George Tolton: ‘Nothing beats a long, slow burn’
George Tolton on his way to a 1:16:55 finish (8th place) in the 2019 Hokie Half Marathon.

George Tolton’s first “obsession” was skateboarding.

“From age 9 to 15, skateboarding was my life. I skateboarded on almost a daily basis,” he said. “I still have dreams where I’m back on the skateboard. The only reason I stopped was because I was afraid of injuring myself.”

But it was golf, not skateboarding, that delayed George’s competitive running career at Abingdon High School.

“I tried to run cross country as a sophomore because I had some friends on the team. I was turned away when I told the coach that I was on the golf team — the two seasons were at the same time in the fall,” George recalled.

“The next spring my Dad told me about a charity 5K race on the Creeper Trail. I had never run anything timed, besides the mile in gym class, and I think I ran the 5K in around 19 minutes. I told one of my friends about the race and they thought I should try and run XC again.”

The coach told George he could run cross country and play golf the next fall as long George ran through the summer and practiced at least once a week with the XC team during the season

“I would normally run one or two afternoon workouts a week with the XC team and then play golf the other afternoons. It was great,” George said. “I would run with my good friends most mornings at 5:45 a.m. before school, take a shower, eat donuts and breakfast sandwiches at this local diner called Dunk & Deli, and then go to school. Then after school was out, I would play 9 holes of golf or spend two hours on the driving range/putting green.”

After one season of running cross country, George quit playing soccer and golf and focused on running year-round for the rest of his time in high school where he posted personal bests of 16:19 in the 5K and 9:56 in the 3200.

George walked on to Virginia Tech’s cross country team as a freshman.

“I trained and ran races unattached until I was cut from the team in mid-February,” he said. “After I was cut, I continued running and joined the VT Running Club team the following fall. I actually PR’ed in every event longer than the mile during those next two years.”

George moved to Richmond after earning his environmental science degree. He took a short break from running before eventually joining the New Balance RVA Racing Team.

“I ran on and off for the next 4 years in Richmond and eventually got talked into running a 50K,” he said.

George, now 28, has since run six 50ks and two 50 milers – with some of his best results coming in 2019. He won both New River Trail 50K and the Grayson’s Highlands 50K before finishing the year with a top 25 finish the highly competitive JFK 50-miler outside of Washington D.C.

He still plays golf too, averaging 10-12 rounds per year. How about skateboarding? Not really – but he thinks he’s still got what it takes.

“If you put a skateboard in my hand today, I could probably still stick a 360 flip,” he said.

George Tolton | Age: 28 

Hometown: Split between Salisbury, North Carolina (first 10 years) and Abingdon, Virginia (through high school); currently in Blacksburg.

What brought you to Blacksburg? A combination of things: my girlfriend, Erica Howes, began her PhD at Virginia Tech in Fall 2019. I also was familiar with the area, because I went to Virginia Tech for undergrad from 2010-2014. When a job opportunity opened up nearby it all kind of fell into place. 

Occupation: Environmental Scientist

Most satisfying running accomplishment? I won my first beer mile in 7:02 – I finally got to put together two tuition-free skills I learned in college. 

What’s your proudest race moment? Probably my second attempt at running the Eastern Divide 50K in Giles County. At the 2017 Eastern Divide (the first ultramarathon I signed up for), I ended up going out way too hard, puking up gels and Gatorade all over myself, and got lost trying to navigate the final miles around Mountain Lake. I somehow ended up coming through the finish line the wrong way and was in too bad of shape to run back around the lake. The next year (2018) at the same race, I paced myself, passed at least 5 people the last 15 miles, and came in 2nd place.

Favorite workout? Long tempo run. Nothing beats a long, slow burn

Favorite places to run?

  • For getting in mileage on crushed gravel – nothing beats the Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA.
  • I really enjoy running the trails on Brush Mountain.
  • Anywhere new. I tend to overdo it when I find a new spot and soon find myself looking for a new place to explore.


Who inspires and/or motivates you? My parents. They raised myself and my two brothers and I like to think we turned out okay.

Advice for new runners? Avoid wearing headphones. Enjoy the sounds that surround you. You have to enjoy the races, but also the process to get there. 99% of running a race is the training to get to the starting line.

Favorite race(s)? The races in Richmond are a lot of fun! I lived there for 4 years and had a blast running the Marathon and the Monument Avenue 10K. Great atmosphere and lots of people to compete with!

Roads or Trails? Trails.

Any running superstitions or rituals? In high school, I used to always drink a Mountain Dew the day before a big race. No real reason other than I thought it tasted good or I did it in spite of all the other runners who refused to drink sodas. I always quadruple knot my running shoes on race day.

Suggestion for growing/improving our running community?Blacksburg already has an amazing running community!

Running goals in the next few years? 2024 Olympic Trials if I could ever convert my mile PR pace to my marathon pace. On a more serious note, I think it would be cool to race one of the big ultras out in the western part of the country. Every time I actually look at the sign ups, it always seems like the lottery has just passed. I hope to put a few on the calendar soon.

You might also like these stories:

Andy Norton: Getting better with age

Jordan Chang shares his passion for running and community.

Former top marathoner Michelle Lowry still running strong in Blacksburg

A thank you to James Demarco and Runabout Sports

Lessons learned from leading a college track and cross country program at age 24 

Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K

Blacksburg running legend Peter Dorrell helps build community

George Tolton finishes in second place in the 2018 Eastern Divide Ultra in 4:01:26.



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