>>Also see my in-depth story about Mike's life in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine
Every so often an ultrarunner does something that makes your jaw drop. Among the truly great performances/achievements in recent memory:
- Matt Carpenter's record-setting 15:42 at the 2005 Leadville 100. Legend has it that Carpenter, the Pikes Peak Marathon king himself, ran every step of the course. My suspicion is that only two or three guys today could come close to what he did on that August day in the unforgiving Rocky Mountains.
- Scott Jurek's seven straight Western States 100 wins from 1999-2005.
- Ann Trason's 14 straight Western States 100 wins from 1989-2003. I doubt this record will ever be matched, much less surpassed.
- Karl Meltzer's six 100-mile wins, including four course records, in 2006 (HURT 100, Hardrock 100, Wasatch 100, Bear 100, San Diego 100 and Javelina 100)
- Bruce Fordyce's world record 50-mile time of 4:50, set in Chicago, in 1984. Folks, that is insane.
- Don Ritchie's world record 11:30 for 100 miles, set on a London track in 1977
- Yiannis Kouros' world record 188+ miles for 24 hours, set in Adelaide (Australia) in 1997. This record will stand for generations.
- Kyle Skaggs' record-setting 23:23 at the 2008 Hardrock 100. People were stunned.
|Legends, indeed. L-R: Courtney Campbell, Dave Horton and Mike Morton, apparently at the Rattlesnake 50K in 1997. From http://www.extremeultrarunning.com/album.htm.|
Details are still a little sketchy, but apparently 40-year-old Mike Morton, a Navy diver from Maryland, covered 163.9 miles, running about 108 laps around the 1.52-mile trail loop. That's about 2 miles under the American record, held by Scott Jurek, who set the record on a flat, hard-surface course. Apparently, Morton battled 90-degree heat and course congestion in spots. Oh, and by the way, he nailed over 153 miles at Hinson last year.
|Here are Mike Morton (L) and Courtney Campbell (R) at the 1997 Trail Run Across the Commonwealth. From http://www.vhtrc.org/events/trac.htm.|
That's only part of the story. Here's the rest. The name Mike Morton may not mean much to newcomers to the sport and/or those who haven't studied the history of ultrarunning, but to those who have been around a while and those who have read their ultrarunning lore, Mike Morton is a legend. Here's some history from former Western States 100 race director Norm Klein:
The Morton Comeback
The only words necessary to describe the 1997 [Western States 100) race are "Mike Morton." A U.S. Navy diver from Maryland, Mike had a difficult time in the 1996 race, withdrawing after 86 miles. Certainly no stranger to ultramarathoning with victories at the Old Dominion 100 and the Vermont 100, Mike returned to Western States with just one thought in mind: make up for 1996.
It has been repeated a thousand times over that no runner can win Western States without having the advantage of training on the Western States Trail. Most experienced runners will contend that knowledge of the trail is worth at least two hours off the total time. Further proof of this is that in the first 23 years of the race, there had never been a men's winner who didn't live in California. And furthermore, every winner since 1987 had lived in Northern California. Well, Mike Morton apparently wasn't privy to the prevailing knowledge.
Fortunately for everyone involved, weather conditions on raceday were the finest in the history of the race. Temperatures never topped 80 degrees, and the night was very cool, although by the time Morton arrived in Auburn, the sun hadn't even had a chance to go down.
Mike took the lead at 17 miles, and when he arrived at Robinson Flat (30.2 miles), everyone felt he would "lose it in the canyons." All he lost when he hit the canyons were the runners who were pursuing him. At Foresthill (62 miles) people said, "he'll crash and burn on California Street Trail." The only things Mike burned were the rocks as he blazed over them. At the river crossing (78 miles), the sentiment was "he'll never finish at that pace!"
Not only did Mike finish at that pace, but he also became the first non-Californian to win the race, defeating Tim Twietmeyer (who finished second) by an hour and 33 minutes. To those who thought he'd crash and burn, instead Mike burned Tom Johnson's course record by 14 minutes. Skeptics felt that if an "outsider" won, he wouldn't be accepted by the "Western States family." I've been involved in 15 Western States awards ceremonies, and Mike Morton received the loudest and longest standing ovation I've ever witnessed.That was taken from a May/June 1998 Marathon & Beyond article, which you can read here. Apparently Morton, who also won the Vermont 100 in 19955, the Massanutten 100 in 1996, and the Mountain Masochist 50M in 1997, soon after endured a rash of injuries that more or less derailed his career. When I searched his results, it looks like he didn't do much, if any, racing from 1997 to 2009. (Update, thanks to Footfeathers' investigative work: Morton ran in the 2007 JFK 50M, finishing 26th overall with a 7:15, and finished second overall at the 2010 Weymouth Woods 100K with an 8:57). From what I've seen, Morton seems to have evolved into a once-or-twice-a-year racer who has a penchant for opening up a can of whoopass when he shows up to an event. When Mortons' toeing the line, you better be wearing your fast shoes.
|Morton at the 2011 Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic. From http://lowmileageultra.blogspot.com/.|
|The Hinson Lake leaderboard at 23 hours. From http://lowmileageultra.blogspot.com/.|
Norm Klein wrote of Morton's 1997 Western States as a comeback. Fourteen years later, at the age of 40, are we seeing yet another Morton return to domination?
>>Go to my interview with Mike Morton!