Stroller-pushing mom discovers her inner ultra runner
Single mother smashes long-distance course records.
Michelle Barton’s musical voice sails out of phones, causing happy neurons to light up in your brain.
In person, her smile is the first thing you see, her long red hair bouncing behind. Her enthusiasm for what she’s talking about is palpable.
But there’s nothing like seeing Barton, 37, in her true element.
As Amanda Beard is in pools, Barton is at her best running up or down trails.
On mile 20. Or 50. Or 80.
This ultra runner moves with such speed, even when you’re in the same race you feel like you’re standing still. She doesn’t just run mountains. She “blasts” them. She greets aide station volunteers with such energy, it’s as if she magically teleports herself around the course.
Pound your way through California’s “toughest marathon,” cross the finish line in a respectable 7th place and there’s Barton chillin’ in blue jeans, waving and cheering.
Barton has already stretched, changed and is now helping out.
It’s both humbling and inspirational.
The Laguna Niguel single mom’s commitment, talent and endurance speaks to the strength of the human spirit, what our bodies are capable of and how determination can take us pretty much anywhere.
Think Barton might just be a different species?
Her secret’s as simple as heading out the door.
At 5:30 a.m.
Then again, the second she drops off her eight-year-old daughter, Sierra, at school.
And again, the moment she gets off work from Fleet Feet, a running store in Laguna Niguel.
And once more, when she manages to find a quick hour in between shuttling Sierra, going over homework or helping with her daughter’s latest project such as the school talent show.
Four hours of training in a single day. Run. Bike. Swim. Run.
Then she does it again the next day. And the next. Except weekends. Those are for long runs, three hours or more. Of course, weekends also are for racing. That’s when Barton’s world is truly in harmony.
Consider in just the last 12 months, Barton has crushed a dozen female course records, taken first place woman’s division trophies in an additional half-dozen ultra events and won overall in two other races.
Barton puts it simply: “I run to win and break course records.”
It wasn’t always like this. In her 20s, Barton was active – playing guitar in several bands, mountain biking, teaching dance, hiking with her father, Doug Malewicki. Then Sierra came along. Dad got a running stroller and, whoosh, Barton took off.
“Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m running,” Barton tells me in a chat earlier this week. When she enters her zone, time disappears, distances collapse. Thoughts, ideas, epiphanies come. And go.
“I think of everything and nothing. It’s just so cool,” says Barton, who is quick to point out she has team backing. Barton works a part-time job, gets gobs of help from her mom, with whom she and Sierra share a home, and that the dads in her life pitch in as well.
But there’s no serious money in ultra running. It’s not even an Olympic sport, I mention. Why not marathons?
“I don’t like crowds of people. I don’t like the pavement pounding,” she says. “I do like the scenery (on trials), the terrain, the variety. The transition from night to day is one of my favorite things.
“It’s cool to go into the unknown and just push yourself.” She adds a few sponsors help: Salomon, GENr8, Wicked Fast Sports Nutrition.
But she explains ultra trail running is different from most other sports because even the elite do it for the sheer love of nature, of camaraderie, of discovering beautiful places.
If you listen long enough, the mental and physical demands of the sport also are revealed. “I’ve peed blood. I’ve had hyponatremia (too much water),” she mentions while making her point that trial racers always help fellow athletes.
We talk of dreams, of what is to come, of what might be.
Barton plans to run into her 80s. And why not? Her dad is 68 and still runs mountains. And while she’s proud of her father, Barton lays her success squarely on her own cross training.
“I train like a maniac,” Barton says. “You have to if you want to be at the top.”
Then she reveals her ultimate goal: The Grand Slam — Western States, Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch, all 100-mile runs.
Do I tell her most people don’t even know those names? It doesn’t matter. Barton’s not in this for fame.
“I hope to inspire people to put one foot in front of the other and be healthy,” says Barton, a vegetarian. “If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
Besides, she adds, “To know that any day of the week you can go out and run 100 miles is incredibly insane.”
A blast, actually.
David Whiting’s column on people and places appears Thursdays. He can be reached at 714-796=6869 or firstname.lastname@example.org.