Monthly Archives: December 2014

I’m Published – Running, Racing and Death & My Most Unforgettable Marathon

Update: Getting published for the first time, Jan/Feb 2015, was an awesome and unexpected experience. A simple race report and a collection of memories became an unlikely feature story to be shared on a larger scale. I enjoyed giving my account of one of my running adventures,  “My Most Unforgettable Marathon” and how Susan took on the challenge of the marathon with the readers of Marathon & Beyond.

While in the editing stages of this feature it was fun to relive how Susan and I met, our training, challenges and how she transformed herself from breast cancer survivor to marathon hopeful. Writing, editing and reliving these memories helped to inspire me as I trained and finished my first 100 Mile ultramarathon, the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, March 2014. Then one night the phone rang:

Running, Racing, 
and Death
by Brian Burk
If you’ve got to go, and we all ultimately do…

It was a regular Wednesday night. It was another routine dinner after a regular day at work and a long, boring drive home. It was three days after the Rock ’n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Raleigh, North Carolina, where unfortunately two deaths occurred. It was three weeks since a teenage runner had died at the Shamrock Marathon. It was these tragic events that set off a chain of events that out of the blue had my cell phone ringing.My first response: who could be calling me? No one calls me, I thought, as I located my phone. On the illuminated screen, the incoming caller was identified as my father. It’s a long story, but I had not talked to my father in a month. Before that it had been three months, when I called for his birthday. But tonight he’s calling me. Answering the phone, I was glad to hear his voice. Within moments I could tell that he was genuinely stressed and worried about something. Over the next 15 minutes of uneasy conversations, I found out just how concerned….
published2If you enjoyed what you have read so far, pls check out my Second Feature in the July/Aug issue of Marathon & Beyond.
Please pick up a copy today at your local news stand or at their web site.
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I’ve submitted another feature and hope they pick it up for publication. I have a running novel in the works…been told it’s pretty good.  Hope to have it available in 2016.  It’s fiction but….a lot of my life is in there.
My first feature.


Growing up we dream of what we want to be, what profession we want to make our lives work.  A football player.  A fireman.  A doctor, lawyer or even a candlestick marker.  Most of us never find that perfect profession, instead we settle for what pays the bills and if we are fortunate a line of work that will make us happy.  If we play our cards right our lives may allow us some free time to dabble in our true calling, many of us call that our “hobbies” our passions.

I’ve had numerous hobbies along the way, some have truly defined me.  I’ve been a car guy.  I’ve built and flew remote controlled aircraft, golfed and now I run.  Running will never be my profession, I lack the genetics to be elite.  I’m a top of the middle of the pack runner, I strive to get better and I have made some modest gains.  Writing is the same.  I enjoy writing, always have…but lacked the dedication to learn all the rules of the spoken and written word.  In high school and college I was bored with sentence structure and grammar.  I just wanted to tell a story.

Then running and writing collided.  Today I’m PUBLISHED!

I’ve had a “blog” since before blogs were cool.  I’ve written numerous race reports and tons of short stories some never made it past the “save as” button.  Others have lived on my hard drive never to see the light of day or the printed sheet of paper.  Over the years my wife, and a few supportive friends have encouraged me and my writing has improved.  My works may never be mistaken for literary gold, but I’m told some are not bad.  If I was honest I must admit they have come along way from Mr. Bickford’s English class and his 55 gallon drum of red ink.

I submitted this race report to Marathon and Beyond, a magazine in book format that caters to the marathon and longer distance runner, almost a year ago.  I had hopes that just maybe the compelling story of a cancer survivor and my writing might be good enough to make their pages.  I was beyond shocked when I received a reply to my unsolicited submission stating they wanted to use it.  To say I was out of this world overwhelmed when a contract showed up in my mail box is an understatement.

After a few rewrites now you can read “My Most Unforgettable Marathon” and how Susan went from breast cancer survivor to Marathon and Ultra-marathon finisher.


