Most days, Gabrielle Burriss runs farther than the average person walks weekly.

The Southwest Baptist University graduate, who lives in Kansas City, is part of a subset of endurance athletes who traverse vast distances as part of races labelled ultramarathons. 

And for the past eight years, Burriss said she’s targeted one goal, Colorado’s Leadville Trail 100 Run, a 100-mile off-road race across the Rocky Mountains with elevations ranging from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet above sea level. 

She’ll toe the startline in Leadville at 4 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, ready to compete in a race that took its fastest ever finisher more than 15 hours to complete. 

Burriss has experience in ultramarathon events. Earlier this year, she won the women’s category Booneville Backroads Ultra, a 100-mile race in Boonville, Iowa, finishing in 23:36:03.2.

To prepare for Leadville, Burriss said she’s staying with friends near the race start, spending the two months leading up to the event at its base elevation as part of a plan to acclimate to the climbing and thinner air. 

Burriss, who is the granddaughter of native Polk County resident Christine Fisher Thiessen, took a break from training to speak with the BH-FP over the phone about her race prep and journey through ultramarathons. 

“This one, it's definitely different than Iowa because of the elevation and the mountains,” she said of Leadville. “I’ve never taken this much time or stopped everything else to train for a race. Even when I’m not running, I’m going on hikes, so I can get used to being up in elevation.”

Burriss said she’d first heard about the famed Colorado race eight years ago. She ran cross country in high school and completed her first marathon in 2014. Ultramarathons came later, starting with the 31-mile Night Hawk in Lawrence, Kansas, in June 2017.  

“That first one was a pretty big deal,” she said. “It was the first time I’d ever run longer than a marathon, so just finishing that was pretty amazing.”

Burriss said she fought through leg cramps and stomach issues to complete the event as the third female finisher, running the course in 7:09:17. 

The following year in September, she geared up for a 50-mile event at the same venue.

“I was actually really nervous going into the second one,” she said. “I was afraid of that again, but I was better trained and I had the experience of having done something similar. I kind of knew what I was doing going into it.”

Burriss ran 11:29:09 for a fourth placed female finish. 

In December, Burriss ran 68 miles as part of the 4 Fore 30 endurance race in Camdenton, finishing fifth overall. 

Burriss said the win in May at the Booneville Backroads Ultra came as a surprise. She’d approached the event mainly as a warmup for Leadville. 

“I really didn’t go in to win it,” she said. “I just went in to finish it and prepare for this one so that I would have experienced what 100 miles feels like.”

During the race, Burriss said she’d found out she was the lead. In addition to being the first female finisher, she took third overall. 

“That kind of gave me some more excitement in those late hours when it was getting longer,” she said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m doing better than I thought I was.’”

Looking back as she gears up for what’s ahead, Burriss reflected on first learning about the Leadville race and the journey ultramarathons have taken her on since. 

“This race that I’m doing is what started all of that,” she said. “I just wanted to go beyond 26 miles.”

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