Last weekend in Katowice, Poland, Mike Morton and Connie Gardner represented the US well at the 2012 IAU 24 Hour World Championships. “Well” is not quite the right descriptor for each of their performances, as they both set the 24-hour American record for their respective genders. Mike Morton ran 277 km, 543.73 m, which translates to 172.458 miles. (The previous record was held by Scott Jurek at 165.705 miles.) He also won the race, set a men’s masters 24-hour American record, and assisted the men’s team to a third place finish. Connie ran 240 km, 385.85 m, 149.368 miles. (Sabrina Moran previously held the women’s record at 148.430 miles.) Connie placed second, also set a women’s masters 24-hour American record, and helped the women’s team to championship title.
iRunFar contributor Duncan Larkin conference-called Connie and Mike on Thursday, once they were back on US soil. In this interview, learn about how long Gardner has been chasing the American record and if she’s content now that she’s got it, what Morton and Gardner thought of Poland and the venue, how their feet held up, and where they are headed next with their running.
New 24-Hour American-Record Holders: Connie Gardner and Mike Morton
iRunFar: Thank you very much, both of you, for doing this interview with iRunFar. Congratulations to both of you guys for American records and masters American records in 24 hours. Well done.
Connie Gardner: Thank you.
Mike Morton: Thank you.
iRF: Connie, you’ve been running in the ultra scene for awhile, you’ve been tilting at the record for awhile. Now that you’re 49, is there a certain wisdom or toughness or discipline that comes out of being in the sport this long that allows you to realize this type of success?
Gardner: I think as you get older, you get a little more patient while racing. You’re forced to race smarter, so that makes for a more successful race. You have a lot more memories of tough experiences. Even racing marathons for over 30 years, you have a lot of memories. So in a race, you might think something’s bad, but I can always come up with a scenario where I’ve been in a worse spot. So I think that makes you tougher while you race. There are some advantages to being older, but you really have to be smart and start listening to your body.
iRF: Mike, how do you feel about that? You’re 41. I know you took a break from ultrarunning. How do you feel about being an older masters runner in the ultra world who’s set a record now?
Morton: First, I’m going to let you know I’m 40. Everyone is trying to age me a year. [chuckles] I don’t turn 41 for another couple of weeks, so I’m going to live it up.
Morton: I definitely concur with what Connie is saying. I don’t have nearly the ultra experience that she has long term, but I think you draw upon the increased experiences that you have. One thing that I think I’ve learned from having essentially lost ultrarunning for a huge chunk of my life, is once you stop the effort or quit a race, that’s forever. You never know when that’s going to be your last chance. So I spent a lot of years with some regrets of walking away just because I wasn’t having a good day. I’ll always put a lot of thought into stopping or quitting when I think I’m having a bad day.
iRF: Mike, there’s a lot of talk in the ultra community about the Ultrarunner of the Year award that’s handed out at the end of the year by Ultrarunning Magazine. Right now the community is agreeing that you and Timothy Olson are the frontrunners for the men’s competition. What are your thoughts on that?
Morton: It’s a prestigious award and I’m aware of it, but I don’t really put much thought into it. I thought back in the ‘90s when I won Western States, I thought, “Oh man, I’m a shoo-in for this now,” and I didn’t get it. So now, like I said, it’s prestigious, but it’s not the end-all-be-all.
iRF: Connie, you’ve come close to the American record so many times. How many times have you started out a 24-hour race thinking you had a shot at the record?
Gardner: Well, when you start out you have a plan, and the plan is to get the record. So at the start of the race, I have a pace I’m going to shoot for. In 24 hours, a lot of hurdles are thrown at you, and you just address each one. Sometimes you get to hour 15 and it’s too much, sometimes hour 18; there are little things that throw you off your pace. Sometimes you can get through, and sometimes you can’t. I’ve been in the range of that record, within a mile of that record a few times. I was right on it three to four times. So every time I run a 24-hour race, my goal is to at least get the record. You just never know what’s going to happen. I do the math and I figure I should be able to run in the 150s, I think, if everything goes well. But you know, that’s a pretty long run for everything to go well. I’ll still be shooting… for me personally, for some reason I think I can run 150 miles—in the 150s. I’ve just been trying to do that. Whether or not that ends up being a record or anything is an added bonus. I’ve always tried to see how far I can run in a day. I’ve done this for a long time even when I was a little kid. Now it’s getting to be like Mike was saying—you never know which race is going to be your last, especially for me as I’m approaching 50. It’s a lifetime of seeing how far you can go. I’ll be really disappointed if I don’t end up in the 150s someday. At least I know I couldn’t have tried any harder I don’t think.
iRF: Definitely not. After Sabrina Moran beat you at the national championships and she improved the American record, did you kind of think that your time had come and your chance had passed to set the record?
Gardner: No, because I was still thinking that I’m shooting for the 150s. I want the record to be in the 150s for women in the States, and I hope I can get it. I hope that’s me. That’s just where I want to be. So if she ran 149 miles, it’s kind of irrelevant. It’s more of a personal thing. If it happens to be a record or a good performance, that’s an added bonus.
iRF: Mike, do you feel like the rigors of Badwater and what you went through in that race to win it prepared you for Poland?
