We caught up with 12 year Ultra running veteran Michelle Barton and here’s what she had to say about all things running.
TGN: Thank you for stepping into the spotlight and sharing with our readers. What is your main discipline or sport that you participate in?
Michelle: Ultra Running, for 12 years.
TGN: Wow, so I guess that makes you a veteran of the sport. What area of the country do you call home?
Michelle: California, USA
TGN: We’re curious, when you’re competing what class do you compete at?
TGN: OK Michelle, for the athletes and readers out there, what’s it like to compete as an Ultra Runner at the professional level?
Michelle: Since I live in Southern California, I can train and race year round. I love to race often twice a month at minimum. Since I race frequently, some races I use as long runs and others I focus on racing hard.
TGN: Using races as long runs? We’re thoroughly impressed. So Michelle, what made you decide to be an Ultra Runner and how has affected your life?
Michelle: There wasn’t a point in time where I decided I was going to be an Ultra Runner. It was a very natural progression. From a young age of 3, my Dad Douglas Malewicki used to take me backpacking in Yosemite for a week at a time. Those memories are the most vibrant and vivid when I think of my childhood. Hiking all day with a pack, setting up a tent by a pristine lake, and making snow cones from a package of Kool-aid. Since I was exposed to nature mountains and trails at such an early age, the mountains are in my blood, my DNA; they are part of me. I do not wish to ever live without being immersed in the wilderness, far away from the concrete jungle.
Michelle: Ultra Running has affected my life in the best way possible. I have had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people that I will be forever friends with, Ultra Runners have an amazing camaraderie and I was instantly drawn to that aspect of the sport. I started running in 2000 and ran my first ultra San Juan Trail 50k in March of 2002. The following year my Dad ran his first ultra at the age of 65, it’s funny because my Dad exposed me to running and in turn, I exposed him to Ultra Marathons. I started out by racing short trail distances with the Big Baz Winter Trail Running Series in the Cleveland National Forest, the series culminated with a 50k so I ran it and placed 2nd to my amazing friend Darcy Africa. I was hooked. In 2004 I had the opportunity to meet Dean Karnazes and knew I wanted to go further in this sport.
In the beginning I ran a lot of 50ks, 50 milers, some 100ks, and a handful of hundred milers and then Badwater in July 2010. After Badwater, I started racing mostly 50ks or shorter because I like to run fast and race more frequently and it doesn’t take as long to recover from a 50k or a 50 miler. Hundred milers are a whole different ballgame, I never really got the gist of that distance until recently on July 5, when I ran Sinister 7 100 mile Ultra in Alberta Canada, together the entire distance, with my Vitargo teammate Majo Srnik. Two weeks ago we ran Lost Soul 100 in Lethbridge Canada and focused a lot more on racing it. Even though I have run 6 hundreds including Badwater, most of the time I blew up at mile 80 from going out too hard. Now I have a better understanding of ‘hundies’ and how they work. My nutrition is dialed and the legs and mind are stronger. This is very exciting and new for me because in previous years, I was terrified of hundreds and blowing up at mile 80. There is so much variety in the sport of Ultra Running. A person has so many distances to choose from, so many different types of courses and terrain. It makes it easier to keep training and keeps racing fun with all the variety of races nowadays.
TGN: Wow, that’s great Michelle. It sounds like you have truly found our purpose in life and are running with it, no pun intended. So what are your biggest goals and aspirations for this season? Any long term goals?
Michelle: This season I focused on running more miles than the previous all while continuing to incorporate mountain biking, spinning, swimming and weights. I accomplished my goals for this season and that was to finish my first mountain hundie, the Sinister 7 and run another tough hundie, two months later I ran Lost Soul 100. In between my two hundred-milers in Canada, I ran TransRockies with my Dad age 75 and trained in Yosemite at elevation. My long term goals include focusing on 100 milers and running Badwater again. I plan on running a lot more Ultras in Canada. I plan to run the John Muir Trail next summer and I would love to race in Europe.
