thanks to the Quicksilver running club. So I joined this Quicksilver running club and at some point they decided there's a guy Named Adam bloom, who he's a serial entrepreneur Casey kind of like yourself.
He had some different companies that he's, he's sold off and things that he's working on. And at one point he had this company called row mobile. And the idea was back in the days when you had Nokia phones and Blackberry phones and apple phones, iOS, Rim, you had all of these different operating systems.
And if you wanted to write a native app for a phone, you had to write it on four or five different operating systems. And so he came up with this concept of you just write the code one time and this tool then translates it to all five operating systems. And he sold that off to a, I don't even remember who sold it off to, but he made a lot of money.
But so when he was starting that company. He sponsored a race team for Quicksilver running club. So we had the Quicksilver running club and then we had this USA TF or Pacific USA TF running club. And he got us all of these matching singlets, his role, mobile company logo on there, and Motorola that's who he sold it to.
But anyway, so then I started, you know, we, our goal was to win this national championship, but this grand grand Prix of altar racing. So there were probably eight or 10 races on the calendar that season. And you'd send a team of four or five people at each race and you got points for how high you placed.
And our goal was to, it was just a men's team at that point. Now we have both men's and women's, but we just wanted to win them. The PA USA TF grand Prix series. And so I started training with a number of other runners like Adam. And there was another guy Sean Lang, who was very instrumental and Pierre Eves Q2, a lot of these guys are still running.
And I was looking, you know, asking them like, Hey, you know, what are you guys doing for training? And how many days a week do you run? And what's your weekly mileage? And their answers were all very different from mine. I'm like, wait, you're not running three days a week, 35 miles. And Sean's like, no, I'm running 75, 80 miles a week.
And that's when I'm like, oh man, these guys are running twice as much as me and they're being much more consistent. And so for me, that was, you know, an opener, a game changer, whatever you want to say. And I, I made a goal to run every day. It didn't matter how fast or how far I just wanted
to get out the door, you know, get over to Quicksilver, run my five mile loop.
I mean, go to the Creek trail, run three miles. I didn't have a minimum, but I think in the back of my head, like at least a 5k, maybe five miles, maybe eight miles a long day, maybe 10 to 12.
But then I was looking at the kind of training that they were doing. Again, this was before Strava. So you couldn't really stalk other people. You had to actually ask them, okay, what are you doing? What are you running? And he's like, oh, I'm doing 20 miles today. And then I'm doing a 50 K on Sunday. Wait, wait, what?
[00:53:23] Kevin Chang:
[00:53:23] John Burton:
I going to take the day off before the 50 K and yeah. So just hanging out with these guys and racing with these guys and seeing what they were doing and training and really realizing I needed to step my game up.
And when I started riding every day and I bumped that mileage up, I discovered for me that my body, if I run at least 55 miles a week, I run pretty well. And if I run 75 to 80 miles a week, I can throw down some good results. And anything above that, you're playing that game of marginal gains versus getting injured.
Right. So the curve kind of flattens out and yeah, you might be able to get a little more performance if you do a hundred mile a week or 120 miles a week, but you're also really raising that risk of injury.
And that's something that it took me a while to understand that I can get by with 75 to 80 miles a week and still have some good results. I don't necessarily need to put in those a hundred, 120 mile weeks. It's slightly better if I do. But then the, you know, the risk of injury increases exponentially.
But yeah, just that, that process of hanging out with those guys and seeing what they were doing. And so I did this Aloni, so Loney 50 case. My favorite race it's usually on or near my birthday every year. My birthday is May 19th and it was always May 18th, May 20th, May 19th.
And for people listening on the podcast, who aren't from the bay area, it's a pretty tough 50 K race, eight or 9,000 feet of vertical gain. It's all in rugged lonely wilderness point-to-point race. And I went on in that race and I gotten in really good shape, but had some results and I'd decided I wanted to win the race.
And so I went out on the opening, climb with my teammate and front of me. who many people in the bay area, you know, he's a little older runner, I think, in his fifties, but he's still super fast, faster than me and, you know, wins races and just throws down.
