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Ultrarunner Michelle Barton: Her Running Story, Training Advice, and How She Stays Motivated

Man or woman, simply winning an ultramarathon is impressive. The grit required to not only make it through 50 or 100 miles but also to do it faster than anyone else is mind-boggling.

Which is why SaltStick-sponsored athlete Michelle Barton’s race record is so incredible. She hasn’t won just one race … she’s won 76 of them — most of them ultramarathons. Of course, winning as a female isn’t enough for this hard-core endurance athlete; five of those wins have been overall wins, meaning she beat all the women and all the men.

Michelle Barton

How does she do it? And more importantly, why does she push her body to the limit every day? In this blog post, we talk with Michelle about her running backstory, her training and nutrition advice, and her proudest moments as an endurance athlete. Read on to discover more about Michelle’s incredible success in the sport of ultrarunning.

Keep reading all the way to the bottom! As a thank you to our readers, we’re offering a giveaway of our new product, SaltStick Fastchews. Details to enter are below.

*For other stories of sponsored athletes, check out our posts on Lauren Goss and Katie Spotz.

Michelle’s Journey into Ultrarunning:

Fifteen years ago, you may not have guessed that Michelle Barton would eventually become one of the best ultra-distance runners alive. Back then, Michelle pursued trail running as a way to hang out with her dad, who was an avid fan of trail running. Even though she had to combine running and walking to keep up, she joined her dad in a few shorter trail runs and was quickly bitten by the running bug.

This father-daughter bonding time rapidly progressed into racing ultra marathons in 2003, when Michelle podiumed in her first ultra as second overall female. Three years later, Michelle completed her first 100-mile run, and since then, she has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments to her name.

“I always preferred running longer distances because it breaks you apart and there is so much unknown – anything can happen and you have to adjust,” Michelle says. “The ups and downs are insane, like a crazy roller coaster…and you have to stay positive and strong mentally to finish.”

We’ve got a complete list of Michelle’s accomplishments at the end, which are all impressive, but some of the more jaw-dropping ones include:

  • 76 overall female wins
  • Five overall wins (beat all the men)
  • Current record-holder for more than 24 courses
  • Overall female winner of Javelina Jundred 100 mile in 19:42 – 2006
  • Overall winner of Javelina 100k in 9:50 (beat all the men) 2013
  • Eight-time finisher of the TransRockies 120-mile ultra
  • Broke five course records in a six-week time frame in May/June 2007

Needless to say, Michelle is pretty badass, and we love sponsoring her. Not only is she a fantastic runner, she is also a great motivator. Anyone who followers her Instagram knows she’s constantly out running through California trails, or giving words of encouragement to members of the ultra community.

Michelle’s proudest accomplishments: In 2015, Michelle joined running partner Majo Srnik to race the Badwater Salton Sea 81 mile ultra. She broke the female course record in 17:02, and she and Majo placed first among the co-ed teams. This race, as well as “finishing Badwater 135 mile in 2010, winning TransRockies in 2007 and winning Javalina Jundred 100 mile in 2006 and Javelina 100k in 2013 and beating all the men” are Michelle’s proudest moments.

(Want to know how Michelle trained for the heat of Badwater Salton Sea? Check out our guest blog post on JillWillRun.com where we interview Michelle about heat-training.) 

What is Michelle up to today? As of this blog post’s publish date in 2016, Michelle is training for Badwater 135 (often referred to as the “toughest footrace in the world”) running the Canadian Rockies, and running through the 218 mile John Muir Trail.

Michelle Barton Runner

On Training:

According to Michelle, when it comes to training for ultras, quality is far more important than quantity. You also need to learn how to hurt.

“From time to time, you need to bleed and suffer in training,” Michelle says. “You can’t run ultras on luck. The harder you train, the more fun the race is.”

Michelle is also a big fan of active recovery. Instead of lying on a couch all day watching TV, her recovery methods include swimming or spinning out her legs on a mountain bike. She also makes sure to eat a clean, vegetarian diet (more on this below), and includes foam rolling or gym work as well.

“Physically preparing is the easy part,” Michelle says. “Physical pain will come and go and move around, but stay positive and keep moving forward.”

On Motivation:

Like most professional endurance athletes, Michelle rarely struggles with motivation to get out the door. Instead, she often has to force herself to rest when she needs to. Michelle admits that this has sometimes meant that she only gets adequate rest when she’s struggling with an injury.

“I feel like I wouldn’t be complete without my sport,” Michelle says. “My problem is not motivation. My problem is not ever resting and underecovery because I love my sport so much.”

