Mike Morton is not a man you want to mess with. Anywhere. Anytime. That includes the Western States 100 course, where he took third place and set a master’s course record of 15:45:21 this weekend after a 16-year hiatus from the race. In the following interview, Mike talks about his hip injury that slowed him in the early miles, how his training trips on the course aided his race, what his race looked like, and where he’ll be racing in the near future.
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Mike Morton Post-2013 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Mike Morton after the 2013 Western States 100. Mike, what a run yesterday!
Mike Morton: Yes, it was a good day. Obviously, everybody’s goal was to win, but I’m pleased with the performance. I couldn’t be happier.
iRF: Sixteen years ago, or shortly after when you got hurt, would you have imagined coming back and running Western States, let alone so well?
Morton: Not seriously, but of course I fantasized about it when I was out running or I’d get in good shape and I’d think, Oh, I should do an ultra. Then I’d fantasize about running a 100-mile race or coming back to Western, but it was always… just didn’t feel like it would be reality until the last couple years.
iRF: You went up the Escarpment and you were so slow. I passed you going up and you didn’t pass me until mile 10.
Morton: I know. So basically I have to warm up my hip. I take my time to warm up. Something that makes it 10 times worse is warming up on an incline. That thing will just tighten up. So I just dealt with it. I knew it was going to happen. I didn’t think it would take me 10 miles to warm up, but…
iRF: What is the source of the injury? Was it a military injury?
Morton: It was a fall on a boat and then a bunch of compensation stuff with running. That’s kind of what led to it. Then they did a bursectomy of the hip. I still deal with it, but I can manage it now. I know when it’s acting up.
iRF: Onto your race yesterday. You’re in 15th place at mile 10, you just flew by me. Did you continue pushing the high country once you warmed up?
Morton: I settled into a groove. I wasn’t really concerned with where I was at mile 15. I knew it was going to get hot and everything was going to kind of slow down and it was going to be using strategy rather than forcing it in. I was comfortable with that. I was comfortable knowing that I was not in the top 10 and I’d just methodically keep working. My goal was… I stayed in Michigan Bluff to train. I knew that I was very confident with the canyons and I was very confident with Volcano Canyon and Bath Road. I knew that’s when I could really work it and I wouldn’t have to think. I could run based off memory. I ran Volcano Canyon probably 14 times last week. I knew I could go in there and fly when I could and back it off when I needed to.
iRF: You were probably around sixth coming through Volcano. At Foresthill there’s Rob Krar and D-Bo (Dylan Bowman). He said you came up on him and he didn’t have a chance to get a word out because he was shocked someone was running so fast.
Morton: Coming into Foresthill I knew I saw those guys. I knew if I was real efficient in the aid station that I could get out ahead of them and really hammer and feed off that. I did. Most of Cal Street, Hal (Koerner) kept me motivated because he stayed right there, so I kept pushing the pace. I think it helped. And then Rob, that guy is amazing.
iRF: When did he come by you?
Morton: We went back and forth a couple times through the Cal Street. He crossed the river and I was in the boat right behind. We walked up to Green Gate and kind of socialized for a bit. Then we swapped back and forth maybe two times. Then he went into a zone, man. That guy is an amazing athlete.
iRF: What, did he put 16 minutes on you?
Morton: Yeah, in the last 10 miles. What a guy. Those are going to be some splits that nobody ever touches.
iRF: Sick. You were talking about it before the race, how the sport’s really changed even if you run your best race. You’ve got to have contact because if you don’t somebody like Robbie Krar or Timmy Olson can just throw down.
Morton: Both of those guys are at the top of their game. They are world class.
iRF: Having been back at a big 100-mile race, you’ve done a bunch of smaller ones, but are you tempted to stick with the real competitive races these days?
Morton: Yeah, to me there are economics in it. I would love to keep doing them and keep training and pick some races. Right now I’m going to focus on Spartathlon. We had a blast. My family came out here for two weeks and we literally roughed it. We didn’t have the Internet and no fancy TV and we loved it. We had a blast. It culminated yesterday. I could see coming back.
iRF: Do you get a little support with Allied?
Morton: Allied Van Lines and Kill Cliff and Vespa all kind of help. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to come out and train like I was, make the trips out. They bought the plane tickets, so… They make it financially possible for me to do my hobby.
iRF: Since you’re a total free agent, what shoes and socks did you run in yesterday?
iRF: Some road racers?
Morton: Nike actually gives me shoes. They’ve been very helpful. It’s kind of a nonchalant relationship. As much as they can they will if I ask for something they’ll give it to me.
iRF: Awesome. What’s also awesome is last year Dave Mackey set a new masters course record which seemed unbreakable because the conditions were unbeatable last year and Mackey had a great race. Hot as hell yesterday and you break the masters course record. You would have loved to win, but does that feel pretty solid?
Morton: I’m so on cloud nine about that. I saw Dave yesterday on the course and it motivated me. When I finally caught up to him after Robinson Flat, I was like, here’s my competition other than the open field, I was competing as a master as well. So when I saw Dave, it fired me up. When Eric (Clifton) and I started doing some math there at the end, Eric said, “You might be able to beat your old time.” I said, “All I want to do is beat Dave Mackey’s.”
iRF: I didn’t even think about that, you got your personal best did you?
Morton: No, I missed it by about five minutes.
iRF: Five minutes? Ohhhhhh.
Morton: I’ll take it with the conditions.
iRF: It was certainly a lot worse, weather-wise, than 1997.
iRF: That’s great, man. You’ve got Spartathlon next. Anything else on the calendar?
Morton: I might plug something else in between now and Spartathlon to stay tuned up.
iRF: A little trainer.
Morton: Something spur of the moment.
iRF: Do you think we’ll see you here again before 16 years? We don’t have to wait until 2029?
Morton: I’m pretty sure I’ll take advantage of the automatic in for top 10 and come back next year.
iRF: Awesome. Well we look forward to it and congratulations on a great day, Mike.
Morton: Thanks, I appreciate it.
iRF: Bonus question here. I was thinking about it in the other interview. Dr. David Horton reminded us. Eric Clifton was your pacer back in 1997.
Morton: No, actually he crewed me. He was in the race, but he dropped out.
iRF: He was there with you. And he paced you yesterday.
iRF: What was that like, 16 years later having a buddy…?
Morton: It’s like having my brother with me. He paced me at Badwater, too. I tell you, together we’ve had some of the greatest times of our lives shared.
iRF: He wasn’t wearing tights yesterday?
Morton: He wanted to, but I told him it was too hot.
iRF: Somebody has to have some sense, right? You didn’t go out like Clifton normally does?
Morton: No. I execute my own plan.
iRF: Well done.