And he and I were, were running up this hill together, often the front in the lead. And I told him, yeah, today's my birthday. And I'm planning to win. And he looked at me and then he just took off sprinting and drop me, never saw him again, the whole race. He beat me by 15 minutes, but, but I finished second in that race.
And I think I was, you know, my goal was to I'd run it before in five hours, 45 minutes. And I think that day I ran right around five hours. It might've been a 5:01 or something.
[00:55:35] Kevin Chang:
[00:55:36] John Burton:
And that's when I realized this is a stout time. I finished second, the only guy who beat me with John Paul and some of the guys I finished ahead of are guys that I've respected as much stronger, much faster runners.
And I wrote a blog. A race report in my blog, which essentially said, you know, I actually feel like a real runner. Now. I'm not an imposter. I'm not this, you know, kid who would run with his dad and be struggling in a 5k and pretend to that and hurt himself just so he could stop running and have an excuse to quit.
Like, I, it was the first time I really thought, wow, you know, I can do this and I'm, I'm not an imposter. I'm not a fake, I'm a real runner.
And I, you know, it's just the confidence of saying that out loud and writing it in a race report for everyone to read is sort of this cathartic effect that, alright, I put a stake in the ground. I've said I'm a real runner, and now I've got to prove it. I've got to keep training and keep backing it up.
And Yeah. So that's, for me, that was the turning point of being the guy who doesn't finish racist to the guy who goes out, thinking he can, he can do well, or, you know, finish the race, maybe not win it because, you know, we're all getting older and I'm 48 now.
And my days of winning races might be behind me, but I can still, you know, go for PRS or go for fast times or just even just.
Nowadays for me, it's not about a particular time it's about moving well and having a good race, right. Putting in the training and the preparation and execution so that you're actually enjoying it. Moving fast, having fun and not feeling like you're dying.
I've discovered that's actually more enjoyable than. Being miserable the whole time getting to the finish line. And I'm never going to run another one of these stupid races again, you know, why not run the same time, but have it be a fun and enjoyable chat with people after, you know, take some pictures afterwards?
Like, yeah, that was great. So I guess priorities priority shift. I'm still a competitive guy. Don't get me wrong, but at least I'm sort of realizing that I'm not going to go with it because I'm not going to be the fastest guy to every race I do, but you know, that's fine.
[00:57:43] Kevin Chang:
And, you know, not every race has to be your goal race. There's, there's different reasons for every run. There's different reasons for every race. And, you know, you touched on a few points that just wanna definitely echo, which is consistency and commitment and also community,
[00:57:58] John Burton:
[00:57:59] Kevin Chang:
You probably wouldn't have been able to achieve these great highs without the commute.
[00:58:04] John Burton:
Definitely, definitely would not have.
[00:58:06] Kevin Chang:
Pushing you along the way teaching you new techniques and new things along the way. So,
[00:58:11] John Burton:
[00:58:11] Kevin Chang:
That's fantastic. I love that.
The Barkley Marathon
[00:58:13] Kevin Chang:
Well, let's talk about the Barkley Marathon. I definitely want to dive into it, you know, I mean, you definitely, you have a great blog post about your whole adventure, but what our audience to know, first of All what is the Barkley marathon for those who have not heard of it, and then your involvement, how you got into it and tell us about your ex.
[00:58:32] John Burton:
Yeah. So many people have probably seen the documentary or the Netflix. If you haven't go watch that on the Barkley marathons, but essentially it's this a race in Tennessee is old school race where you're not allowed any GPS or you can't wear your own watch.
You're you're issued this $10 Walmart watch and you can bring a, a compass and they have a map which they unveil right before the start of the race. And then you have to copy it down and create your own map.
But of course it isn't marked and most of it's not on trails. And so you're just wandering through the woods, looking for these books that are hidden under rocks or up in trees or in rivers and just all map and compass navigation and bushwhacking.
It's just so steep. So miserable. There's these Briar thorns. And I didn't necessarily fall or remember falling. But when I, so the one time I did the Barkley, I did not finish. I think only 14 or 15 people have ever finished over the 40 years. Most years, no one finishes.
But I got back to the hotel room after the two laps, and I was pretty happy, even though we were over time on the second lap, I did one lap in each direction. I felt like, yeah, that was something. But when I was taking a shower, I noticed these little like black dots on me and my chest.
