by Carrie Adams
If you see a picture of Michelle Barton running, what you’ll see is pure joy. “I love my sport so much,” she says, “There is something about the people – like family.” The 40-year-old ultra runner is one of the fastest ultra runners on the planet and she’s an amazing advocate for female athletes – even raising a future chicking phenom in her daughter Sierra, whom she named after the mountains she loves. Recently, Michelle won the Irvine Lakes Mud Run. Her daughter Sierra was the youngest participant; her father Doug Malewicki was the oldest. Sierra even chicked her grandpa by 12 minutes.
Continuing on her winning streak, Michelle also just won the Shadow of the Giants 50K at Yosemite with a time of 3:57. In the event, Barton broke the previous course record by 30 minutes (which she herself, previously held.)
“I win races and I like chicking the guys and I train my butt off to do it,” says Michelle. So far this year, she remains unbeaten in every event she’s entered. For her, it’s not the plaques and the medals – it’s the people. Her story is resonating with people around her and she’s seeing soccer moms and other women taking up their own goals and losing weight and signing up for trail runs because they see what she is accomplishing.
When it comes to ultra chicking, Barton is queen! She loves the feeling that comes with competition and showing women what they can accomplish and how to level a playing field. One of her inspirations has been her dad, who is 72 years old. He helped foster her love of the mountains growing up and continues to inspire her today. “He ran 70 miles for his 70th birthday! When I’m 72 I still want to do it like he does!” She only started running after Sierra, now 11, was born. She got a jogger stroller and started doing distance as part of a trail series.
Michelle’s daughter Sierra represents a new generation of chicking. Barton laughs, “She’s way more naturally athletic than me. I danced growing up but didn’t get to do anything! She’s 11 and as tall as I am. She’s gorgeous and smart.” She’s also tough! She’s run several races with her mom and regularly goes on long hiking trips without a complaint.” Michelle sees big things for her. “It’s so cute, we’ll go on these long 17 mile hikes and she’ll pick flowers and tell strangers passing us on the trail that it’s her forest!” When it comes to following in her mom’s footprints she’s a natural athlete. Michelle explains, “She plays soccer now and loves it. I want her to love what she does. I hope she runs, I think she will, but I’ll support whatever she wants to do. She’s my good luck charm and she makes me want to finish faster!” Her daughter also regularly travels with Michelle to her 50K races. “I’m super blessed that we can share that. We’re super close,” gushes Michelle. “Maybe she’ll pace me – she’s more of a speed girl.”
When it comes to ultra trail running Michelle says, “A lot of people are genuinely interested. They are genuinely excited. She’s gearing up for the Gore-Tex Transrockies 125 mile run in Colorado. Michelle trains three – four hours a day and is running this year for the first time with a partner. “My training has totally changed,” she says. “I broke my ankle in 2004. I was running 100+ miles weeks and not getting faster. I was using the same muscles.” To improve, she became more engaged with cross-training. “Oh I am a huge advocate for cross-training! I recover super fast with swimming. If your legs are trashed go get on your bike.” A regular day of training for Barton includes a run in the morning, biking and swimming later in the day. On the weekends she generally races. “I just won three races in three weeks – 2 50k’s and a trail marathon.”
In the upcoming Transrockies run, Barton will be joined by her father whose running partner is the legendary Gordy Ainelsy, who started the Western States ultra in 1974. At this point in Barton’s season, everything she’s doing is leading up to that. She lives at Sea Level so she’ll spend a few weeks in Yosemite prior to the race to acclimate to the elevation.
As a mom, she makes sacrifices. “It’s really hard to train on the level I do and it’s a sacrifice and I have to miss a soccer game every now and then and it makes me feel like a bad parent, but Sierra is so proud. On all her school projects she’ll say, ‘My mommy is the best runner.’” That praise reminds Barton why she does it and that she’s inspiring her daughter as she trains and races even when it means she misses a game here and there.
Reflecting on her place in the sport Barton says, “It’s wonderful to be good at something but still push yourself and challenge yourself. The camaraderie, the people I’ve met and the amazing things I’ve gotten to see because of it make it so special. 99% of the people on the planet haven’t see it because they won’t sweat enough to get to it.”