Richard Burgunder is a professional endurance athlete who has completed 22 marathons and ultramarathons (50 miles). He has 17 years of experience comepting on the national and international level, including on the XTERRA Trail Running World Tour and USATF Mountain, Ultra, and Trail Running Circuits. Burgunder is a 14-time Boston marathon qualifier, the 2008 USATF 50 Mile and Marathon Trail 20-29 Age Group National Champion, and the 2009 XTERRA New England Trail Run Series Regional Champ.
Recently, Burgunder ran up the Empire State building for the fourth consecutive year in the 33rd Annual NYRR Empire State Building Run-up in NYC, also known as the Olympics of stair climbing. It is one of the world's premier tower races in which its entrants have to run up a total of 1,576 steps to the observatory deck on the 86th floor. In the invitation-only world-class event, attracting top athletes from 19 states and 17 different countries, he finished 61st among a field of 294 runners with a time of 14.46, a new personal record.
After experiencing the rush and challenge of competitive stair climbing, Burgunder set out to challenge two-time RAAM World Champion Danny Chew’s stair climbing record of 101 consecutive times up the 42-story University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, the 2nd tallest educational building in the world. After putting in an impressive effort, Rich climbed the building’s stairs 71 times over 15 hours and 34 minutes in February of 2009, a feat earning him the title second all time – an effort which is equivalent to going from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest!
In addition, Burgunder was a member of Team USA and ran the opening leg of Standard Chartered Banks’ Greatest Race on Earth 2007/08 International Marathon Relay Series, starting in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to focusing solely on running, he was also a two-time qualifier and member of the USA Triathlon Team for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Long Course Duathlon 2005 and 2006 World Championships held in Barcis, Italy and Fredericia, Denmark, respectively.
His success as an endurance athlete has led to numerous sponsorships: he is a member of the PowerBarTeam Elite™, Team MGD 64, and the nationally ranked Nike Central Park Track Club.
Beyond being an acclaimed endurance athlete, Burgunder is an accomplished entreprenuer, sports marketing specialist, and an endurance sports coach. Somehow, between training and competing, he finds the time to run Burgunder Sports Management, a full-service sports marketing and endurance sports coaching firm.
Burgunder is an adrenaline junkie who pushes his body and mind to inconcievable limits, and his accomplishments are inspirational.
AA: How did you get started in running?
Richard Burgunder: I first got started with running, actually by playing team sports (soccer) in middle school. My soccer coach actually recommended it. He was impressed with my hustle on the soccer field and suggested I try track and cross country as well. My freshman year of high school I didn’t play any sports, but I looked forward to the 3 mile run we used to have in gym class. I ran extremely good times and my gym instructor urged me to go out for the track and cross country teams. The next year I did and from then on I was hooked.
AA: It’s interesting that soccer led you to becoming the great endurance athlete you are today. Did you play any sports in college?
Richard Burgunder: Yes, I did. I initially started off as a multi-sport athlete at Penn State.
AA: So, did your running career take off in college?
Richard Burgunder: Yes and no. I decided not to run cross country for Penn State's coaching staff because I didn’t want to be quite that involved during college. So, I started doing club sports, which was actually a triathlon team. Many of the people involved with the team were world-class runners, cyclists, and swimmers. I trained regularly with them and raced all across the country. Things really started taking off after college.
AA: You are at college, training with world class athletes. Did some of their competitiveness rub off on you or did you already have it in you?
Richard Burgunder: I’ve always considered myself competitive, but when I started training with them, I saw a different level of competition and I would have to say some of their competitiveness rubbed off on me. During my time training with them, several of them were competing nationally and internationally. I saw that and I wanted it. The people I trained with were extremely motivational. Just being associated and training with such a talented group acted as a spring board propelling me to the next level.
AA: Some people do 5K’s, 10 milers, half-marathons, or marathons. You do ultramarathons
– 50 grueling miles of running, usually on anything but flat terrain. I have to ask, why?