TGN: First off, congrats on accomplishing your season’s goals and finishing your first mountain 100. Your Dad is 75, and tearing up TransRockies? He’s my idol. Do you follow any strict training plans to help you perform at peak level on race day?
Michelle: I do not have a strict or conventional training plan per se, I typically train by how I feel or what sounds the most fun. If I know I have a hundred mile run in my near future I will increase my running miles and back down a bit from time on my mountain bike and cut back on gym time. If I know I have a 50k or shorter coming up, I incorporate speed-work, tabatas, intervals and accelerations, and tempo to get the turnover moving and breathing under control. Typically I always swim, I highly recommend getting in the water after a run because swimming recovers the legs amazingly. Only problem is the swim cap barely fits over all my long hair, so I have to wear two swim caps to contain it all.
TGN: It sounds like you have it pretty well figured out, unconventional or not. And we’d like to go on record saying you do have some impressive hair, it’s beautiful and makes you… you. Our readers would love to know, what is your biggest accomplishment as an Ultra Runner?
Michelle: My biggest accomplishment thus far was winning and breaking 5 course records in 6 consecutive weeks in the summer of 2007. The one week I had off racing I ran 75 miles on the Western States 100 mile course with my close friend Gordy Ainsleigh. Finishing Badwater in 2010 was a big accomplishment, winning the Javalina Jundred 100 in 2006 in 19:42 was huge, and winning TransRockies mixed division in 2007. Also running a 7:17 at Leona Divide 50 mile in 2009 and “chicking” all the boys at five of my ultras. Too many standout moments to name over the past 14 years.
TGN: That’s an impressive list of accomplishments, definitely enough to classify you as a veteran. So, tell us, what your scariest moment in Ultra Running is?
Michelle: A couple moments that were not pretty was when I had hyponatremia at the Leona divide 50 mile in 2006 and when I was peeing blood at the PCT 50 miler in 2006. I went back to both races a few years later and won and broke the female course record. The races I struggled at the most and/or dropped out of, I learned from the most. I learn to tweak my training, tweak my nutrition to liquids, tweak my mind to staying strong and positive and not let myself go to the dark side.
TGN: Scary. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?
TGN: Michelle, as you know, often as endurance athletes we find ourselves relying on a vast array of gear. In Ultra Running what are the necessities to compete at your level?
Michelle: Gear is a make or break when it comes to racing. The beauty of Ultra Running is it doesn’t require much gear, as compared to a sport such as triathlon. We need fuel, apparel, sunglasses, shoes and socks, hydration, and compression. The nutrition you put in your body, the shoes and socks that you wear, and the hydration system you choose needs to work all day and often times all night.
TGN: Agreed, whatever combination you prefer has got to be locked in come race day. As athletes we rely on our gear so often for results that we tend to become partial to certain brands or styles of gear, what are some of your favorites and why?
Michelle: I believe what fuel you put inside your body is the most important thing to compete at a high level. My choice of race fuel for the last 8 years is Vitargo. It is a patented carbohydrate with unique properties to give an effective loading of easily accessible muscle energy in the body. It tastes amazing and I can run 100 miles on Vitargo, having full energy levels. My favorite flavor is tropical. Grape and Orange come in second. I recover with Vitargo-POST. It is a brand new product and works unlike anything I have ever tried for recovery. I take it within 15 minutes after finishing a workout. After my last 100 which was a few weeks ago on Sept 5, I have no muscle soreness and no tweaks and a full tank of energy. Vitargo-POST has everything you need after a workout/race to help your body recover from the inside out. In addition to Vitargo I also rely on Saltstick by taking thrm every 45 minutes during my races, the stuff is great!
Michelle: Of course everyone is different when it comes to gear, shoes, hydration, and nutrition. Make sure you experiment and find out exactly what works best for you. My choice for apparel is hands down INKnBURN. I have been wearing INKnBURN for 8 years and l Love the fit, feel, performance, and style. I prefer to wear the INKnBURN shorts and Jog Bras when racing, they create the most amazing running apparel. I really love their “leaf-em-in-the-dust” design. Swiftwick makes an amazing line of socks, they are super comfortable and my feet are always in great shape after ultras. The Swiftwick Vibe Zero Socks are by far my favorite, they are thin, soft, and very durable.