Morton: I think it definitely correlated and carried over just with coming up with a strategy. Eric Clifton helped me come up with a game plan for Badwater and it definitely helped. I never have taken an approach like that before where I had a milestone at checkpoints. Sitting down with Eric before Poland certainly helped; it gave me those milestones.
iRF: Tell me about Poland. What did you think of the country and the race itself—the course? Connie?
Gardner: The course, I thought it was pretty beautiful. The park we were running in was pretty nice. That was the most competitive 24-hour race I’ve ever been in. It was kind of exciting if you’re going to take it seriously; we weren’t the only ones that were taking it seriously. There were a lot of people who put a lot of time into this. So on the track, you don’t have just a bunch of people kind of halfway doing it. There were a lot of people who were very, very focused. You had the world record holder for men and the world record holder for women on this course. You have a lot of really legit runners. That makes it really special. The surroundings were nice. The cobblestones, I didn’t think they were bad for a good 20 hours. In the end my feet kind of hurt a little bit, and I don’t know if it was that or not. My feet don’t usually bother me. We had a perfect day. It was a perfect day, and it was a beautiful park. There were very nice people that we were running with. The competitors were real legit. Sometimes you go to ultras and they don’t seem like a professional event. It seemed like the standards were high here, which was kind of nice.
iRF: Mike, was your experience any different than Connie’s?
Morton: No, I think it definitely had that professional, competitive atmosphere. Everybody looked serious. The whole pre-race time from the opening ceremony to when we showed up at the beginning and set up our aid stations, you could tell that everyone was serious like Connie was saying. I think it was the European Championship, so there were some teams there that had some really lofty expectations. They weren’t there to mess around. They weren’t just people spending a weekend on a trail having fun; people were representing their countries and wanting to do good.
The course—I kind of feared it being a loop of a mile, but it was a magical loop. It seemed to be always constantly changing. There was some sort of a festival going on, and the crowd kind of changed at some points. People were cheering us on, and kids were giving us high-fives. I think it made the loop super tolerable. The running—I didn’t have a problem with the surface either. The only think I know I was dreading was the manhole covers; I kept having nightmares in the dark about slipping on one of those not paying attention. I didn’t think it was bad. I do think some of my slow recovery and soreness is attributed to that surface—the pounding.
iRF: Along those lines, how did your feet hold up in that race? Mike?
Morton: My feet structurally and mechanically are fine. I didn’t get any tendonitis or any compartment syndrome. The only thing I did get was from wearing a crappy pair of shoes at the start trying to work in the surface there with switched-up shoes. I probably shouldn’t have, as my socks balled up next to my toes. So my toes next to my big toes both are going to lose their nails. I normally don’t have any issue with that stuff.
Gardner: My feet are fine. At the end, those last few hours, they felt like they were getting beat up just a little bit, and then I thought, “Well, it’s the end of the race, so it doesn’t matter.” Then after, I didn’t change shoes or socks or anything. I didn’t have any blisters or tendonitis—no issues.
iRF: What’s next? Connie? What’s next in terms of where are you going in terms of your career, the record… where are you going now?
Gardner: I’m still not content, unfortunately, I wish I was. I think if I was in the 150s I’d be content. The next race I’m doing is a local race. I like the race director; it’s here in Cleveland. I’m just going to go do it relaxed. I’m not trying to accomplish anything. I’m going to do the North Coast 24 in a week. Then, I’ll take another one more seriously. I was thinking I’d really like to get to a 48-hour race. I don’t have much leg speed, and I think the longer the distance the better I’ll probably do. In the next year or two, I’d like to really focus on seeing what I can do in a couple of days (48-hr) or a long run. Someone was telling me the one in Arizona, Across the Years, might be a good set-up for that. I’ll hit the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler and JFK 50 miler this year.
Morton: I think right now I’m going to take advantage of being like Connie. My goal has been trying to get the American record in 24 hours. That was kind of what brought me back to ultrarunning initially. Now, I think I’ve got a pretty good base, my fitness is good, and I’ve been having some good 100’s. For the rest of the year and into February, I’m entered into Javelina Jundred, Ancient Oaks 100, and Rocky Raccoon 100. I’m going to try to shoot for a good Rocky Raccoon. I’m going to try to go sub-13 hours just because it’s on my bucket list. Javelina is kind of sketchy right now with the way the recovery is going. Like Connie was saying, maybe I’ll just do a race and go have fun and relax and then get back into it. I also think I’d like to do the 48-hour thing; it appeals to me. I think there’s some added benefit. Like Connie, if you did a 48 hour, I’m curious to see what would happen if you went back to the 24 hour. Doing the 24-hour stuff and then going back to the 100s, it totally changed my approach to a 100. It seemed—it’s a silly word to use—but easier. A 100 is 100 and it’s never easy, but after you’ve done a 24 hour, it makes it something you can wrap your head around a little bit more. That’s kind of where I’m leaning.
iRF: Thanks so much for your time and congratulations again!
Morton and Gardner: It was good talking to you. Thanks!