Shoe Review – Hoka Rapa Nui Trail 2

Shoe Review – Hoka Rapa Nui Trail 2

About two years ago I noticed all my ultra running friends wearing these funny looking shoes called Hokas.  Myself I was wearing my tried and true Nike Air Pegasus.  To me these new “maximal” shoes looked like another coming fad and I for one did not want to make a shoe swap in hopes for a “more cushioned” ride.  After-all I had no complaints with my Pegs that I had been running on for over 12 years.  Likewise I could hardly believe any shoes could have a more cushioned ride then my Flying Horses.  I love my Pegs. (still run 80% of all my miles in them)

hoka stinson

Last year I decided to give a pair of Hokas a try.  I purchased a pair of Stintson tarmac and concluded from the very first run that there was a place in my running shoe arsenal for these new shoes. Over the summer months I grew more and more confident in them and ran my first race, a 50k in them.  I’m sold…after the race my feet felt great with no blister issues.

Then…a friend sent me a sales promotion for Hokas shoes.

I wanted a trail version and selected the Hoka Rapa Nui 2 trail shoe in my regular size 10.5.  I’ll be honest part of what scared me away from going with Hokas was the price.  After-all they are a pricey shoe, but at a discount of nearly 50% I was happy to invest in another pair.

hoka Rapa Nui

My first run in the Rapa Nui 2 shoes was at a local park, Windsor Castle Park, with it’s improved crushed rock/dirt trail surface.  Within the first few steps I noticed a big difference in these shoes, my typical road Pegs and other trail shoes that I’ve wore.


The fit was near perfect.  My feet felt right at home, comfy and secure.  I was told that the toe boxes of Hokas run a bit tight but I did not notice this in either pair.  My footfall felt even, secure and balanced.  The cushioning was soft and light.  Instantly I loved my new shoes.  The most noticeable trait outside of fit was the extreme grip of the aggressive multi-directional traction design.  Might sound funny but this tread pattern literately felt like it was grabbing the surface I ran one.  You could hear the shoes grasping at the stones in the parking area,  digging into the the dirt of the trail and even grabbing at the wooden planks of the bridges I ran across.  Climbing 18 of the hills that make up one loop of the park, I never once felt the tread slip, nor my traction compromised, and that is saying a lot as I ran on a rainy and wet day.


If your looking for a good ultra shoe, I recommend a pair of Hokas and if your looking for a good trail shoe, Rapa Nui 2 are a great pair of shoes.

I purchased my shoes at the Running Warehouse.

Favorite Runs – Races – Training – Photo Bombing in 2014

As we get older, the hours pass quicker,  days get shorter, weeks fly bye and the pages of the calendar turn over faster then we ever thought possible.  You can’t stop it…you can’t slow it down, you can only hold on and go for the ride run.

2014 was epic running year for me.  As I sit back and remember the 2014 running season, these are the runs that stood out the most. (I stole this idea from a great blog at runladylike)

January:  A 50 mile training run with friends. Read more about the race/run here:


February:  #slushrun2014 and 38 miles training for Umstead.  Read more about the race/run here:


March: My first 100k at the Graveyard and finishing the race with a good friend.  Read more about the race/run here:


April:  A really long run at Umstead, my first 100 mile run.  Read more about this race/run here.

umstead Hills

April:  24 hours of fun and 24 hours of run.  You can read more about this race/run here:


June:  Visiting my daughter, the Windermere marathon and running with my grandson.  You can read more about this race/run here:


July:  Happy 4th of July from the Peachtree 10k road race.  You can read more about this race/run here:


September:  Aim High, and run the Air Force Marathon.  You can read more about this race/run here:

AF marathon start

October:  Boo and the longest touchdown run ever.  You can read more about this race/run here:

November:  Three races in one, JFK 50…the grand-daddy of ultra marathons.  You can read more about this race/run here:


December:  Ending the season as I have the past four years, running 31 miles with friends and photo bombing and Christmas Angel. You can read more about this race/run here:


No truth to the rumor that I’m banished from every running this event again…


What were your most memorable races/runs this year? 

Blog – Run – Race – Train – Live – Inspire

600,000 viewers and Sometimes I wonder if anyone truly reads my Blog.

I wonder if anyone gets anything out of my posts?

I wonder if those who do read my posts think I’m some big boastful nut….