For Hydration I use Nathan handheld bottles such as the Speeddraw Plus 16 and 20 ounces for racing. I also use the Nathan vests like the Firecatcher and Vaporshape for longer runs like Rim2Rim2Rim and all day adventures in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. They’re perfect when I need to carry more gear like a windbreaker, gloves, extra Vitargo, and a camera. I both train and race in Oakley sunglasses, the models prefer are the Radar Edge, Miss Conduct and Break Up. In addition I use Zero Point compression calf sleeves when racing 100 milers and all day runs in the mountains, they work amazingly and keep my calves happy for up to 30 hours. When I’m running Ultras I carry lighting in the form of Coast LED Lenser HP6 because it’s small, lightweight, only takes 2 AA’s, and is very powerful.
Shoes are of key importance, typically I run in New Balance 1400’s and am currently transitioning to Vivobarefoot. I am really loving the Vivobarefoot line and am currently wearing the Trailfreaks. Let your feet do their thing.
TGN: We’re huge fans of minimalist shoes, we’ll definitely have to check out the Trailfreaks. So if you had to pick just one piece of gear, your one go-to item to have with you on race day, what would it be?
Michelle: 20 ounces of Vitargo and dirt underneath my feet, oh and my iPod. I love to run with music!
TGN: Very simple, we love it. We’ve heard a lot of good things about Vitargo. You know as well as we do that nutrition is a very important factor when it comes to performance, what types of nutritional products do you use regularly?
Michelle: Simple. I only need one product for fuel and recovery. Vitargo and Vitargo-POST. By repairing and refueling your depleted muscles immediately following your intense training session, you will take advance of the highly publicized “anabolic window.” This brief window of opportunity is when your body will drastically absorb nutrients—much like a sponge to water. Vitargo will replenish your depleted reserves 63% faster than any other leading carbohydrate, leaving your muscles full, fed and fueled for your next workout. Vitargo is a patented molecular carbohydrate form proven to empty from the stomach faster and be absorbed into the body more quickly.
TGN: It sounds like you have your nutrition down to a science and have the support of a great product. We want to know, if you could have a Michelle Barton pro model and design your own product what piece of gear would you choose?
Michelle: Ultimately, I would love to design my own running shoe. I know exactly what I like and it would be amazing to have my own model. Dream come true.
TGN: That’d be amazing, as soon as you reach that dream we want to be the first on the list to test them. Deal?
TGN: Michelle, what races are you attending this season?
Michelle: I have raced 18 races this season, anywhere from 12k to 161k in distance and have a few more trail marathons still this season, a 50k and possibly another hundie, I hope!!
TGN: Amazing, what an incredible year you’ve had. We’ll be following the rest of your season closely so run hard. Our readers are curious, are there any races that are above your radar that you’d like to compete in?
Michelle: Yes, definitely. I love Canada and would like to run more races there. The mountains are the prettiest I have seen other than in Yosemite. I would like to run Sinister 7 and Lost Soul again….and possibly Fat Dog 120. I would love to race Badwater again because I love to run in heat, TransAlpine 8 Day, Iceland Run and the Crows Nest Pass Race in Alaska.
TGN: Wonderful, so now that you’re in the spotlight, what words of advice do you have for our readers?
Michelle: Most important is very simple: Keep it fun! Stay ‘outside’ your comfort zone. Continually challenge yourself ! If you are comfortable with 50k distance, then go longer next time. Incorporate SPEED at least once a week. Run new trails, travel to a new state or country to run, race different races and vary the distances. Don’t get stuck in the same training regimen. Do what you are not comfortable doing. It is the most rewarding.
TGN: Wow, those are some great words of wisdom, Michelle. Ones we will take to heart. Thank you again for stepping into the spotlight and sharing your amazing story with us. It’s been great getting to know you and learn more about what makes you move. Good luck on your upcoming races, we’ll be cheering you on the whole way.
See you on the trails!