Back in April, the US’s Geoff Burns ran a 6:30 in his 100k debut. Now, he’s taking his first shot at a longer off-road ultra at Sweden’s Ultravasan 90k. In the following interview, Geoff talks about his history with running, his progression through ultramarathons, and his race at the Mad City 100k in April.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Geoff Burns before Ultravasan 2016. How are you, Geoff?
Geoff Burns: I’m doing quite well, quite well.
iRunFar: You’re in Sweden.
Burns: I’m in Sweden.
iRunFar: Did you ever think running would take you to Sweden?
Burns: No, I didn’t. I can honestly say that.
iRunFar: What is your history with running?
Burns: I’ve been running forever. I kind of grew up with the sport. My dad is a huge fan and kind of instilled that in me. I grew up around it. I ran track and cross country through middle school and high school. I walked on to the cross country team at the University of Michigan and ran for a few years there. I actually got cut my senior year because I had a stretch of injuries and bad performances. I took a few years to reexamine and rework myself.
iRunFar: What were you running in college?
Burns: I was running long distance stuff like 5k and 10k. I was… I could stick it out through workouts and really grind it out but got injured a lot. I always knew after college I’d be a longer distance guy like marathons. I never thought about ultras.
iRunFar: Did you take a break from competition between…?
Burns: Yeah, so my senior year and my grad school year, I didn’t really compete much and then got to California for a job and started running a lot more. I mean, I still was training on and off. Then I started training seriously and rapidly moved up in distance. I ran a 25k trail race—Oh, that went really well. Then I did a half marathon, and that didn’t go so well. Oh, I should go further. Then I did another half marathon. Then I moved back to Ann Arbor and started training with Zach Ornelas who won the 50k championship a couple years ago. He was on the Doha team. He had just won Camusett and was like, “You’d be really good at this,” because we were just crushing long runs. I decided on a whim to just drive over to Mad City and signed up on the last day you could two days before. I’m going to go for it.
iRunFar: Had you run any ultra before that?
Burns: No, I hadn’t run a marathon. I went from the half marathon to Mad City.
iRunFar: Mad City 100k…?
Burns: No, the 50k. This was two years ago. Then that kind of opened the door for me. I just started running far.
iRunFar: A year later after your first 50k you ran your first 100k at Mad City. You went out for the first half on World Record pace. Was that the plan?
iRunFar: How the heck… you don’t actually run 3:03 or 3:04, or did you?
Burns: I was 3:04. The first lap… I was in really good shape. Training was going really well, and I knew I was in good shape. I knew I could probably take a swing at… I had this sneaking suspicious—I didn’t really publicize it—that I could get the American Record or go for it at least on a good day. I thought Mad City’s course might be a little too rough for it, but I was… I think I’m in this kind of shape and can definitely get the course record here. So I went out and felt really surprisingly good the first lap and just kept rolling and actually literally tried to hold back and was going faster and faster each lap. That was 3:04 with a bathroom break. Then I kept rolling. Definitely through 60k I was still crushing under the pace. 70k kind of leveled out a little bit. Around 77k I took another bathroom break and then I was zonked.
iRunFar: Parachute came out.
Burns: I was just fighting for every step. Yeah, I was just kind of rolling with the punches. My fitness all came together on that day really well.
iRunFar: During those last 25k were you thinking at all about anybody behind you? In the end, it was only four minutes. You went from a 3:04 to a 3:27.
Burns: Yeah, it definitely became defensive. It was… I honestly was at a point where I wasn’t sure if I was going to… even through 90k I could have hammered and still maybe got the course record, but it was one of those things where I didn’t know if I pushed any harder, if things were just going to go black. I wanted to at least run hard enough so I know I could put one foot in front of the other and finish. That’s what I did. At this point I don’t care. I’m in my own world right now. I was kind of oblivious to everything.
iRunFar: Does that make you want to perhaps be more conservative in upcoming ultras?
Burns: No… well… I don’t know. It’s hard. It was so cool because it was such a new distance that really suits me well. I’m glad I did that. I think you’re right—yeah, you’re right—I could definitely be a little more conservative in races now. That’s not to say I don’t think that I could still maybe in a few years go out that fast and keep rolling.
iRunFar: Now in a race like this weekend, there are obviously some very experienced runners and people who know the course. Are you going to take it as a cue if you’re in front of Jonas Buud at 25k and maybe…?
Burns: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I feel like I’m in a… I’m in different territory in this race. It’s on the trails, but it’s not mountains. It’s not dangerous trails, but it’s definitely outside my wheelhouse which is why it’s kind of exciting. Yeah, I’ll definitely be more cognizant of those around me.
iRunFar: You went on part of the more technical section of the trail today. How did that go?
Burns: It went well. I just kind of… I didn’t fall which was good. It reminded me… I’ve run on trails like that before. There are just a lot of roots and rocks. It’s not something that I can just blitz through. I definitely would take it… I tried to do some of the run today at what race pace would feel like and it was one of those things where I don’t think I could run Mad City pace on that. I definitely will be super conservative. It wasn’t something I was worried about breaking an ankle.
iRunFar: Nothing you couldn’t push though. You don’t have to be slow.
Burns: Exactly. Right. It’s kind of one of those things you kind of get through. It honestly feels like it’s kind of a speed bump….
iRunFar: A little limiter?
Burns: Exactly, a governor.
iRunFar: Which could be good.
Burns: Yeah. Who knows?
iRunFar: Because then you get out at 28k or so and still have 60k to go on pretty fast terrain.
Burns: Once we popped out of there at that… Mångsbodarna,… I put the wrong em-PHAS-is on the wrong syl-LA-ble. Yeah, once you pop out there, it looked like you could roll after that.
iRunFar: That gets you excited.
iRunFar: Is this your first race overseas?
Burns: Well, I ran the Doha 50k last year.
iRunFar: How did that go in terms of the travel and food and…?
Burns: It was an experience. That’s why I was actually pumped to do this was to learn that whole routine a bit more. Doha—I definitely didn’t hit it quite right. I didn’t sleep at all before the race. I’d go to bed every night and just lie in bed awake and was just off food-wise the whole time. Here, I kind of wanted to think, If I want to nail the World 100k, this is a good dress rehearsal to see how to come over, figure out the time change, get my biological clock in sync before the race.
iRunFar: How’s that going so far?
Burns: It’s a work in progress.
iRunFar: Haven’t nailed it yet?
Burns: Yeah, I’m a little bummed for the lack of sleep last night but optimistic for tonight. I think I’m going to hit it tonight pretty well.
iRunFar: Maybe cut back on the coffee…?
Burns: Yeah, but it’s soooooo good though, Swedish coffee.
iRunFar: It is. Swedish coffee means Swedish pastries.
Burns: Yeah, yeah, not good, but hey, when I Mora…
iRunFar: Do as the Morish?
Burns: Do as Gustav would do.
iRunFar: Cool. Great to meet you, Geoff, and good luck out there on Saturday.
Burns: Thank you. Thank you.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you—you’re doing orthopedic research. You can tell me… I’ve got some achilles problems. What is the structural integrity of an achilles tendon?
Burns: They’re very strong. I don’t know the exact strength of an achilles tendon, but we actually just did a study where we were breaking patellar tendons, and they were breaking… a half of a patellar tendon was breaking around 1,000 Newtons which is about 250 pounds. So double that… so about 500 pounds for a patellar tendon. The achilles tendon is way more robust than that, so you’re not going to snap it.
iRunFar: I’m just going to be in pain.
Burns: You’re just going to be in a heck of a lot of pain.
iRunFar: Thank you for that analysis, Geoff.
The second article in a two-part series about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.