What’s the best advice Michelle has ever received? “If you are not having fun, don’t do it.”

On Nutrition:

A vegetarian for 25 years, Michelle’s approach to nutrition is pretty simple.

“I eat anything I can find when I am hungry and move on,” she says.

Michelle is a big fan of watermelon, she says, and she likes salads with broccoli, kale, spinach, raw vegetables, balsamic vinegar and hummus.

“I don’t really put food as any priority in life,” she says. “However I do put coffee as an extremely high priority.”

How SaltStick helps Michelle perform her best: In her second 50-miler, the 2004 Leona Divide, cold weather and a hailstorm convinced Michelle that she didn’t need to take in as many electrolytes as normal. Around mile 42, she got “really dizzy, and [her] hands and fingers started getting puffy.”

“I felt drunk and weaving up the trail trying to make it to the last aid station on top of the last climb. I had no idea what was happening to me,” she says.

Based on her symptoms, Michelle was likely suffering from hyponatremia, a dangerous medical condition marked by low blood sodium levels. Among other things, hyponatremia can lead to headaches, vomiting and — in Michelle’s case — extreme fatigue and disorientation.

Luckily, other runners noticed Michelle’s condition and sought help from an aid station. Volunteers walked Michelle to help and gave her two SaltStick Caps to restore her electrolyte balances.

“Within about 10 mins of taking SaltStick, I felt way better,” Michelle says. “I peed like crazy for the next three hours (even on the drive home) I was able to finish the race. I had been retaining water since my electrolytes were way out of balance.”

Since then, Michelle has been a regular SaltStick user, and takes one Cap every 45 minutes to an hour. She says she has never cramped on long runs — even in the heat of Badwater 135. Michelle is such a fan of SaltStick, she even gives Caps to her crew when running Badwater.

“SaltStick has helped me in the sport because it takes the guesswork out of the equation,” Michelle says. “Take a SaltStick Cap every 45 minutes to an hour, and you are typically good to go. Easy. Simple. Works like a charm.

Michelle’s advice to beginner runners:

Michelle didn’t grow up running ultras, so she knows what it’s like to be a beginning runner later in life. Her advice to novice runners is to build slowly, and avoid putting too much emphasis on time and pace at the beginning. As you become more fit, you’ll naturally get faster.

“I started by mixing walking and running,” she says. “Keep it fresh and find new trails, or go with friends. I love to run with music, so a fresh playlist always makes a run way better to get in the zone if you want to suffer some speed intervals.”

She also pointed out that it’s important to learn proper running technique in order to prevent common injuries.

Want to know more about Michelle?

Follow Michelle on social media by checking out her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She’s very active on Instagram, and posts incredible photos of her trail runs throughout the week.

Check out Michelle’s impressive list of race results by heading to ultrasignup.com. We’ve listed her biggest wins and personal best’s below:

Race achievements:

  • First Ultra was the San Juan Trail 50k in March of 2003. Michelle placed 2nd woman.
  • Second Ultra was the Bulldog 50k in Aug of 2003. Michelle won 1st overall woman.
  • Michelle won her first 100 mile Javelina Jundred in Arizona in 19:42, just six months after her first 100-miler in 2006.
  • 76 overall female wins.
  • Five overall wins (beat all the men).
  • Currently holds over two dozen course records.
  • In 2015 Badwater, Salton Sea — Michelle and her running partner placed 1st coed duo team in 17:02; Michelle also broke the female course record.
  • 8-time finisher of the TransRockies 120 mile ultra.

Personal Best’s:

  • 100 mile / 19:42 Javelina Jundred / 2006
  • 81 mile / 17:02 Badwater Salton Sea / 2015
  • 100k / 9:50 Javelina Jundred 100k / 2013 (beat all the men)
  • 50 mile / 7:19 Leona Divide / 2010
  • 50k / 3:57 Orange Curtain / 2007 (beat all the men)
  • Trail marathon / 3:24 Death Valley / 2008

SaltStick Fastchew giveaway information:

As a thank you to our readers, we’re giving away a FREE sample of our new product, SaltStick Fastchews to one lucky reader.

  1. To enter, all you need to do is tweet or Instagram this blog post by Friday, March 18, using the hashtag #InspiredByMichelle.
  2. Be sure that when you post, you tag us (/SaltStickProducts on Facebook, @SaltStick on Twitter, and@therealsaltstick on Instagram) and use the hashtag #InsipiredByMichelle


Featured in this blog:

 

Featured in this blog are SaltStick Caps, which are the ONLY electrolyte capsules that are formulated to closely resemble the electrolyte profile lost during activity: sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Learn more about them at saltstick.com.