Richard Burgunder: (Laughing) I actually get asked that question a lot. I do ultramarathons and other extreme sports because I enjoy the challenge and intensity of extreme sports versus typical road running. I find that it tests you physically and mentally to a much greater capacity than road running can at times. I also find some of the courses more intense – there’s a technical aspect of the terrain that you have to take into consideration. Basically, I just really love the challenge. I like to continually push myself to see how far I can go. I’m always up for a new challenge. Also, the people associated with this sport make it worthwhile too. I’ve been blessed to meet some amazing people through the ultra running circuit. I love everything about this sport.
AA: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into this sport?
Richard Burgunder: Start off slow. This is not something you just jump into overnight. I always tell everyone to pursue their dreams. Don’t let anyone ever deter you. Set goals for yourself and try to achieve them and while you are achieving them have fun. It’s a ride, so just take it for what it is. Like I said, none of this happens overnight. It’s a journey, but a fun one.
AA: Your success in extreme endurance racing has afforded you the ability to travel around the world. Your picture and accomplishments are all over the internet, you have endorsements deals, and your name has become somewhat synonymous with extreme endurance racing. How do you stay grounded?
Richard Burgunder: I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the great support of family, friends, sponsors, peers, and teammates. Without my loyal supporters and fans, I would have never made it to where I am today. So I take nothing for granted. Also, I’ve worked extremely hard for what I have accomplished. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot personally to achieve what I have professionally. I’ve always tried to help others as they have helped me. Like I said, I never take any of this for granted. I really believe in having a good work ethic and setting the bar high.
AA: You do believe in helping. Quite a few of your races benefit some charity or charitable research. What compels you to be so charitable? Do you feel as an athlete, you have more responsibility to participate in charitable events?
Richard Burgunder: Absolutely. I think we should all give back as much as we can. There have always been a few charities that I try to support whenever I can. The American Cancer Society is definitely one. I think all of us have been touched by cancer in some way – it may be your own personal struggle or a family members or a friends. Both my sister and I have been team captains for the Relay for Life. Another charity that I am extremely proud to be a part of is called the XTERRA Foundation. Their purpose is to infuse hope and opportunity into underprivileged and at risk youths and to provide opportunities for quality education through sports. Sports teach the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and participation in [them] can help with life’s challenges.
AA: Along with charity work, you find the time to be a coach, teacher, athlete ambassador, and you work as a sports marketing professional. How do you balance it all?
It’s actually very challenging. I really like interaction with and meeting new people. I love being involved with education, coaching, trying to help people, and seeing others succeed. Throughout the years I’ve always tried to help whether it is in athletics, as a coach, or in the community as a mentor. It’s hard work, but the rewards are worth it.
AA: As a sports marketing professional and as an athlete you have seen both sides of the business of professional sports. What advice would you give to young athletes about sponsorship and agents?
Richard Burgunder: It’s a very competitive market. Getting involved with professional athletics, especially obtaining athletic sponsorship is not easy. One thing I want to stress is that if you are trying to obtain sponsorship on any level be prepared to work hard. You have to prove yourself. A lot of people will try to seek a sponsor or try to seek an agent to represent them, but unrealistically are not qualified at that point. Really prove yourself first within your sport. It’s also equally important to prove yourself in your community. One thing sponsors look for as much as athletic ability is image. You want to get your name out there. You want to show that you can market that company’s product on and off the court, course, or arena. Getting sponsors will open the door to obtaining an agent.
AA: You have accomplished a lot in your sport, but like any other competitor, I’m sure you still have a lot you want to accomplish. What are some of you current goals?
There are a lot of things I would like to still accomplish. I guess the first of these would be to be a top finisher at the 2010 XTERRA trail series race. And by top finisher, I mean top 3 or top 5. I would also like to make the podium in every race I compete in this year. I also have some goals I’d like to accomplish not involving racing. Hopefully, I will start working towards a Master’s degree in Sports management this year. I’d also like to spend even more time coaching and mentoring.
AA: I thank you so much for your time and I wish you continued success.
Thank you. I wish the same for Access Athletes.
For more information about Richard Burgunder, you can visit his personal website at www.richardburgunder.com. On behalf of Access Athletes, we would like to thank Richard for taking time out of his busy schedule to do an interview with The Real Athlete Blog.