Okay. Are these like ticks or mites or is this dirt? What is this? And I picked at them and most of them came out and I'm like, oh, that's so weird. I don't even know what those were.
And then kind of down on my stomach and I was not ripped at the time. So I had a little bit of a beer belly down there and I got this like infected pimple. I'm like, Aw, man, this is gross. So I squeeze it and pop it and think nothing of it.
A few weeks later, it's reinfected again. And this went on for a month, over four months where I kept having this infection. And so finally I put some Neosporin on it and the bandaid over it overnight, and I'm going to soften it up and then see what's going on. So the next day I take the bandaid off and I squeeze it really hard on my fingers. This giant wooden thorn comes out
[01:00:34] Kevin Chang:
[01:00:35] John Burton:
Four months after I'd done the race. I'm carrying this Barkley, saw Briar thorn in my skin for that long. And I still have the scar there. So anytime I want to remind her of the Barclay, I just looked down and see this little scar on my, on my abs from, from that thorn.
But. No. I did not finish the Barkley marathon, but I am proud to say I'm pretty sure I'm the only person currently serving a lifetime ban from the Barkley for showing up in a Cape and Speedo. So last, last, the conservative good old boy race director was, was not impressed by my American flag, Speedo and Cape. And I've not
[01:01:14] Kevin Chang:
there some great pictures on your blog. There's some great pictures on their blog. that. Speedo that's for
[01:01:20] John Burton:
I have not been invited back. I don't know what the deal is, but in his defense, I'll say last does have a sense of humor. So at the start of the race, he gave us all these lanyards and they had these heavy metal emergency beacon with a red button. And if you tap that, I guess twice, maybe then it summons rescue personnel.
So handed one to every racer and I'm looking at the thing in the car and I'm like,
well, I don't even see where the battery goes. Like, I'm not sure this is real. I'm like, yo. I'm going to press it and see what happens. And I could just say it was an accident. Like I accidentally dropped it. So I click it.
You know, no light goes off, no alarm goes off, nothing happens. It's still quiet. I start seriously clicking the thing. And that's when I realized this is just a complete gag. This is not an actual emergency transponder beacon. It's just a piece of metal with a red click button on the top of it. That does nothing.
And then I apparently the punch is that he gave us shirts later and the shirts have a picture of a skeleton in the woods and the skeleton is holding that thing, clicking it, and it says help is not coming.
So to his credit, he does have his own quirky sense of humor. I think he's a good guy despite the ban, but the other thing, KC is those $10 Walmart watches that you have to wear because you can't wear your own GPS. You can't have a GPS, you can't even wear your own watch, the thing was so cheap that, and the first night when it started raining, my watch fogged up and I couldn't see anything.
So I had no idea like how long I've been out there, what time it was. Every time I looked at my wrist, all I see is this condensation on this cheap watch. Oh man, I, I was so furious that the other, you know, at that point you just got to laugh and like, oh, this, this whole race is ridiculous, of course this makes sense. You know, having this nonfunctional watch, oh, that'd be good times.
But the Barkley people always ask, you know, how do you get into it? And I actually don't mind telling people how to it. If someone wants to go for a run with me or washing my car or something, I'm happy to tell them how to apply, but it doesn't really matter cause you're not going to get in.
So I mean, you, you need the kind of resume. The last, the restrictor looks for certain things like have you done a 200 mile race and you know, finished in the podium or won it, you know, have you run across America?
So if you're you're a triathlete and you're, I call it, I'm a really fast triathlete. And you send in your essay, he gets, I think last time I checked seven or 800, these essays for the 40, 40 spots.
[01:03:52] Bertrand Newson:
[01:03:53] John Burton:
So you, you can send the email to the right email address at the right minute on the right day with the right format. And unless you have the resume, you're not going to get in. So that's what I tell people who are serious about doing Barkley is don't worry about the application process. There's people who will be happy to share that with you once. You're where you need to be.
But worry about putting in the work, you know, go out there and do some of those epic adventure races or 200 mile races, or self-supported runs or bike rides across America. And there's even a kind of, it's called a, we call it baby Barkley, but it's it's a smaller 50 K version of the Barkley that you can actually get into.
