You may have heard of Candice Burt and her record-setting ultrarunning, and if not, you’ve likely heard of the 200-mile race scene that’s swept the U.S. — which Burt was pivotal in putting on the map.
Always an active person, Burt grew up on a farm in Langley, Washington, on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound of the state’s northwest corner, a 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle.
Surrounded by horses, sheep, chickens, dogs, rabbits, and 20 cats, Burt and her three siblings were creators of their own fun. They’d pretend they were characters in Medieval times or the U.S. wild West, ride bikes everywhere, and roller blade.
“I liked growing up on a farm. I love animals and plants. With that slower lifestyle, where you’re more connected to the earth and nature, you get a sense of life and death,” said Burt, who showed horses in middle school followed by running track and cross country in high school, where her love of the sport began. “I realized running had a community, and it filled my need to be active,” she said, signing up for the one- and two-mile distances and 300-meter hurdles.
Today, Burt lives in Boulder, Colorado, where her two teenage daughters go to high school. She also has a home in Tucson, Arizona, and said: “I fell in love with Tucson when I did the Arizona Trail in 2020. I had never really experienced the Sonoran Desert. As soon as I ran into it, I knew it was special — with big saguaro cacti, so much life, and lots of rainfall. I love the warmer climate and sunshine,” said Burt. Her kids weren’t thrilled about the heat, so they decided to settle in Colorado.
After Burt graduated from high school, she thought she’d pursue a medical career, but soon found herself more drawn to philosophy and creative writing. After 1.5 years, she changed course, going to massage school and launching a practice that lasted eight years and throughout her early motherhood. She’d returned to Whidbey Island after her two daughters were born, had several goats, made cheese, and had huge gardens.
“I sold stuff at the farmer’s market and grew my own vegetables. It was a really fun way to raise the kids through their younger years, because they got to see that process of how you grow food. We also had ponies they could ride,” she said. Burt had continued to run after high school, on the island’s roads and trails, using the process as an outlet and meditation for clearing her mind.
“Running balances everything for me, mentally and physically,” she said. Following her high school years, she ran a marathon, but she’d never run an ultramarathon before she registered for the 2010 Orcas Island 50k. The experience “brought back a lot of the camaraderie of high school cross country but it was better and longer. I couldn’t walk after. I remember needing to use bathroom that night and had to roll out of bed and crawl. I wanted to do it again, but not as painfully,” laughed Burt.
At the time, she was teaching sports massage at Port Townsend High School and wanted to become a physical therapist. She applied to Western Washington University but was denied entry.
“I was disappointed, because I always thought I’d go back to university. When that happened, I was at this split in the trail — I’d been interested in creating events, and I went that direction. If I’d gotten into the school, I wouldn’t have created any events. I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m glad it worked out the way it did,” she said. Also, at that point, the pace and scheduling of massage therapy was beginning to feel monotonous.
The synergy of events led to Burt launching the Bellingham Trail Running Series in 2012, in Bellingham, Washington, with five events, including a 10k and 20k at Fragrance Lake. “My goal was to create routes that weren’t necessarily a certain distance, but I wanted to use the coolest trails. As much singletrack as possible, an adventure like climbing across rocks for a bit, and being about the experience, not just splits,” said Burt, who created a point system where racers collected points at each event in the series, based on their finisher time, to encourage participants to do multiple events, which would dovetail into creating community through seeing familiar faces.
“I knew I wanted to do a wider range of things and boy did I find that with race directing, especially back in the day — I coordinated volunteers, made my own website, maintained the budget, made the logo and brand, got permits, and survived in a job that there wasn’t information online about how to. I learned a lot through those short races,” Burt said.
At the same time, there was no smooth progression, she said — her focus rapidly ramped up. Burt went from 10 to 100 miles per hour, organizing 20k events to a 200 miler after 1.5 years of race directing. In 2012, she ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile, where she’d spent a summer living with college friends, and wondered why no one was organizing a race that circumnavigates the large body of water. She wondered, Could I create a race here? But she hadn’t fully considered the effort. Her boyfriend at the time said, “Why don’t you just do it?”
Motivation ignited, she pored over maps and added up sections dozens and dozens of times until finding segments that were unrestricted for a commercial event. With no set distance in mind, the end mileage was 200.
There weren’t many other 200 milers at the time for Burt to study. In Washington, there was the Pigtail Challenge, founded by Van Phan, which offers a 200-mile distance on a 10-mile looped course. In Italy, the 210-mile Tor des Géants was the closest style to her vision, as a remote circuit, so Burt took note of the race’s amenities like sleep stations. “We couldn’t helicopter off a station to a peak, but could have one at a ski area. We started small, grassroots, and did the best we could. People were very excited for the race,” said Burt, who emptied her savings account to get the event off the ground.
Ten months after launching the event, 95 runners lined up at the start of the inaugural 2014 Tahoe 200 Mile, with a huge waitlist of athletes. At the time, plenty of existing timed running events offered looped courses with no mileage cap, but this was the first non-repetitive 200-mile event to launch in the United States. “It went off without a hitch,” recalled Burt, owner of the Destination Trail events company.
“The book ‘Born to Run’ had come out. There was a culture of long — 150, 200, or more miles — timed and looped events. At the time I created Tahoe 200 Mile, the scene was ready. I’m not sure [200-mile races] would have hit well 10 years sooner,” she said.
Ultrarunners were attracted to the mystery, lengthy experience, and community that’s woven into the multi-century distance. Throughout the creation period, Burt said, “I didn’t let any level of effort I had to put in stop me. There haven’t been that many times I’ve been that deeply motivated. It was the most stressful year of my life.”