Then someone tells me this…

“I started running in Jan, and have lost 25 pounds…your blog inspires me , I follow and find motivation in your Facebook updates.”

Nearing 15,000 miles, and Sometimes I wonder if I’m improving as a runner…

Then I look at the SeaShore Nature Trail 50k as an example.  I first ran this race in 2011, this past weekend I ran it for the fourth time.


2011:  6:49:46
2012:  5:54:02
2013:  5:23:00
2014:  5:07:20

I guess it’s true when they say, your inspiring someone whether you know it or not.

Night Time Running – Survive The Run – Race – Training

Because of my work day commute and day light savings time… fall/winter running is done after the sun has gone down.  I’ve been running in the dark for the last few years and although I DO NOT prefer this…I continue to stick to the routine to get my training run in.  The one thing, other then a ton of miles, during this time I have learned the six survival lessons of Night Time Running.


#1 Be reflective…I wear as much light reflecting gear as I can.  I also wear a white shirt over any dark tops I may choose to go out in.

#2 Provide your own light…I carry a LED flash light or my knuckle lights in my hand so that I can ensure on coming traffic, fellow runners, wild dogs and Batman can see me coming.

#3 Run on roads you know like that back of your hand…I hate running loops over the same roads night after night like anyone else, but in the dark is no time for a new adventure, no night time trips down the yellow brick road here.

#4 Be ready to hurdle kids toys left in the road at a moments notice…my parents would have
beat my butt.

#5 Be on guard for pets who are free roaming or off their leash…Why is it pet owners can’t seem to understand that dear old “SPOT” needs to be on a leash no matter how friendly their 100 pound bulldog is. I’m a dog person, love man’s best friend but pets need to be on a leash/under control.

And most importantly…….PROTECT yourself…people just don’t understand how much damage a 4000 pound car, even moving slowly, can do to a 154 pound runner in his Nike Air Pegs.

Enjoy the run, and survive the night.

Motivation – Running – Training – Life

Motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. Motivation is what causes us to act,  to continue to act or to act in ways that may be new to us.

But what really compels you to move?

Is it a coach who highlights your potential, or one who declares your failures?


Is it a tangible goal, a reward, a trophy on the shelf or notch in your belt or the personal satisfaction of achieving a previous goal.

According to “There are three major components to motivation: activation, persistence, and intensity.”

For us runner these three components manifest themselves in obvious way.

Activation: The act of running, it near impossible to train for a race or a new distance goal without putting in the miles.  You have to put the time in on your feet running, moving and growing.

Persistence:  Getting out the front door once or a handful of times is normally not enough to shave minutes off a Personal Record or to add miles to our long run.  Reaching our goals as runners requires continued action to stretch ourselves over time, improve our perform and raise our potential.

Intensity:  “No pain no gain” To get faster, to run longer distances, and to achieve new goals takes a level of effort that is higher then what you have done in the past.  A runner who thinks they will get faster running the same training plan, pace or distances is only fooling themselves. To run faster, or longer…you have to train faster and longer.

As I write this post and prepare it for my Monday blog post, it’s dark (3:55 am on a Sunday morning), it’s cold (14 Dec its 28 degrees) outside and I’m sitting in my easy chair.


Comfortable, warm and happy….what will I do?

I’m going running!

Bucket List, A Look Back – Olympic Stadium -Super Bowl – Arizona Memorial

The Bucket List post is a common post on most Blogs.  I’ve posted one with a few updates myself.  If you’re not familiar with the thread, a “Bucket List” is a list of experiences people would like to do, see or accomplish before their time on this planet expires.  This concept was made popular by the hit movie of the same name, where Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die.  More information about this movie can be seen here.


During a recent long run, It occurred to me, that maybe we spend too much time looking forward and not enough looking back.  One of my thoughts turned not to what I want to accomplish, but to what wonderful places, things, experiences and truly great people I’ve come into contact with during my first 50 years.  As I post this list, it’s not a “look at me” list.  But a reflection of how I’ve been truly blessed by our creator God, who for some reason has shined favor on me and put in some truly remarkable places.

brian@stadium(During a 2005 trip to Athens)

During a family trip to Athens, Greece, I got to stand at the entrance of Olympic stadium and walk among the ruins of the Acropolis.

on field 11(Sideline passes with Chomps)

With the last few Browns Backers raffle tickets we purchased, our numbers were pulled.  My son, Anthony, and I got to be on the sidelines pre-game for a Browns home game.