Cause he lets thousands of people in that one and it's mainly on trail. So they don't have to deal with going through the forest and having the park service cut off the number of people. But if you win that race, then you, you get an automatic entry. Or if you, you know, maybe second or third at that race, it'll, it'll catch his eye.
So that's what I would say. If you want to get into the Barkley is do those things. Because just sending the email. Okay. That's not gonna, that's not actually going to get you in the race. If you don't have the resume every year, he gives one spot to someone who is called the sacrificial version Virgin, and that's someone he thinks has no chance of finishing and just lets them in for fun. Right?
So he has the 39 elite athletes who, who honestly have no shot either, but maybe, maybe, and then he gives the one spot to someone who doesn't think has a shot at all the year. I did it that the one person who he thought had no shot, this woman had finished third place at the towel 200.
[01:05:18] Kevin Chang:
[01:05:19] John Burton:
It's not like, you know, I've run a marathon, let me in.
Even the sacrificial Virgin has to be someone who's legit and has a, and has a resume. So I know that's probably not what listeners want to hear if they're dreaming of getting into the Barkley, but sign up for the the baby Barclay and you still get an experience you don't get to do, you know, all of the Barkley, but I think you even get to do rat jaw or some of the signature really steep Briar climbs, and you get a taste of it.
So, and I think after that, if you still want to do the Barkley, then come talk to me, but chances are, you'll say no, that's good. I'm cool.
[01:05:54] Kevin Chang:
And you mentioned two laps, two laps out of five laps. Is that right. And then there there's like 20 miles each lap or something
[01:06:01] John Burton:
Supposedly 20 miles. But the thing is every year that someone has managed to finish the race last has made the race harder and longer the next year. But he still calls it 20 mile loop. So you can actually look at the maps that people have done year over year and how have they gotten longer and longer.
So realistically it's probably, yeah. The 26 miles for, for lap or per loop now. And yeah, if you do, if you do three laps, it's called a fun run and you, you get an official fund run finisher. If you do all five, then your official Barkley finisher. But as I said, I think only 14 or 15 different people I've ever completed it.
Some of them are completed a multiple times, but I think people say, you know, more people have been on the moon than finished Barclay, which is technically true. So I realized, I just don't think I have what it takes to finish that race without living there and training on the course and knowing it by heart, because you lose so much time.
But with, with a map and compass, you know, trying to navigate, I was running with Amelia Boone. Who's a OCR adventure racer in a world champion. And we finished the first loop and we found this book. They're called capstone. So basically it's just, the mountain has some rocks that are sticking out of the dirt.
Right. And so there's one particular rock and we found the book and we put it back, but there's, I don't know, 30, 40, 50 similar rocks, you know, for miles around and, and trees and there's cliffs. And it's just, it's super treacherous. And so we found the book and we went down the hill back to the camp. We probably spent some time eating, putting on warm clothes.
And then we regrouped and we turned around and did the loop in the opposite direction. So now we're going back to the book that we just found literally an hour ago. We'd been there we go back to the spot. We can't find the book. We can't find the stone two hours. We spent wandering, I think we're going in circles.
And like, no, this was a different rack. Cause that, that like in there is brown that green or you know, that pine cone wasn't there. And honestly, Two hours. And then finally, some other runners came up who were behind us and they're like, oh yeah, the books right over here. And I go, oh,
[01:08:10] Kevin Chang:
[01:08:10] John Burton:
So, so yeah, unless you really, it's not so much the navigation and the route finding, but even when you're in the right spot, if it's dark out, it was dark.
It was nighttime, it was rainy, foggy. We were freezing our headlamps just basically reflected the light of the rain and the fog. So the light didn't light up anything. It just bounced back into your eyes. So I'm like, all right, this headlamps, totally useless. Turn that off. So we're just winding around in the dark flipping over rocks you, you read this book.
So that's, that's, that's the Barclay. It's just, it's, it's fun. It's miserable. It's, you know, the best thing I've ever done. It's the worst thing I've ever done. And at this point, I'm, I think I'm good. I'll stick to racist, like Hardrock, where you can actually do some running and you're not winding around in the dark without a headway.
