RunFoundry Profile: Brian Burk and Ultra-running

RunFoundry recently had the opportunity to connect with runner Brian Burk and learn a bit about ultra-running and his journey in this extraordinary adventure, which is fully chronicled in his blog  He is also the author of Running to Leadville, a story about life, love, and overcoming tragedy set on the stage of the Leadville Trail 100-mile endurance run.

Like many now dedicated runners, Brian started his journey when he realized the combination of hitting his mid-thirties and being overweight could be a toxic limit to his options if he stayed on that course.  As he puts it, “… that finally put a flame to the candle.  I did not want to remain on a path I knew would end to an early grave or compromised what I could do with my life because of being out of shape.”

So, Brian started running with determination back in 2000, inside, on a treadmill, in a remote spot in Greenland.  His goal at first was simply to change the trajectory of where he was headed but he soon added the target of a half-marathon, and then a full marathon, being persuaded by a buddy that the same amount of work was needed to accomplish a half as a full.

Clearly, Brian managed to change the direction of his sedentary path pretty quickly (it seems that dedication to the sport can happen that way!)  But at what point did he change his own impression of himself?  According to Brian, “I guess I first felt like a "real" runner after standing on a starting line and no longer doubting if I could finish.  Running a sub four hour marathon made me feel like a real marathon runner.”

Most people would be more than satisfied with that amazing accomplishment – a sub-four marathon time – but not Brian.  “2009 - it seemed the natural progression from running marathons....I signed up to run a 24 hour race without a clue of what it took”, said Brian. “I ran 52.5 miles and paid a heavy price...  But was hooked.”  You can read the full story of his first ultra-race here.  Since he started tracking his miles in August of 2000 (think treadmill, Greenland), he is now approaching 20,000 miles!  Hooked indeed!

Brian has since competed in a multitude of marathons and ultramarathons and is constantly in training for his next adventure.  His all-time favorite race, however, is the Virginia 24 hour race against cancer.  The race, founded by his running mentor, supports a great cause and draws a wonderfully supportive community of runners.  His team has won the team miles portion of the race four out of the last five years.

A few more quick questions…

RF: What’s the best surprise benefit of the ultra-distance running?

Brian: GREAT friendships.

RF: What’s your best tip for achieving these crazy-long distances?

Brian: Start slow, eat when you’re not hungry, drink from the start, and slow down when you need too.

RF: What would you say was your worst, never-to-be-repeated race mistake?

Brian: I hope I never repeat it - but not dealing with extreme chaffing (in a place you NEVER want chaffed) during a 24 hour race where it rained all day.   

RF: What runs through your mind when covering all those miles?

Brian: Everything.....and nothing at the same time.  Sometimes it helps to have no plan of what to think about and other times I focus on things like solving problems, writing stories or drifting off to day dream. 

RF: When you are totally at your physical end, where are your thoughts?

Brian: On the next step.... and that there a hundreds of people what wish they could run and suffer like me but are unable to.  I often run for them.

RF: How about goals?  Do you always have a mileage goal or some other target? 

Brian: I do set goals for overall mileage, but also to be in the best shape I can be for my goal races.  

RF: I love that you haven’t lost sight of why you started running in the first place!  Leadville is on your horizon – what else is on your path on the way and beyond?

Brian: This September, I'll run the Yeti 100, and will begin training for Leadville.  I'll run some training races to fine tune my legs as well as make some trips to the mountains to get in the elevations. After Leadville, I'll readjust my goals for some other epic race or maybe a return to the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim run...

Thank you, Brian, for your inspiring story!

For a great motivational read, be sure to sign up for Brian’s blog about ultra-running. Lots of great info, laughs, and insight into what propels this awesome ultra-runner forward.  And don’t miss Brian’s book, Running to Leadville.  The story captures the life, loss, and challenges faced by an ultra-runner who has been challenged by tragic life events.  It’s available at


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