Although it was not my team, I was on the sidelines/press boxes for the Washington Redskins vs Denver Broncos Superbowl in Jack Murphy Stadium.

micheleandbrianonbeach(Michele and I on Omaha Beach)

Had the honor of paying  respect, to the greatest generation, with visits to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona memorial and the Normandy landing locations including Omaha Beach.

At first it was an remote assignment I did not want to serve, Thule, Greenland, 900 miles south of the North pole. While standing on the edge of a fjord watching massive sheets of ice break free from the seaward side of glaciers giving birth to new Icebergs, I thought….how many people get to see this.

Northern-Lights04(Northern Lights Over Norway)

On a cold dark night while in a frozen northern country, as I walked back to my dorm room a colorful band of green lights danced above my head…”wow the Northern Lights.”  Words can’t explain the mystery and elegance.

And so many little things, I’ve tasted whale, seen but not played Saint Andrews, walked among ruins of the civilizations of Rome, Greece and Northern Iraqi. I’ve met Lance Armstrong (before his fall), Robin Williams, Frank Gifford, Bernie Kosar, Don Shula and Kid rock.  I’ve worked on a SR-71, supported a Space Shuttle launch and moved troops into Northern Iraq to take down a dictator.

It has been a wonderful first 50 years….now on to that list.

Umstead 100 – Graveyard 100k – JFK 50 – Comparing Ultras

Last year was an epic running year for me.  I achieved a lot of firsts and added a lot of awesome races to my running resume.  On top of 10 other races, I ran my first 100k at the Graveyard, my first 100 miler at Umstead and my first JFK 50.  When all was said and done, and as I had time to sit back, kick my feet up and reflect on each “first” I realized each race offered it’s own unique and very personal challenge.  Each had it’s own personality.   There were parts of each race that I liked, I hated and parts that exposed portions of my running soul.  Since a bunch of you have asked about each race I thought I would take some time, to write a short comparison of each.

In order of when they were run.

GRAVEYARD 100k – a 63 mile point to point race run along the Outer Banks of the Eastern Shore, North Carolina.  I ran this race as a training run as preparations for the Umstead 100.  This was the first point to point race I’ve run of any significant length.


Finishing time : 14 hours 36 minutes 16 seconds

The course is fairly flat traveling along the paved highway on Bodie Island and Hatteras Island covering much of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore via historic Hwy 12.  There is only one true change in elevation, when crossing the 2.5 mi. long Bonner Bridge (49 ft.) spanning Oregon Inlet between Bodie Island and Hatteras Island.  From the stand point of elevation it was fairly easy.  Being a point to point race there was no issues/challenge of running repetitive laps, you simply ran until you reached the finish line at the end of Hwy 12 and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.  This made parts of the run fun and difficult all at the same time.  During the course of the run I said numerous times, “I’ll never have to see that gas station, sand dune or house again” and I also wondered to myself out loud, “is that the last gas station, sand dune or house or do I have 100 more of them still in front of me.”  In the middle of the night the seemingly endless features lining the infinite route haunted you.


I choose to run this race solo.  Without a support crew I would only have access to the race provided support at the aid stations spaced roughly 20 miles apart. This offered up a big logistics challenge, anything I needed in-between would have to carried in my race vest.  The aid stations were well stocked, supported and up lifting….they were a true oasis in the middle of the run if not in the middle of the night.

The most challenging part of this run was the lonely miles in the middle of the night.  With the long open road stretching out in front like an unbroken ribbon, at times I wondered if I was getting closer to the finish…or was I one of the last lone runners on the face of the planet.

You can read my race report here:

UMSTEAD 100 Miler – a 100 mile race held on a looped course within Umstead State Park in the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina.  This would be my first attempt at the 100 mile milestone, and my main goal for the year, everything I did in the early months of 2014 focused on success at this race.