Worry that you're gonna fall off a cliff looking for a book.
[01:08:58] Kevin Chang:
Thankfully, you weren't still in your Speedo at that point. So I'm so
[01:09:01] John Burton:
Man, no, this to me a funny story, because I brought four or five different jackets and I told my crew, no, they each had different names, right? This is the super cool jacket. This is the world champion check yet. Right? This is the whatever.
And I get back to the car and we had probably a 15 minute argument over what jacket I was going to wear when we went back out and they made me wear every jacket by I'm bundled up like the Michelin man, I can't move my arms.
And I was still freezing out there and people were DNFing who had on Gore-Tex jackets and, and base layer. And so I think at that point, it's more about, you need to be moving, eating calories and moving to produce heat, because if you're just standing around in the cold, it doesn't matter. You know, how much gear you have on you're going to be freezing.
So yeah, I might as well been wearing a Speedo cause even those five jackets, weren't really getting the job done.
[01:09:56] Bertrand Newson:
And JB, did it make your experience a little better that you had an accountability buddy? Someone here from the bay area, someone who had, you know, a lot of you know, experiences that accomplished endurance athlete versus doing that, you know, kind of out on your own?
[01:10:08] John Burton:
Oh yeah, for sure. I would probably realistically, so full disclosure, I bought compass. I bought like three campuses, but most expensive compass, but one that went on the phone and it had an emergency compass tied to my pack. Cause I'm like, if I lose this compass,
I've got another one. I'm good. And I took all these courses on how to navigate with map and compass and how to do dead reckoning and like, oh yeah, I've got this.
I get out there in the dark. I had nothing, like, I don't know how to use these compasses. Like I can't see my own, this is useless to me. Cause I was in a total, totally different environment where I didn't have my landmarks. And when you're just in a forest, every tree looks the same. There's no, there's nothing to get as a reference point.
So having a compass to me was useless. And so I actually did not use my compass or my map. Really. I just kind of followed, well, obviously look at the map and follow the contours. But having been there with other runners. So there's another runner. Who'd done it before this guy, Jody. And he was nice enough to allow Amelia and I to run with him, at least until he dropped us going down a rat jaw and you have to go through this tunnel through the prison. And we overshot Neely and I overshot the turn. And so we lost contact with him.
But for the time that we were running with him, that was a godsend. Just having someone who knew the chorus had finished a fun run before. But then when it's just Amelia and I on our own, we started saying, well, maybe we should wait for Johan who's, you know, behind us.
And he might know the way we we definitely had some help there. And then once mega Gouda role was, and in Indian Keith to other runners who helped us find that book once the four of us teamed up and then we found Jamil Curry, who was a famous filmmaker and blogger. And he was actually, he's done this race five, six times, I think.
And he was lost. He was sitting on the wrong, the wrong capstone, you and a burrito. And like, I can't find the book. I'm like, well, that's cause you're nowhere near where the look he's doing it's over on this other Ridge.
So yeah. I mean, yes, it helps to have a veteran, but even the veterans would get lost out there. But yeah, five, five sets of eyes are probably better than one. So I definitely felt better once we were in a group, including some veterans who'd been on the course.
If I was just out there by myself, I would probably still be, I was here by myself. I would not be in Tennessee. I might be in Kentucky or some other state, but
[01:12:35] Bertrand Newson:
As long as it ended up inside the prison, you know, that would be,
[01:12:38] John Burton:
yeah, well have thought about it.
I'm like, Ooh, it looks nice and warm. And if I wonder if I can get a room for the night, what cell block us sees that open?
[01:12:49] Bertrand Newson:
[01:12:49] Kevin Chang:
So JB, what are you training for now? Do you have any races up on the horizon? Is there anything that you're, you're working on?
[01:12:57] John Burton:
Yeah, I've been I was super excited about going back to the black Hills, which was my first a hundred mile race that I finished and I was going to do that on, on June 25th. And I, I spent three weeks up in Tahoe. At a, friend's a condo at Squaw valley or Olympic climate family is it's named now altitude training.
