Editor’s Note: We are excited to bring you part two in the Making It series by 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 this spring as he loads up his car to move to the US in preparation for early season elbow rubbing with the best in the United States.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write the second part of my story. Truthfully, being a self-funded professional athlete was much simpler than becoming a sponsored athlete. I have been trying to grow into a role that I wasn’t fully ready for. But, are we ever really ready for anything we do? I quit my job nearly a year before signing my first contract with Merrell. Being a professional finally felt real when I crossed the border for Black Canyon back in February. I know there is never a ‘right time’ for anything in life – to end a relationship, quit a job or write this article. When I first got my visa in February, I thought it would be great to write part two heading into Black Canyon. I was the fittest I had ever been in my entire life and was surrounded by a great community throughout my entire training block. You’re now reading this in May, and after a disastrous race in Arizona, I lacked the confidence to put myself out there. I put it off again. Canyons, I’ll wait until after Canyons. Then, I’ll have a good update, a result I’ll be proud of. I will finally feel like a professional. I still feel like an imposter – undeserving of a shoe contract and it’s been something I’m working on daily.
The reality of moving to the USA has been more stressful than I had ever anticipated. I’ve been training as a professional for most of my life, starting as a triathlete over a decade ago. I’ve spent this time pushing the limits of what I thought I was capable of. Trying to understand the physiology behind training. I’ve enjoyed the science and the process throughout the last decade, but as much as I enjoy the daily aspects of this lifestyle results have always been a big part of my motivation. I crave competition, even when I’m not ready for it. I’ve always wanted to race the best in the world. It’s quite literally why I am here now, in the mountains of Colorado.
I think I expected things to start going smoother for me once I signed my contract in December. In an attempt to salvage my relationship with the US government, I headed to Girona, Spain. I knew no one at the time but quickly built a relationship with Christian Meir (a fellow endurance athlete originally from another small town in New Brunswick who has been on the Freetrail podcast) and his group run through his new shop, Overland Running Provisions. I spent the next eight weeks training side by side with Christian. Feeling the fittest I’ve ever been, learning from a veteran of the endurance world. I also felt like I belonged, a feeling I’ve been chasing for my entire life. Community, I found it in Girona. A community of genuine people wanting the best out of their athletics while having fun along the way.
After eight weeks in Girona, we said our goodbyes (for now) and I headed to Arizona for the Black Canyon 100-kilometer. I had everything to prove. I wanted the trail world to walk away from the race knowing my name. Here’s where the struggle in writing this article creeps in again, I felt off all week. I’m not sure if it was the jetlag from the 8-hour time change or a bug I picked up from flying across the world. But my heart rate wouldn’t settle down all week. I hate making excuses but I’ve had trouble articulating what I felt without making it sound like one. On race day, I went out with the leaders anyway. Fit enough to be there but something was wrong. Nothing was clicking. I kept on trying to convince myself the day would turn around. That I was fit enough to be here, deserving. But I just kept feeling worse. My heart rate was 20 beats higher than it normally would be at that pace. When I arrived at the first crew station, I continued to try to move but nothing seemed to help me get going. Doubt began to creep in and at this point, I had just dropped out of the top ten.
Things continued to worsen as the miles ticked on. When I arrived at the pivotal moment, sixty kilometers into the race I told my dad “I’m dropping out. Something is wrong and I don’t feel like walking 40k to the finish.” Luckily a friend was standing nearby and said all of the things that I needed to hear. The one that stuck with me was, “You can’t replicate this in training. You can’t go this deep. Even if you have to walk, just finish it.” I had nothing I could say in return, so I began walking which quickly turned back into running. As I descended into the canyon, I started feeling good again. It was the reset and motivation I needed. I’m not sure when exactly this happened but I threw everything up. Already having a rough day, this was insult to injury. I quickly became dizzy, drank all of the fluid I had on me (it seemed rational at the time), and sat down on a rock. I wondered what would happen if I laid down on the trail. How would I get extracted? I decided laying down wasn’t the best idea and started “walking” to the next aid station. I could barely hold a straight line. I wanted to stop so badly, but I continued. I ran when I could. I walked when I couldn’t. I kept moving forward no matter how bad I wanted to stop. I left Black Canyon feeling devasted. I gave up when I knew it wasn’t going to be my day and that stung. I’ve always prided myself on giving a race everything I’ve got, and I didn’t do that at Black Canyon. I didn’t make a name for myself; in the process, I didn’t even give it my all. I found the messages I received hard to read; I did finish when most would have dropped but I couldn’t say I was proud of myself. I still felt like an imposter with a shoe contract that walked almost half of a 100-kilometer race. Worst of all, I didn’t have fun.
Fortunately, I’ve aligned with a brand that saw the forest through the trees. I was invited to head to the Canary Islands for a photo and video shoot during my downtime. I quickly said yes, and after spending less than 48 hours in Canada I packed up everything I owned for Arizona and flew back to Spain. A week of good wine, good food, and spending time with the people that make the brand what it is. A week I needed. As much as the entire trip was centered around a shoe campaign, it felt like a vacation. More importantly, I was reminded that my results are only a small portion of who I am as a human to this company, the people that work for it, and most importantly to myself.
On the way to Canyons, I stayed with a good friend in Tahoe. We reconnected, and I was able to get my head in the right place heading into the race. Canyons was another difficult day. I thought about dropping again. The exposed sections of sun beating down on me hurt. I didn’t expect it. As much as a training camp in the desert can prepare you for a hard day of racing, there’s something different about racing in that heat in April. I tried to stick to the most conservative plan from the start, but even with the controlled effort I still had trouble cooling my body down. I could not execute the plan to the best of my ability, and I paid the price anyways. I’m learning a lot by racing at this level even if I’m not getting the results I want, every race is another opportunity to choke on my ego and realize I still have a lot to learn.
So what’s next for me? Right now, I’m in Colorado. I’m trying to race my way into Leadville this summer with my campaign starting at the marathon in June. It’s an iconic race that I’ve wanted to do for a while. I also think a lot of fitness can be gained at altitude and given my result at Run Rabbit Run last year coming from sea level, I’m stoked to see what could happen if I spend the entire summer living and training up high.
I don’t think my story ends here. I am by all means, by definition, a professional trail runner but my career has only just begun. The reality of doing this full-time in the United States has made this somewhat difficult. Filling my car with everything I own and setting up camp for races is a fun lifestyle at times but it can get really lonely, and it turns out short-term rentals are expensive on an entry-level contract. But I’m going to continue to navigate my dream as best I can. When I first quit my job, I thought being a professional was about running more and having a lot of fun. The reality is, it’s still a stressful job, but I get to do what I love for a living and that’s pretty cool. I’m really not sure where or when part three will come but you’ll be right here reading it when it and I am ready. I’m dreaming big and risking it all because I think life’s too short to stay in an unhappy place. I feel very fortunate to be here and I hope this inspires you to chase your dreams whatever they may be.