Durango High School junior cross-country and track distance runner Madeleine Burns focused on one mantra all season – consistency. Her mantra paved the way to winning the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A girls 3,200-meter run at the CHSAA State Track and Field Championships in Lakewood earlier this month.
Burns had a stellar cross-country season with the Demons, where she finished in 13th place last fall at the Class 4A state championships. She also finished in third place in this year’s 1,600-meter run on the final day of the state track competition. Though always close to winning a state title, 2019 was the year Burns broke through en route to being named The Durango Herald Girls Breakthrough Athlete of the Year for the 2018-19 season.
Burns’ state championship-winning run came after a year of heartbreak, when she battled injuries for much of her sophomore year. Still, she had a strong fifth-place finish in the 1,600 and was 12th in the 3,200. Her freshman year was also solid, when she took ninth in the 1,600 and qualified for the 3,200 but did not end up running it. Heading into the spring, Burns said she wasn’t satisfied with her past results – not by a long shot.
“The biggest area where I saw growth was in my consistency, and realizing that if you put the hard work in, you’ll get rewarded one way or another,” said Burns, daughter of Andy and Emily Burns. “I always had faith in that idea. I always kept running, but winning a state title really is validation for me. Outside of running, I’ve had that same mindset for the classroom and everywhere else in my life, and it’s helped me grow so much.”
In the dead of winter, Burns would run 40 miles a week. She would also lift and work on strengthening her core. By the time track and field season rolled around, it was as if she didn’t skip a beat coming off cross-country.
DHS head coach Johnny Bertrand said Burns’ offseason effort helped propel her from being a state title contender to being a favorite.
“Madeleine put in a lot of work during the offseason, and sometimes track seems shorter because some of these other sports you’ve got all summer or all fall to prepare for,” Bertrand said. “We’re coming into the season with a winter like we had, and there’s no getting on the track. It’s hard to get out and run in the wintertime. Somebody like Madeleine who put in a lot of work in summer and cross-country and found ways to train during the winter, that’s what really set her up for a successful outdoor season.”
Burns said competing at indoor track meets on her own was huge for her momentum as she transitioned from one sport to another. “I ran indoor, competed with some other Colorado girls at a meet at the Air Force Academy, and then went up to the University of Washington and ran great there, as well,” Burns said. “It wasn’t even full outdoor season yet, but based on the work that I had put in, I was really feeling good heading into the full season.”
Her first true test of the track season came at the Nike Chandler Rotary Invitational in Arizona, which she won with a meet-record of 10:36.96. Similar to cross-country’s Desert Twilight Invitation in Arizona, she fared well against some of the best runners in the Southwest. She followed it up with strong performances at the Mickey Dunn Invitational in Grand Junction and the home Ron Keller Invitational. By the time the state championship rolled around, she had outworked and outpaced everybody and was the top-seed heading into her signature event with the best time in the state, but there was still work to be done.
In the 3,200, Burns was able to edge Niwot’s Samrawit Dishon, as Burns won in a time of 10 minutes, 53.63 seconds, while Dishon crossed the line in 10:53.76.
“One of the biggest takeaways I had from this weekend was that I have a much better kick than I originally thought,” Burns said after her 1,600-meter race at the state championships.
While the state championship was a culmination of her efforts, it wasn’t even her best time of the year. Her personal-best time and school record came at the Liberty Bell Track and Field Invitational in Littleton where she ran a 10:50.78 Last fall, she also set a new 5-kilometer record at the Liberty Bell Cross-Country Invitational, when she ran an 18:10.30 and in both events, she took down professional marathon runner Laura Thweatt’s records. She ran a new personal-best time in the mile at the St. Louis Festival of Miles on Thursday night and took third overall after she ran a 4:55.71. It was the 35th-fastest time in the nation this season, according to Mile Split. She also competed in the same event last year and finished in sixth-place at the invite-only race. She ran the 50th-fastest mile in the nation at the event, as she finished in 4:56.26.
After state, Burns took a few days off but is ready to prove herself in St. Louis. “Running at sea level is always fun because that’s when you get to see where you stack up against everybody else in the country,” Burns said. “Competing at Desert Twilight and the Rotary race were great because they’re the best runners from around the region, and in the case of this weekend, it’s some of the best competition anywhere, so I’m really excited to prove myself.”
She added that it’s her final event of the outdoor track and field season. She’ll take a few weeks to recover and then will prepare for the cross-country season not too far down the road.
“Madeleine will continue working hard to get better, so I don’t see anything that’s going to slow her down,” Bertrand said. “As long as she stays healthy, she’s going to get better because she’s going to keep working harder. It’s super exciting and we’re looking forward to working with her next year and helping her become the best runner that she can be.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.