But unfortunately I'm having a problem with my right leg that I'm trying to work on it. I don't know if it's a hamstring related or calf related or knee related or maybe all of the above. So, you know, I'm doing the dreaded strength, training and stretching and foam rolling.
That's another thing I would go back and tell my younger self is, you know, you can do all these great workouts and build up your engine, but it's like putting a souped up turbo engine and an old junky car.
If you're not doing all the other stuff, the, the cross training and the foam rolling and stretching and working on the tight hips and working on the weak glutes and muscle activation, Hey, you put that turbo engine in that old car and it's just gonna blow it apart.
And so I think that's what happened is I've really focused on the the power and the lungs and the top speed, but I've, I've neglected the nuts and bolts and the things that keep the car together, so. I'm working on that, but.
So I did not go to do that black Hills rice, but Casey looking at the positive side, it gave me a chance to go up to Western states and pace and crew, a good friend of mine, a guy named Lauren Lewis. Who's part of their Quicksilver running club, a local boy. And he paced me in 2018 when I had done Western states, he did the last 40 miles with me.
And so I had been coaching him or mentoring him, I guess is probably a better word. And I'm preparing for Western states because he'd done it once before. And he did just under 29 hours and he wanted to see if he could maybe do 24 hours or improve his time.
The Car is Far Away
[01:14:39] John Burton:
And so we put in all the training, we got him where we thought he needed to be. He was actually beating me on training runs. You know, we did a 5k downhill run and he beat me about 15 seconds. So I knew he had the, the speed and the legs for it. It was just a question of, you know, if he could handle them, the nutrition and the heat and all these other intangibles.
So I went up there and we were accruing them and we were excited to see him that, you know, the first Robinson flat, which is like 50K, 32 miles into the race. And he came in and looked like shell of himself. Like there was nothing there. He just cooked himself, overworked himself, you know, I guess running way too hard in the, in the high country at altitude, in this rough terrain.
And so that's when I go, okay, so 24 is probably out the way now we just need to get them to the finish line. And so we were at mile 50, the next spot we could see them. We started seeing people who had been riding with coming in and he's not there yet. And then we do the online tracking and he's still two eight stations away.
[01:15:39] Kevin Chang:
[01:15:39] John Burton:
So like four hours later, he comes in and yeah, good news. We're all going home. You have the day off dropping out of the race. And of course we, you know, being the, the crew and knowing that that's, it might be what he's saying, but it's not what he means.
Sadly, you know, we didn't park the car here. We left the cars at the other aid station. We walked here, you know, some bullshit. I like, but good news. I've got my my water bottles are on and my running shoes. And I'm gonna run with you from here from Michigan blast before still. So the next seven miles we can, we can talk about it and you can tell me, you know, everything that's bugging you.
So we did that and we got to, to the high school mile 62, and then Erica Mehrtens, his other pacer did the next 20 miles with him down to the river. And kept him moving. He started passing people, even when I was hiking with them. I think we passed six people. And then with Erica, you passed another nine and another six.
And then when I picked her up for the last 18 or less 22 miles, I guess it was nighttime, it was cooling off. And he was starting to recover from his nausea and the heat and the altitude and all this stuff. And he started doing some actual running and like fast running, I mean, okay. Nine minute miles on, on mountainous trail.
We passed 20 other runners, including their Pacers, those like 40 other people. It just the five mile stretch. And then the next section, he passed 14 more people. And then he ended up moving up from 180 third place, 109th place. And I think he negative split the second half of the race, or it was very close.
And like I said, at some points, I was wondering like with my gimpy leg, am I even going to be able to, you know, he's running down the the pave, there's like the last mile where you, you run down to this high school track and he's flying down there and you know, he's throwing his flashlight and there's water bottles.
I got to stop and pick all this stuff up and I'll try to catch back up to him. I go, God, I can catch that cop flying so fast. And so, so yeah, you know, sometimes they, you have a train, you train for something and you set a goal and it doesn't work out, but then you find something else.
And I wouldn't trade that for the world being there. I know it, wasn't his sub 24 goal that he had in mind, but. Seeing that he was, you know, had died on the course and wanted to quit and that he was able to come back from that.
