Geoff Burns is the USA’s top-returning runner from the last IAU 100k World Championships, having finished fifth at the 2016 edition. In this interview, Geoff compares his fitness this year to two years ago before his strong run at this event, shares his thoughts on the men’s competition and how the race might play out, and talks about the psychological components of racing 100 kilometers on the road.
Geoff Burns Pre-2018 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Geoff Burns before the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships. How are you, Geoff?
Geoff Burns: I’m well. I’m well. Thank you.
iRunFar: You are the top returning member of the American men’s team. You finished fifth two years ago at Los Alcazares in a pretty good time, yes?
Burns: Yes, it was okay. It was alright. What was it, 6:38? It was a good performance. It was an interesting course. I had a non-ideal build-up for it. I had some injuries before it, so it was kind of abbreviated. I was very proud of it all things considered, but it was certainly not representative of the fitness I had leading up to Mad City 100k leading up to that six months prior.
iRunFar: So you didn’t quite have your perfect day there. How was your lead-up to this year’s 100k?
Burns: It’s been well. I’ve prepared how I wanted to prepare.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. You’ve done what you wanted.
Burns: I’ve one what I wanted. I wouldn’t change it.
iRunFar: What does that look like? What does your training look like at peak for a road 100k?
Burns: It’s very similar to marathon training. Maybe if I earn a post-race interview we can talk more specifics on training.
iRunFar: You’ve had a good block. You’re confident. Here you are. This course, I would say it seems you feel like you’re fitter than you were two years ago, but this is not a fast course.
Burns: Yeah. No, this is going to be really challenging. For the viewers who don’t know, it’s undulating. There are no flat sections. This isn’t mountains, but we’re in wine country.
iRunFar: It’s hilly here.
Burns: There are slopes. Where there are grapes, there are slopes, and the slopes, we run over. A 7.5k loop of never flat—always up and always down.
iRunFar: Someone ran the 7.5k loop section yesterday and calculated somewhere over 800 meters. So we’re coming up on 3,000 feet of climb over 100k which is more than most 100k (road) world championship courses.
Burns: That might be more climbing than Comrades Marathon in a down year.
iRunFar: But on par.
Burns: It’s really hard to gauge that. I’ve been trying to think about how to handle it. Even a course like Mad City where the U.S. National Championships are held has some big hills, but there are sections of flat where you can lock in. That’s one of the things that makes a road ultramarathon very different than a mountain ultramarathon is that sensation of cruising whereas there’s not so many gear changes that you’d have sharply ascending and sharply descending. But here, it will make for a very interesting and very dynamic race.
iRunFar: You’ve run a couple 100ks on the roads. Do you find it challenging to have to stay in that same gear a long ways? For me, it’s a nightmare scenario to have to run the same stride and same effort.
Burns: No, it’s hard, and it’s not easy, but I revel in it and love it. THat’s actually why I don’t like trails. I always tell people that my mind is exceptional at thinking in series but atrocious at operating in parallel. I feel like running trails, you’re operating in parallel and constantly switching gears and everything, whereas on the roads, you dial in and execute. The level of fatigue you get is very different than on trails. It’s a very different fatigue because it’s neuromuscular exhaustion that you deal with. It’s different, but I like it. It’s my preferred battleground.
iRunFar: Over your experience, have you focused in on what is neuromuscularly exhausted first? For me, it’s my hip flexors. Is there a point that you’ve found and worked on?
Burns: No, I think it changes every race which is one of the reasons why our sport is so beautiful. We are creatures constantly in evolution. The only thing constant is change. Every single outing has to be a creative endeavor in how to problem solve and deal with the specific challenge on that day. To answer your question, I’d say every race I’ve had has been something different getting to you that you just deal with.
iRunFar: Since the 100k World Championships two years ago, you’ve had a couple really good races. How about that 50 mile last fall?
Burns: Yeah, I went to Chicago to run the Lakefront 50 Mile and I had the outside goal of trying to run under five hours. I think I got fit enough to do it. I was very happy with my raining. It was actually my first ultra back after a long series of really frustrating injuries that caused me to pull out of Comrades. That was my first step back into the waters of ultrarunning. I think I got in shape to run under five hours, but the day, Mother Nature said, “No.” It’s a back and forth along the Chicago Lakefront and there was 15-to-20-mile-per-hour winds the whole way. It was 30 to 35 degrees (F) or 0 to 2 degrees (C), and there was at different points snow and rain.
iRunFar: It was a rough day conditions-wise?
Burns: Yeah, that’s tough to spend five hours in that kind of stuff. Anyway, I was happy with the effort and result, but it wasn’t quite as fast as I would have liked.
iRunFar: As someone who is probably never content with their results, you finished 12th at Comrades this year. I think that’s a pretty amazing result. How do you think it went?
Burns: It went really, really well. So 12th, for people who aren’t familiar with Comrades, top 10 at Comrades, you get a gold medal for being in the top 10.
Burns: Literally a gold medal—and at Comrades, that’s the ultimate. It’s basically like being on the podium. So to be 12th, you’re just outside that, but it’s still… It’s always that… “I’m so happy, but there’s a little bit more.” It was my first real go at it, and there’s a massive learning curve to that race.
iRunFar: Some of the guys you’ll be racing on Saturday have gone through that learning curve and have finished…
Burns: Bongmusa Mthembu (South Africa) has won three.
iRunFar: He’s won three, but there are a couple guys… the youngest guy on their team, I think he’s 37, so it’s relative, but he’s gone from the teens to the back half of the top 10. Who knows what’s next?
Burns: I think all the guys on their team are gold medalists. I might be wrong.
iRunFar: You might be correct. I think their youngest guy has just broken into that.
Burns: So there are a lot of gold medals on their team and obviously Bongmusa’s titles as well. That’s power and a power team.
iRunFar: It went pretty well for you?
Burns: Yeah, I was very happy, all things considered, first time out and a down run. The down run is hard to prepare for without having done one. I was, again, happy and hungry—happy and hungry for more.
iRunFar: Being happy and hungry seems like your state. I assume that’s how you’re going into Saturday?
Burns: Yeah, fifth last time around. Honestly, I think being in the top 10 at a world championship is a first goal. To do that would be great. The other thing I’d like to do is run faster. It’s tough.
iRunFar: You know when you nail a day. Faster is relative. It could be 80 degrees, warm, and it’s undulating.
Burns: It’s supposed to be storming and pouring rain for six hours.
iRunFar: Today was hot. Even place-wise, it’s hard to… there’s at least two former Comrades champs and a couple other who have been gold. There’s the 100k world-record holder from Japan.
Burns: You could make the argument that this is the strongest 100k field maybe every assembled.
iRunFar: Yeah, and then you have people like Giorgio Calcaterra who has won it twice, Asier Cuevas, Jose Antonio Requejo.
Burns: It’s thick, man.
iRunFar: Will you be content, as someone who seems to not always, if you had a really good race and five other guys nail it as well, will you be content with that?
Burns: Yeah, I’ve prepared as well as I wanted, too. You know in a race when you make the decisions you should make—if I answer the challenges that are presented to me well—I’ll know, whether that’s fifth place or 12th place. We’ll see on Saturday. That’s one of the beautiful things about the world championships like this. It’s about placing and about racing.
iRunFar: Geoff, best of luck out there, and I hope you answer some of those questions in the affirmative this weekend.
Burns: Thank you, Bryon.