Aspen runner Michael Barlow heads to Scotland for Skyrunning championships
Even Michael Barlow doesn’t fully understand his fascination with trail running. It started long after his days as a high school cross country runner in Tennessee. He never competed while attending Colorado College, but it’s slowly taken over his life since then.
“Moving fast in the mountains is pretty great. You get to see a whole lot,” Barlow said while trying to come up with an answer. “The grunt work is fun. Correction, it’s not fun. I don’t really think the way I approach running is fun — like skiing is — but it’s definitely fulfilling to have this slow process and consistent dedication to a craft.”
Barlow, 33, has called Aspen home since 2009. Over that time, he’s developed into one of the country’s better long-distance trail runners, and his dedication will pay off in a big way next week when he competes in the Ben Nevis Ultra, part of the 2018 Skyrunning World Championships in Scotland. Skyrunning, founded in 1992, is all about high-altitude trail running.
Barlow was invited to be part of an expected 17-member team put together by Ryan Kerrigan that will get to represent the United States while in the Scottish Highlands.
“I definitely never thought I’d get to say that. It adds a nice little element to it,” Barlow said of getting to compete for the U.S. “I’m hoping we’ll field a strong team. If the team does well, it just helps bring attention to the sport.”
Barlow has had a strong summer. He recently won the Telluride Mountain Run, and won the Audi Power of Four 50-kilometer trail run in July, which is part of the Skyrunner USA Series. Not to mention he won the Food & Wine Celebrity Chef 5K charity run in Aspen.
He was the 2016 Skyrunner USA Series season champion. That same year, he won the Whiteface Sky Race in New York, which he considers one of his best wins.
“Over the whole summer I’ve put in a lot more consistent training,” Barlow said. “As it’s gotten closer, I’ve kind of upped the vertical that I’ve been running and tried to practice some steeper downhills. I raced in Norway a few years ago on a really similar course (to Scotland) and it was just fun. My favorite times are getting out into the steeper mountains up high.”
The Sept. 14 ultra in Scotland centers around the town of Kinlochleven and Ben Nevis, which is the highest mountain in the British Isles. The 52k event is one of three races over three days that are all part of the Skyrunning World Championships and the International Skyrunning Federation.
Barlow, a software developer by day who is currently working on his master’s degree in computer science, said he doesn’t have any specific goals for his race in Scotland. Although, considering the amount of work he’s put in this summer, he’s placing at least a little bit of pressure on himself.
“Racing is just as much about how fit you are as how fit the other guys are. You can always look at racing as a function of who didn’t show up,” Barlow said. “I’ll definitely finish. I’ll definitely run hard. Those sorts of things, I’ve gotten past those. I try not to put too many expectations on it.”
Looking cool is just the tip of the iceberg for Mikaela Shiffrin, Travis Ganong and the rest of the U.S. ski team when they debut new race suits at the world championships.