Meet the Coach – Q&A with Marc Burns

On Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA announced the NCAA Cross Country Championships hosts for the next four years, including Mizzou’s own the Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, MO for 2025.  An early Boost Treadmills customer, discover more about the Tigers’ distance coach Marc Burns in the piece below.

Mizzou Cross Country during the Gans Creek Classic Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, MO on October 3, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Curry)


Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Marc Burns should be a Midwest poster boy. Legend has it his hobby, which led him to a world title in 2019, originated in the cornfields of Illinois.  His dad competed on the Mizzou track team – perhaps it was destiny that brought Coach Burns to Columbia after eight seasons in the Missouri Valley (Wichita State and Bradley).  

One thing for sure, Coach Burns was born with the gift of gab. When asked which coach had the biggest impact on him growing up, he talked for some time about four coaches.  And then added his dad, Bob Burns, as a lifelong mentor as well.  When asked who his favorite athlete was growing up, he rattled off a long list of hometown stars, with a story on each one, including how he accidentally appeared in a tv interview with Michael Jordan at O’Hare Airport.

Preparing for the SEC Cross Country Championship on Oct. 30, Coach Burns knows Mizzou has its work cut out for them.  Joining the SEC along with Texas A&M in 2012, Coach Burns sees every SEC Championship as better than the last because the league is so talent-rich year in and year out.

Boost Treadmills’ Layne Anderson jumped on a Zoom call with Coach Burns late last week to learn more about what drives him on the fields and track. In addition, no conversation with Coach Burns would be complete without some time spent talking about his hobby, cornhole.


BOOST: As a coach for more than two decades, who had the biggest influence on you growing up?


BURNS: I’d start with my middle school coach, Mr. Vernon.  He really got me going in the sport.  We used to talk a lot – we kept in touch until he passed away in the last couple of years at 91 years of age.   I’d add in my high school coaches, Mr. Nagel and Mr. Saylor — they were both very team-orientated.  All three of them cared about all of us as people first and really knew their stuff. I ran in college at Loyola Chicago and my coach there, Gordon Thomson, had such a strong impact on me. We’ve been great friends since – he was even in my wedding.  Those four coaches really lit a fire under me and were amazing influences. 


BOOST: You grew up in Chicago during a time you like to call ‘the Golden Age of Sports’.  Would it be possible for you to pick a favorite athlete during that span?


BURNS: Like most kids in Chicagoland, I would say MJ.  I saw him play at Chicago Stadium – he dropped 44 on the Celtics.  I was way up in the rafters, but I’ll never forget that night.  Bears corner Virgil Livers lived around the corner from my family, and playing outside, we used to see Walter Payton speeding by in his Porsche, headed to Virgil’s. We would run over and watch them play hoops in the driveway.  Even though I never played tackle football, I loved Sweetness.  And of course the Cubs’ Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg. I am a left-hander and played first base so Mark Grace should be on that list too. 


BOOST: Karissa Schweizer created quite a legacy while running at Mizzou.  She was just the fourth female to capture the distance crown in a single season (winning national titles in cross country and the 5k indoors and outdoors).  Now a member of the Bowerman Track Club, it seems like Karissa transitioned so effortlessly from the collegiate ranks to running professionally.  What do you attribute that to?


BURNS: My philosophy has always been to communicate freely with the athletes. Early on I find out what’s worked for them in the past so I can build from there. From a developmental standpoint, if you do that, you don’t have a huge curve.  You can create a foundation that should last a really long time. That’s our approach with everyone and it worked to a tee with Karissa.  We took our time building her volume, putting Karissa in the right races.  We didn’t want to put her over her head too early.  We wanted to help her grow and taught her to be patient.  Karissa trusted the process.


Before Karissa went to Bowerman to continue to run professionally, Jerry Schumacher and I had a number of conversations. He was great. He wanted to get a good background on her career so he knew how to apply what he knows works for his athletes in the right way.  He wasn’t thinking about just 2020 or 2021 for Karissa – he was thinking about her long-term future as a runner.


It’s great to talk to Karissa now.  It’s nice to see how much she’s continued to mature and she’s always willing to give back.  She’s done some Zoom calls with our team during the quarantine.  We have her younger sister Kelsey running for us now too.  


BOOST: LSU is slated to host the SEC Cross Country Championship at the end of this month.  Sarah Chapman was named the USTFCCCA National Runner of the Week Oct. 5 and the Mizzou men have also performed well.  What are you looking for at SECs? 


BURNS: We feel like Sarah will have a good chance to compete for the title.  On the men’s side, Kieran Wood, who also won the Gans Creek title two weeks ago (along with Sarah), should be in the mix too.  We are not as deep as we’ve been on the women’s side, but we have challenged that second group and they really responded. We’re working hard and we’re excited to have some contenders.


We’re going to scrape and claw and fight our way around that course to see how high up we can get on the team side. The SEC is where you want to be.  We want to be competing with the best against the best.  That’s how you find out how good you can be.  We love the challenge.  I wouldn’t want to be in any other conference.  We tell our kids ‘you chose to come to Mizzou for a reason and a lot of you chose it because of the SEC competition’. Competing in the SEC is one thing that we really embrace.  It’s something we look forward to.


BOOST: Moving off the track, there is a lot of new technology out there for training and recovery. What’s been your experience with the Boost Treadmill and how has using it helped your teams?


BURNS: Our Boost Treadmill has really transformed how we approach training.  Staying healthy is key and using the Boost Treadmill allows our team to offload some of the training.  We need to be running somewhere between 80 and 100 miles a week on the men’s side and on the women’s side somewhere between 60 and 90 miles a week.  Not everybody can handle that kind of load.  The Boost allows us to get up into those zones and keep people healthy.  It’s really helped us get to a different level. 


BOOST: During your career, you’ve coached 85 conference champions and seen your athletes break 23 school records.  Off the track, what kind of competitor are you?


BURNS: (laughing) I’m about as nice of a person as you will meet. But I’ll tear your heart out in any kind of game I play, whether it’s ping-pong, cornhole or pop-a-shot. I have always loved to compete.  When I was a kid, I carried a ball of some type with me everywhere. I was in a cast at my own wedding because I tore my Achilles playing competitive three-on-three basketball three months before the date.


BOOST: We can’t end this conversation without talking about your world title.  You play a lot of cornhole and are a member of the American Cornhole Organization (ACO) and the American Cornhole League (ACL).  


BURNS: My wife Alana and I attended the ACO World Championships in Las Vegas last summer.  Tanner Halbert was our Pro and he was just dominant.  I was one of six guys on the team that helped us win the World Championship. So yeah, it’s kind of cool that our team won a World title. 


(Mizzou assistant coach) Stephen Smith and I partner a lot, but we are anti-jersey — it puts too much pressure on you at a competition (laughs). We show up with t-shirts and hats backward.  We try to find a way to sneak up on people to win.  


We’re pretty passionate about it.  We hosted a tournament here last March right before the quarantine kicked in.  A bunch of ACL professionals from Kansas City and St. Louis came to the tournament. I ended up getting second overall and Stephen and I got third in the doubles. We beat a number of professionals to finish that high. It was nice.


My wife and I finished third at a big tournament a couple of weeks ago and two of our four boys teamed up to win two tournaments this year. It’s truly a family affair.

Marc Burns (far left)
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