With so many more trail runners eager to sign up for a multi-100-mile event, she knew she could create a second one. Buzzing from the successful race, Burt was driving home from Tahoe to Washington afterward and pulled over to buy a bunch of maps of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
“I wanted to include Mount Saint Helens and I knew Washington could rival Tahoe to be just as cool. It’s one of the few places in U.S. where you don’t need to connect trail systems by roads — there are that many trails that you can do entirely singletrack from one point to another in that national forest, utilizing places people have never been to,” said Burt.
As she drove, she didn’t envision time off, but thought about that next 200-mile course. “I have a tendency toward being a pressure cooker. When the pressure goes off, it doesn’t feel right and I have to add more,” she said.
Back home, she started the process right away, shuffling through 20 iterations of the Bigfoot 200 Mile before securing permits with fully approved and scouted segments. Of the ingredients to a 200-mile event, the start and finish are key, where there’s parking and a good vibe, as well as a hub to organize supplies with electricity and Wi-Fi, noted Burt. She also focuses on developing routes with little to no road.
Of the obstacles that popped up, she couldn’t get permits on the Pacific Crest Trail. “I was so disappointed at time, I thought it’d ruin the race. Sometimes an important thing to realize, when something isn’t working, is there’s always another option.” Burt found cooler trails through a wild area, that was no longer maintained by the forest service. Certain sections of singletrack hardly resembled a trail with so much overgrowth, but Burt took on coordinating the resurgence of 20 miles of trail.
“One thing that I think is really incredible is you can bring trails back to life. Over the years, we’ve done enough work and brought back to life the Klickitat Trail, an Indigenous path that got lost to time and funding from forest service. Those trails do finally pop out in Randle, Washington.”
Now, Destination Trail offers the Tahoe 200 Mile, Bigfoot 200 Mile, and Moab 240 Mile with another race in the cooker: a 300 miler in Tucson, which is lining up for a 2025 debut. The scouting has been going well, including nixing one section of trail she’d hoped to include.
“The trail was so overgrown, we were going a mile an hour bushwhacking downhill through high altitude terrain with really bad thorns and a burn area with precariously balanced trees. I may use this trail to create a Barkley-zona, an Arizona version of the Barkley Marathons — but it won’t work for the 300 miler. It took us 10.5 hours to do 15 miles.”
Burt has not only been scouting for multi-100-mile routes, but also pursuing her own vision quests. On November 5, 2022, she started running a daily 50k in pursuit of a world record, reaching 200 ultramarathons over 200 continuous days, totaling 6,400 miles. She finished the record on May 23, 2023 — only stopping out of a conscious decision to.
“I loved the simplicity because I learned I don’t need much to be happy,” she said. Her pursuit was rooted in a deep curiosity about training, physiology, and adaptation, given she’s always been interested in studying the human body, health, and exercise.
“If you’d asked when I started if I thought I could do that many days, I’d say no. At day 1, I couldn’t — but it took every day leading up to get to these points. When I got to 200 days, I realized there wasn’t the limit I thought there was. That was life-changing: If there’s not a limit, I needed to decide what day I was going to go to,” she said.
She was tempted to continue for a year, but other aspects of her life are important, too, including being a parent to two high schoolers, and she wanted to spend the summer with them, and work on her race developments. While the body can do 50k daily, in the long-term, Burt doesn’t think it’s optimal for training because it lacks variety and rest.
Regardless, “Learning that my body could adapt and get stronger even with that much mileage was an incredible discovery,” said Burt.
One of the biggest mental and physical challenges during the world record was managing winter weather. A polar freeze blanketed Boulder, dropping temperatures to −16 degrees Fahrenheit, and she faced mental fears as well as superficial frostbite following numbness in a few toes.
Following her world record, there was grief connected to saying goodbye to a protected period of life. “It’s almost like you’re in this different world than everyone else. To do that much running and be that focused, you have to quiet the noise that’s not important. I was completely focused on the runs, being there for my family, and work. Beside those three things, I could let everything else go,” she said. Like, not consuming or reading comments on social media. Burt was also relieved to reintegrate other daily activities and to have the energy to enjoy those.
At home, they have four dogs and a cat. Her daughter Marina is a singer, plays the cello, and had her first opera performance. Along with her other daughter Stella, a painter and artist, the trio spent the summer enjoying theater performances, movies, art museums, shopping, dining out, and perusing bookstores. Burt balanced the warmer months with running, finishing the Creede 100 Mile in August 2023.
Next year, Marina graduates from high school and wants to go to language and art school in Japan, so they’re planning a trip out. Stella is getting her driver’s license.
Burt is planning a run across the U.S. in September of 2024, so she’s road-mapping the crew and plan. In 2023, Burt helped crew another athlete with the same vision, Jenny Hoffman, who traversed the U.S. by foot, setting a new record of 47 days, 12 hours, and 35 minutes.
“It was cool to see the grit and strength she has, to see how this could happen, and to be a small part of her journey,” said Burt, who had a goal to break the world record. “To break her record, that would be 65 miles a day, which would be like doing double what I did this year with the 50ks, but only for under 47 days.”
While Burt’s journey has evolved over time, she continues to be the person who grew up playing on a farm, full of self-directed fun and creative ideas for adventure that she can share with others.
She said, “People want an adventure and an experience, not just the competitive side. I hope the community side is what I achieve with what I do.”
Call for Comments
- Have you had the opportunity to meet Candice Burt or run any of her events?
- Do 200 milers appeal to you? If so, why?