Former Matador Rich Burns Breaks 33-year-old World Record in the M55 Mile

July 22, 2010

55-59 Mile World Record Video

Former Cal State Northridge track athlete Rich Burns eclipsed the 33-year old world record in the 55-59 Mile at the Portland Track Festival on June 12, 2010.

Burns ran part of the 1977 and 1978 track seasons at Cal State Northridge, but according to him "was injured much of that time."

He was an art major at CSUN and has since made art his profession.

Rich Burns Original Art

After turning 55 this year and entering the 55-59 age group, he began his season at the All-Comers Meet at the Matador Track in January. At his second CSUN All-Comers meet in Feb, he ran 4:45 in the mile which "made me think I was in shape to try for a national record, in a 3000."

On Feb. 20 at Pomona Pitzer, he broke the record of 9:37, running 9:21.83. A forecast for rain at the All-Comers Meet two weeks later put off his attempt for the mile record. But on March 12th, Burns ran a 1500 at Occidental, setting another national record of 4:17.80, with the old mark being 4:20.

Then on April 16th, he broke another record, this time the 5000 record of 16:27, by running 16:21.12 at Azusa Pacific.

Planning to take a break from running in mid-May, Burns was talked back onto the track by a good friend who puts on the Masters mile race in conjunction with the Portland Track Festival. The race was on June 12 and after asking for years, his friend was determined to have him race this year.

The mile records were 4:42.7 for national and 4:40.4 for world. In October 1973, at age 18, he ran a mile in 4:31. Thirty-seven years later, here he was running another sub-4:40 mile.

"In the race I was struggling to keep pace but had a good last lap to get both records and become the first one 55 or older to go under 4:40," said Burns. "Yes I'm very glad I did extend my season and run up there."

The following is an interview with Rich by Ken Stone of

Tell me more about your freshman 4:31

We weren't happy that the coach was having a track race the day after a 4-mile race, so surprisingly, finding myself still in contention on the last lap, I was trying to run just hard enough to win, and what turned out to be a 59 last lap had felt easy, and the big PR was a total surprise. Up till then I'd had no clue I could even run 65 for a last lap.

Tell me about your high school running career

I ran a couple 2-milers for the early part of my junior year in high school, but was kicked off the team as my workouts were pretty bad, and I finally decided I wasn't going to run extra laps because I couldn't make the workout times the coach thought I should. He was a football coach that had never coached track. Funny thing was, I was one of the few runners there that wasn't cheating in the workouts. I did win league my senior year in XC (2 miles), but broke my foot right before track season.

So my miling started my first year of community college, during the XC season, and I was just a bit better than middle of the pack at 4 miles.

What happened after that 4:06?

That 4:06 ended up being my best time, as I was injured my last years of college. I did run a bit again in my early 30s, running 3:48 in the 1500 just as the good part of the season was starting, but was rear-ended a week later on the way to work and didn't run again until I was 40.

What was your race plan at Portland? What time were you shooting for?

Plan: To take a shot at the world record of 4:40.4 and yet not blow a chance at the national one, held by our friend Nolan (Shaheed) at 4:42.7.

Tell me about the race

Hoped to run 69 pace for two or three laps if it felt OK. Instead I was struggling at 70, but managed to hold it, coming through the 3/4 mark at 3:30, though by then, I figured I had no shot at the world record, as I wasn't feeling very strong. With about 200 to go, someone yelled that we were on 4:41 pace, and I thought that if I ran hard I might still have a chance to get 4:41. Was very surprised to hear 36 . . . . 37 as I was finishing.

Was this the best effort of the four record races this season (including American records at 1500, 3000 and 5000)?

They all were hard efforts, but this one was the nicest, of course. Also I am really thrilled to have done this at Dave's baby! As far as effects go, I was really tanked for over two weeks from the 5000.

What challenges (aches, pains, life situations) did you overcome to set the WR up in Portland?

Most runners are dealing with pains at this age. For the race, I knew that Jim Sorensen, Kevin Paulk and Dave Cannon were all dealing with foot problems. Dave Clingan can hardly run at all now, because of his knees. . . . I have had a weird sensation in my metatarsal area between the big toe and next one since last fall. I kept thinking it might stress-fracture at some point, but it made it through the season. Also have a slight hamstring issue lately, but it didn't bother me in the race. Now it's all getting rest.

How did you celebrate afterward?

Had a nice evening out with some of the other runners, and making some new friends. Congrats to Carmen Troncoso for her record.

Does running inspire your artwork?

Running doesn't inspire my art work, though I always am looking at cloud formations and different things that apply to my art work, when out running.

What are your track plans the rest of the year? Going to Sacramento masters nationals?

My plans are to continue my vacation from running until at least the Fourth of July. Made the decision to start my track season early and not run Sacramento this year. I'd actually planned to be done by mid-May, but I'm glad Dave had other plans as to when I should start my break. I'd like to run the Syracuse 5K this October. Had hoped to do it last year, but I was slowly coming back. I am hoping to run Sacramento (worlds) in 2011.


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