Finishing time : 22 hours 51 minutes 05 seconds

The course covers a rolling 12.5 mile loop around Umstead State Park, which you run eight times.  Many find a “repetitive” type course a mental challenge which can become mind numbing.   Myself I don’t mind them, and liked the loop course for my first attempt at this distance.  The loop course helped me countdown to my goal, it helped me maintain my pace and it helped me stay focused.  The eight laps were comforting in a weird kind of way.  Although at times I did get tired of seeing the same old rocks, trees, bridges and hills over and over again.  The 100 mile course offers if not steep, some truly challenging climbs….they might not be challenging on lap one, two or three…but they will surly add up.  Each lap provides a change in elevation of 1000 feet, which after eight laps offers up a pretty respectable 8000 feet. If these hills were not a challenge early on, by lap eight you’ll be happy to never see them again.  Running eight times around the course you had 40 climbs to conquer.  In the middle of the night on lap seven I came up with the most appropriate question related to the hills at Umstead.  Would you rather get punched once or twice by Mike Tyson or 40 times by the local tough guy?  That’s how I some up the hills at Umstead.

umstead Hills

With the looped course you were never far from aid or the emotional up lifting energy of a smiling face.  For my 100 mile race my wife was crewing for me.  She set up camp on the Headquarters spur which provided two opportunities to see her and take on any needed hydration/food or adjust any gear.  The two manned and one unmanned race provided aid stations were awesome.  The food tables were well stocked, and the volunteers extremely supportive. I got the feeling that each volunteer wanted to personality ensure my success during this race.

The most challenging part of this run was the hills…after eight cycles around this course I hated each and every hill with a passion.  On my last lap I called them out by name..”Hill number 1…I’ll never see you again!”  “Hill number 2…go suck an egg.”  You get the idea.  It was kind of fun to count down the hills on the last lap and I’m sure I offered up some late night entertainment.

You can read my race report here:

JFK 50 –  The Granddaddy of all ultra marathons and the countries longest running ultra, the JFK 50 is more than a race it’s a happening.


Finishing time : 10 hours 06 minutes 27 seconds

Although another point to point race this 50 mile challenge offers up three different race conditions in one outing.  Beginning in downtown Boonsboro, the race starts off with a bang and a climb.  The first challenge of the day was the nearly 1200 foot climb to the highest part of the race at the start of the AT section (5 miles).  The next 10 miles are spent on a rather difficult single track trail section that offers up some of the more technical trails along the AT.  This section provides a constant hammering on the quads as runners spring from one rock section to another.  This AT section runs along the ridge of south mountain and ends on a series of rapidly descending switchbacks (1000 foot) that lead the runners to Weaverton and the beginning of the tow path.  The flat and endless C&O canal tow path (26.3 miles) strolls the crowd thru the towns of Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Shepherdstown,  and Taylor’s Landing, Maryland.  At the end of the C&O section the race course joins the paved roads at dam#4 following the rolling country roads (8 miles) that bring the race towards the town of Williamsport, Maryland and the finish line.  Each section of this point to point run…was different and challenging in its own right.


Running solo, I carried extra food and hydration items in my race vest.  In fact I did not need to carry any extra items, the race provided aid stations were plentiful and never further then 6 miles apart.  These aid stations were sponsored by local running clubs and each one attempted to out do the previous.  This paid off for us runners as there was plenty of food, drinks and positive energy at each aid station.

The most challenging part of this race was the start of the race to the very beginning of the AT section.  I normally start all of my runs with easy opening miles, allowing my heart rate to increase gradually.  The JFK opening miles had my heart rate rising from the first step.  The climb out of town and the technical trails took a lot of life out of my legs.  Upon exiting the AT I felt like I had just run 30 miles and completed 10,000 squats.  My legs were trashed and I had 35 miles to go.

You can read my race report here:

IN CONCLUSION, each race is uniquely its own.  Each course offers up its own brand of challenges.  I’ve been asked many times and If I had to rate which one was harder I would list them in this order, JFK 50, Umstead 100 and Graveyard 100k.  No matter which race you decide to run, all are well worth the entry fees, training time and the logistics effort to get there.