And, you know, I talk a lot about there's no, no shame and failure. It's fine to quit sometimes. But there are other times when you should be ashamed to quit, like if you still have something in the tank and there's nothing wrong with you, you just went out too hard.
Well, then that was your mistake. You need to suck it up and deal with it and finish this darn race. And he did. And just that hard running at the end of the fast running effortless running, we were just having a blast and high-fiving each other and whooping and hooting and hollering. I think some of the other honors might've been annoyed, you know?
Cause you're suffering, you feel like you're dying. And then this jackass and his buddy come running by, this is great. High five. We got a couple of, looks like a nightstand man. Just get out of here with that. But yeah, so I was thrilled for Lauren and I was, I was glad that I was able to, to be a part of that, but Casey, I'm going to see if I can get my, my leg healed up and get out to Colorado.
On the 30th of this month for a hundred mile race, it it's similar to Hardrock, but it's it's an off-brand version of hard track. It's called Ooh, Ray, 100. So hard rock. You need to get into a lottery and it's super hard to get into the race and I didn't get in this time, but hooray, anyone can sign up for, and it's actually harder than hard rock.
I think Hardrock has 30 or 33,000 feet of vert, but Uber has 40,000 feet. And so if I can get this
leg even halfway, halfway working don't tell my PT guy over it, competitive edge that
He said I could do a little writing. I'm not sure. A hundred miles and 40,000 feet averse. That's what he had in mind.
But I might give it a shot if I can make a little more progress on, on this getting this lake shored up.
[01:19:32] Bertrand Newson:
Well, you're in good hands with the Dr. Vandy and team over
[01:19:34] John Burton:
[01:19:35] Bertrand Newson:
Big fans of theirs. Yeah,
What a wonderful, wonderful podcast, great storytelling and great tips. Great takeaways for when does that apply to the everyday blue collar runner as well? This was as much as the long running endurance trail enthusiast or a marathon runner. And thank you for that, Jen. We really appreciate it. We really appreciate your time
[01:19:56] John Burton:
Man. Thanks for having me on guys. And yeah, I guess the, I would say the big tip here is, do not show up in a Cape and Speedo because nothing, nothing good is going to come from that. You know, everyone knows this stuff about, don't try something new on race day or Coach "B", you know, don't take a hot shot if you've never had one before.
I think I heard you mentioned that, right? So I think, I think the listeners know all the basic stuff, but this is the advanced class. Do not show up at a Cape and speedo. If you want to have a good race.
Where to Find John
[01:20:27] Kevin Chang:
Where can people find you? If they're looking for you, if they're looking to connect,
[01:20:31] John Burton:
The Guadalupe garbage dump. I'm not online. I'm not one of these, you know, I know community is big, but I'm not the online community guy. So you're not going to find me on Facebook or Twitter.
But if you want to find me, I'm always out training at the garbage dump by my house. It's off of Coleman and Guadalupe road.
Some of the best trails for
[01:20:49] Kevin Chang:
That's right. That's right over here
[01:20:51] John Burton:
there. You got it all all to yourself. running.
[01:20:54] Kevin Chang:
As awesome. And maybe we'll get you to write some race reports and whatnot for RaceMob or get your blog restarted and stuff.
[01:21:00] John Burton:
You know, I'd love to do that. That would be a good impetus to get me a blogging again, is if I do manage to make it to the starting line of a race report, I'll I'll write something that you guys can throw up on the, on the blog here over at RaceMob. Yeah, that's great.
[01:21:11] Kevin Chang:
We would love it. We would love it.
[01:21:13] Bertrand Newson:
[01:21:14] Kevin Chang:
Thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you so much
[01:21:16] John Burton:
Ah, thanks again, guys. This is great.
[01:21:17] Kevin Chang:
Fantastic. And I'm sure that this is just the start of the longer conversation. So thanks so much,
[01:21:22] John Burton:
Sounds good. See you out there.
[01:21:25] Kevin Chang:
[01:21:25] John Burton:
All right. Bye guys.
[01:21:26] Kevin Chang:
Well, I hope you enjoyed this episode of the RaceMob podcast. Check out all of the show notes or find a running buddy online at RaceMob.com. Please subscribe to us on apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts and leave us a review until next time.
Keep on moving.