Editor’s Note: We are excited to bring you part three in the Making It series by (formerly aspiring) professional runner Reid Burrows. The series will follow Reid through his ups and downs as he attempts to go all in after his dreams in the trail and ultra running world. We pick up his story as we head into Black Canyon 100-km week and hear about how chaos eventually brought clarity this fall. If you need to catch up, head on back to part one and two.
I’m going to start part three by reintroducing myself. My name is Reid Burrows and I’m a professional trail runner for Merrell. I’m from the small town of Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, Canada. I now call Salida, Colorado home which is nestled in the mountains sitting at 7000 feet (2200m). It’s been two years since I quit my job and went all in on this pursuit. I still cannot believe how much my life has changed since then and I do not take this opportunity for granted.
This past fall was one of the most stressful times of my life. I was unsure of what my contract was going to look like with Merrell or if I was going to be resigned. We had a lot of dialogue about the future, but with an expiring contract I wasn’t sure what my life was going to look like. I’m currently permitted to live in the United States with the stipulation that I have a contract from a major brand like Merrell. If I’m not supported from a professional standpoint, my visa is essentially useless. It was stressful knowing I wouldn’t be allowed to stay in a place I was starting to call home if I didn’t secure a contract. Like many in the sport I also represent myself; I don’t have an agent or a manager, so contract negotiations and conversations with prospective brands are up to me. During this time, I was also heavily pursuing secondary sponsors. Sending out dozens of emails and messages per day and often hearing absolutely nothing in response. It’s a game of numbers, but the constant rejection started to affect me more than I’d care to admit.
I felt like I was in a pretty rough spot, and for the first time in a while running felt like a chore. Everyone talks about how your relationship with a passion can change when you make a career out of it, but I had always doubted that. I love running so much, exploring an area and exploring the limitations of my body. There was no way getting paid to do this hobby could change that.. right? But here I was, simply going through the motions and hating that I was letting stress get the best of me. I run professionally because running in nature is my favourite thing to do. It keeps me mentally healthy and it’s a pastime that I thoroughly enjoy. I didn’t want the monetary aspect of running to change my relationship with the sport, but this fall it did.
In June I was able to qualify for the Leadville 100 Mile by running the Leadville Trail Marathon. On a snowy day in June at 10,000 feet I ran a pretty solid race and finished 11th overall. It was a result I needed. Far from a perfect day, but I felt strong for the majority of the race. I was not proud of the outcome, but I was able to get the job done – I qualified for the Leadville 100 Mile. One of the two races I stated in my visa application that I wanted to race while I was setting up my life stateside. I should point out that I qualified thanks to the lottery system and not because of my performance.
The next big race for me was the Silver Rush 50 miler, another race that is part of the Leadville series. I went into the race really fit but without much expectation. I wasn’t sure where my fitness was for yet another race at high altitude where oxygen feels so limited. Growing up at sea level, my body was still having trouble racing at these higher elevations. The day started well with a conservative start, but eventually my body just wasn’t working the way it does at sea level and I toughed out another finish. I’m glad I finished but the only win of the day was nailing my entire fuelling plan of 120 grams of carbohydrates per hour.
Frustrated, that I couldn’t handle pushing my body at high altitudes, I came up with a game plan. I decided to camp out in Leadville, at 12,000 feet, for as much time as I could between the 50 miler and the 100-mile race day. What started as a frustrated move fuelled by insecurity quickly turned into an enjoyable experience. I felt purpose and for the first time in a while I felt fulfilled. Everything I’d always been searching for was here when I was living among the mountains. In the pursuit of an outcome, I actually fell in love with the process again. In love with the daily grind – the simplicity of making my coffee while watching the sun come over the mountains. It took away the distractions. With limited cell reception, I would do what was required and I spent much less time aimlessly scrolling on my phone. My life was filled with intention. Purpose. I felt prepared for the 100-mile race, both mentally and physically.
Race morning in Leadville was something special. For the first time ever, I was able to take down my breakfast like it was a normal morning. My nerves no longer had the power they once had. I felt prepared and calm. Surrounded by friends, and ready to put my best foot forward for 100 miles. As the gun went off at 4 AM I quickly started running with the eventual winner JP Giblin. We ran down from town and around Turquoise Lake together. Eventually, JP pulled away before I caught him leaving one of the main aid stations early on in the race. That was when I took the lead. In that moment, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn’t sure if I was making a move that would solidify a podium performance or compromise my finish, but I was leading the Leadville 100. Quitting my job, getting detained multiple times last year and moving to a small town in Colorado where I knew almost no one all seemed worth it in that moment. The lonely miles, the doubts of the financial stability of this pursuit, and the doubt in my abilities when everything was going wrong this year. It all finally felt worth it.
I eventually regained composure before heading into Twin Lakes. I was caught as I approached the small town filled with everyone’s crew. I was tied for second place with Matt Vira and I could feel the energy. As we left the roar of the crowd, crossed the river and started climbing up the hardest part of the course I settled into second place. I knew JP and others were coming for me, but I also didn’t want to compromise my ability to do the best I could and use all of my matches on the climb.
As I came into Winfield, I was in third place. I was caught on the climb up to Hope Pass, but I had expected that. I knew I wasn’t as strong on the climbs as I would be on the flats. It was one of the hottest days Leadville has ever seen, and the heat combined with the high elevation was affecting my nutrition plan. I still felt confident as I left Winfield in second heading back towards Hope Pass. At 12,800 feet, you feel the sun beat down on your back so much harder than at lower elevations. I felt every ray. As I headed back into Twin Lakes, I was still in fourth trying to maintain my composure but starting to feel the effects of pushing myself for 62 miles. I picked up my pacer Eli who brought me to Outward bound in fourth. Eli was an amazing pacer, forcing me to eat and drink, and keeping me relentlessly moving forward. At Outward bound, I picked up my Canadian friend Alexi who ultimately brought me to the finish line. This is where things really started to go south. I couldn’t handle eating anymore, and my stomach finally went as I approached the final aid station. Alexi kept me focused on the end goal as we stumbled our way around Turquoise lake. I was able to hold on to 8th overall at my first Leadville 100 and I can’t wait to go back this year to try and better that result.
After Leadville I decided to try to be like the biggest icons in the sport. I signed up for Run Rabbit Run again, only 27 days after Leadville. I wanted to see if I could handle a quick turnaround but found out pretty quickly into the race that I wasn’t ready for another 100-mile effort. I dropped out after the first aid station and have absolutely no regrets on doing so.
I initially planned on ending my season after Run Rabbit Run but a DNF did not feel like a good way to end my first full season as a professional. I knew I wanted to head back to Leadville for the 100 miler in 2024 so I went down to Austin to earn a spot at the Austin Rattler 50-kilometer. I was fortunate to come away with a coin into the 100 with a second place finish. My first podium as a professional. I felt pretty stoked to end the season on this high note and it was a great way to head into my contract conversations.
I’m happy to say that Merrell and I are going to be working together for the foreseeable future. I’ve been really happy with how I’ve been treated by the brand and the people within the company. I can’t wait to continue to develop product and work closely with the brand as we continue try to break barriers in the trail scene. I’m currently in Salida, Colorado training for the Black Canyon 100-kilometer – a race that might have some of the most insane competition of the year. We’re only a month into the new year but I’m so excited to see what I’m able to do in 2024. I have really big goals, and I’m happy to have you along for the journey. Thanks for giving me a platform to share my story, I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time to read my updates and cheer for me out on the trails.