Inspirational Runner: Morgan Arritola
Morgan Arritola sat at my living room table on a sunny July afternoon, chatting away with my housemate about those glove-like running socks that have a little spot for each toe. I quickly learned that our guest was in town from Boise, Idaho to compete in Mount Marathon, a traditional Alaskan mountain running race that’s held in the town of Seward each 4th of July. It was her first time entering the race and she was hoping to get some advice and catch a practice run of the course before race day.
We chatted briefly about the different route-finding options before I headed out of town for the weekend. To my surprise, when I checked the local electronic newspaper a few days later, I spotted an article all about Morgan! This humble 31-year-old failed to let on that she was a past Olympian (skier) and an elite mountain running champion!
And sure enough, on race day in her Mount Marathon debut, Morgan crushed the field and stuck with the race leader on the entire climb, coming in with a very impressive second place finish. The local running community, surprised to see her finish ahead of race favorite Christy Marvin, was abuzz about this newcomer to Mount Marathon, although her skiing legacy certainly had made her a suspected race contender.
Morgan was born in Bend, Oregon and eventually landed in Kechum, Idaho, a place she considers home. She was always a gifted athlete and had planned to play division one soccer in college until her family relocated and she took up Nordic skiing at the age of 16. She’d never even heard of it, but immediately loved the new challenge of the sport. She attributes Rick Kapala and Sun Valley Ski Education as pivotal aspects of her skiing career success, which includes 5 years as a member of the U.S. ski team and a competitor at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Running was always a big part of Morgan’s training as a skier and she enjoyed the simplicity of it, so the transition was fairly natural for her. Morgan describes her transition from a skier to a runner, “I don’t think it was a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. A race here and there and then more. I have always felt comfortable running in the mountains. I guess I started to consider myself more of a runner than a skier around 2012.”
Scott was the first company to support her as a runner, and they helped her get to races. “I started with local races and as I heard more about races that sounded interesting I would just jump in. I then discovered the immense mental relief that running gave me and it snowballed from there.”
Over the years, Morgan has lived in a number of different states and even in Vancouver, Canada so she’s accustomed to adapting her training to wherever she is living. She enjoys “cross-training” although she considers it more of a deep intrinsic appreciation for being outdoors, and enjoys sports such as mountain and road biking, swimming, boxing, skiing, and climbing. She is currently balancing her time as an athlete while simultaneously working toward a degree in Respiratory Therapy. When it comes to both racing and academics, Morgan notes, “I try and do my best with the resources I have and then I try and sit with that and know I don’t have to be perfect.”
Morgan adds, “Running has been integral in just staying sane with all of the balls I juggle. Running and training is not my focus or main pursuit but rather something fun that provides a challenge for my body while school keeps my mind occupied. I don’t keep track of miles, hours, anything. I have been there done that with skiing and it made me hate skiing. I swore I would never do that with running. I basically wing it with running.”
It’s clear that “winging it” is the perfect strategy for this incredible Salmon ambassador athlete. Since she transitioned to competitive running, Morgan has captured the title for three separate U.S. Mountain Running Championships, and was the bronze medalist in the 2012 World Mountain Running championship. In 2011, she was the Xterra National and World Champion for the ½ Marathon trail race. In 2017, she won the Broken Arrow Sky Race vertical K and 26k races, and earned gold at the GoPro Games 10k mountain runoff, in addition to her second-place finish at Mount Marathon.
However, this inspirational story is not complete without mention of how she’s overcome obstacles along the way. Morgan shared that she suffered from severe depression as she burned out from skiing and then left the sport.
“A lot of unfortunate things have happened in my life and I had a few years that were really dark. I think it’s important to respect those times and to be able to talk about them because so many people feel like they know you and truthfully, they have no idea what my life is like. I’m human, just like everyone and the mind is not infallible at certain points of life. Having family support really helped and I also think my extreme stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to give up on myself no matter how much I wanted to.”
Over the years, Morgan’s family has played a huge role in her triumph over struggles and winning attitude about life. “My family has always supported me greatly and never pushed me in athletics. My mom drove me to gymnastics, endured rainy soccer games, froze in the winter to watch me ski race, and now comes to the majority of my running races.”
Morgan attests that one of the hardest lessons in athletics is listening to her body. “I have found that in the last 3 or 4 years I just take longer to recover and can’t train like I did 10 years ago. Now, after a hard race, I won’t let myself run for at least 2 days. I will cross train but I just feel like so many runners run to run and then get injured. I would like to not fall into that trap.”
When I asked Morgan about her most memorable race, she responded, “That’s tough but I have to say Mt. Marathon (in Alaska) was pretty fantastic. All of the people cheering was a very unique experience that felt more like European racing than US racing.”
Morgan left me with some final words of wisdom. “I think it’s important for people to know everyone is human and there is no magic bullet with excelling at a sport or career. It’s just damn hard work and even then, sometimes it doesn’t turn out as you had planned. Running is easy and I think people overthink everything. Technology, what Bob is doing, compression socks… just do it and don’t waste time attempting to create the perfect scenario.”
What great advice! It’s clear that this world class skier-turned-runner is turning heads on the global mountain running scene, and I love her unique and winning mentality: an intrinsic passion / “wing-it” combo coupled with a hard-core work ethic that sets her apart from the competition. Congratulations Morgan Arritola on an impressive 2017 season, and we hope you’ll be back for more of Mount Marathon in 2018!