It is almost uncanny that a man who has been in the military for almost 22 years serving in both the Navy and Army and is also a Master Sergeant E8 Special Forces soldier does not have a distinct running plan.
But for Mike Morton, who won Western States in 1997 (among other epic ultras over a span of a few years) has the discipline and dedication to do anything he wants. And what he wants, is to be a contender at Badwater this year.
The urge to race competitively came n 1992 when Morton returned to the U.S. from a one-year military tour in the British Territory of Diego Garcia where he had been actively training and competing in short run-bike-run races and 5Ks. Soon he started training for a marathon series,
running twice a day and doing some speed work. Once he got back to the States, Morton wanted to keep racing and the Navy Chief he worked for (Jerry Jones) was an ultra runner and turned him on to ultras.
“He brought me to the Uwharrie Mountain Run (a 40-miler), in 1994 and I was hooked,” Morton said. The rest, as they say, is history.
That led to a short career of winning several endurance competitions, including the Western States 100 in 1997 which gained him notoriety, however, both travel and injury removed Morton from competitive racing when he went back overseas on active duty for over 10 years.
To Morton, the military has been the biggest adventure of his life. He started in the Navy as a hard hat diver like his older brother Mark. He’s been all over the world diving in some of the best and worst places. He switched to the Army in 2001 and has been able to live the life of a Green Beret, utilizing some of the best weapons in the world and jumping out of airplanes. “The military has made me a better runner and being a runner has helped me get where I’m at in the military,” he said.
But now Morton is back in the states and traveling for the military has been replaced by traveling for competition and he seems to have his mojo back. His wife and daughter like going with him to his races but money prohibits them from going to the ones that require flying.
When Morton competes, he doesn’t have any specific food or equipment that he uses. “I usually eat and drink whatever the race provides. Badwater will be different because I will have to put some thought into it,” Morton said.
Morton trains alone and prefers the solitude of a long run. It is actually beneficial to him to not have a formal training schedule as he enjoys running when he feel like it.
Fortunately, Morton’s work/life schedule allows him a great deal of flexibility but running still gets in the way of family time.
“I’m selfish in that sense because I will put it off until evening or dusk, which is my favorite time, and that will not allow a family dinner. That is my family’s number one complaint,” Morton explained.
“We have a unique family that has endured a strenuous military life over the last nine years. I have been deployed almost half of the time and that created a feeling that we needed to make up for that time. Now that I’m in a staff type job, I control my day and when/if I travel. My wife was military so she understood when I would leave for a deployment or leave for a month to climb a mountain that it was work, that is how I make a living but a seven year-old doesn’t understand it,” Morton lamented.
When it comes to the mental aspects of training and racing, Morton thanks his military experience. “Mental fortitude is something required in my job. You learn to be ‘an honest broker’ with yourself and either suck it up or start developing a different course of action. I have always planned and expected the worst case scenario and that tends to help. The
Army has taught me to have redundant plans and contingencies covered, that helps in running too. When I’m in the 20th hour of a 24-hour run and feeling depressed I can reflect on life experience from overseas,” Morton said.
On March 31, 2012 Morton achieved a new course record at the Ulmsted 100 Endurance Run in Raleigh, North Carolina with a time of 13:11:40. He’s back on the warpath, having come back from a 14-year hiatus, showing that when you hit 40, you can not only take on the world, but dominate.
Back in 1997 when he won Western States, injury and travel evaded him. Now he’s going to Badwater to complete a mission, with thoughts on running fast.