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Mountain High: Q&A With Champion Endurance Athlete Morgan Arritola

From Nordic skiing to mountain running, the former Olympian rises to the top.

Some words to describe Morgan Arritola the person: Quiet. Intense. Humble. One word to describe Morgan the athlete: Super-competitor.

In her early 20s, Morgan took the Nordic skiing world by storm, placing second at the U.S. Nationals in 2008 and representing the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics. After returning from the Vancouver Games, she took up mountain running and soon earned top honors, finishing third at the 2012 World Championships and topping the podium at the U.S. National Championships in 2013 and 2015.

Today, the 32-year-old is back home in Ketchum after finishing a degree in respiratory therapy. She continues to compete in mountain running while contemplating her next life move.

We caught up with Morgan to learn more about her past, future and secrets to success:

Z: Are you training for anything now?

MA: I have my first 50k trail race (the Smith Rock Ascent in Oregon) in May. I am somewhat training for it, although the race in and of itself will be a bit of training as I haven’t been getting the miles that I probably need. I have some other races this summer but a lot depends on my current job hunt.

Z: What do you love best about mountain running?

MA: I like the solitude. I need the solitude. I also like the ever-changing nature of trails. They come in all shapes and sizes and the idea that no five kilometers of a race are the same is exciting.

Z: What led you to get started in competitive sports?

MA: I have always been competitive. I did my first Ironkid triathlon when I was six years old. I did local running races, competed in high-level gymnastics and, later on, soccer before finding the endurance sport world. I like to win, and it’s a double edged sword, but it’s just ingrained in me.

Z: What’s your approach to nutrition?

MA: I eat healthy for sure, and shout out to Mari Wania of Simple Kneads because her cookies and breads give me a lot of good energy that I crave. Breakfast is pretty standard: good coffee, yogurt, granola, and a banana. Otherwise, I could eat fish products for every meal, the fishier the better–sardines, anchovies, smoked oysters from the jar. I love vegetables and eat a lot of them, along with lots of bread and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, oils. I hate the word “diet” as I think it has negative connotations to the ThighMaster era. I believe people need to be better at listening to their body. I avoid processed food as much as possible and otherwise just eat food that looks like real food.

Z: Any tips for staying well hydrated during long races?

MA: Well, I struggle with this. I am working on my during-race nutrition as I don’t really sweat that much and have a hard time staying hydrated. I also hate fruity-flavored sports drinks so I have taken salt tabs and played around with certain products. But, admittedly, I need a lot of work on it in the longer races.

Z: What’s your favorite pre-workout fuel?

MA: Depends how “pre” and the workout. Before races, I have my normal granola and yogurt breakfast about three hours prior. The longer the race, the closer I can eat to the start. The night before, I eat a normal, balanced meal. Truly, there is no magic meal. It’s about consistency and genetics. Everyone is so different.

Z: What was it like competing in the 2010 Winter Olympics?

MA: That’s a very long answer. In short, I always knew that I wanted to walk at opening ceremonies. But I was really burnt out and mentally exhausted when I got to the Olympics. I was tired, overtrained, and beat myself down every day. It’s not the ideal Olympic dream but it’s more common than winning a gold medal, that I know. The hard part is feeling like you let your family, coaches, country, etc. down. It’s a heavy burden. I know that’s not the cheery story most like to believe, but the truth is, there is a reason the Olympics only takes place every four years. It’s exhausting and, in my opinion, is more for the spectators than the athletes.

Z: Do you ever struggle to stay motivated? If so, how do you work through it?

MA: Absolutely. I have days where I don’t do anything athletic but then I beat myself up mentally. Leaving the world of training full time is a hard, slow process. I have been working on my “why.” Why do I need to do this run? Do I really want to do this run? If I can honestly answer the question and I find myself saying the words “I have to,” then I usually stop. I may go do something else just to move but that has no correlation to running or training. If I am unmotivated because I am tired, then I know that I need rest. I probably rest a lot more than most people in this town. There is a big difference between quality and quality and simply going through the motions with no intention. Again, a lot of that comes back to the individual’s “why.”

Z: Who’s your athletic hero?
MA: Lance Armstrong and local Charlie French. Always will be.

Z: What would you consider your biggest athletic accomplishment?

MA: That’s really hard, honestly I’m not sure. I hope to be able to move my body and be healthy until I’m old.

Z: Your biggest regret?

MA: I can’t say I have regrets, I am working on letting the regrets turn into experience and moments to pivot rather than bog down.

Z: What inspires you to keep going?

MA: Potential. Potential is that ever-dangling carrot just beyond reach.

Z: What do you wish people knew about being a professional athlete?

MA: I’m not LeBron. I have to pay my bills by other means. 🙂