The Long Road Back For Brian Morrison

Back in 2006 at the Western States 100, young, up-and-coming Seattle, Washington ultrarunner Brian Morrison crossed the American River in the lead. In one of the hottest days on record, Morrison made a series of strategic moves that landed him in first place with 20 miles to go.

Between there and the finish things slowly began to unravel for Morrison and by the time he reached the Placer High School track with 250 meters to go, he was having difficulty standing upright and moving under his own power. After an agonizing five-minute trip around the track, Morrison ultimately crossed the finish line with the aid of his crew and promptly collapsed. Several hours later, Morrison’s victory was taken away as the Western States Board agreed that he failed to complete the course under his own power. He was credited with a DNF at Robie Point (mile 98.7).

Over the next nine years, Morrison would attempt to run 100 miles five more times, each time succumbing to something that made him drop out before the finish line. Additionally, in 2008, the year he had really set his heart and mind to simply finishing Western States, the race was cancelled due to fire three days before the race. Last weekend, at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile in Washington, Morrison finally finished a 100-mile race, fully 10 years after his last finish at Cascade Crest in 2005.

I caught up with Morrison earlier this week.

rian Morrison - 2015 Cascade Crest 100 Mile

Brian (left) and his pacer Morgan Henderson rolling into the 2015 Cascade Crest 100 Mile finish line. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama Photography

iRunFar: Going into Cascade Crest this year, what was on your mind?

Brian Morrison: There was so much. I wish it wasn’t true, but there was a lot of doubt. My training had been spotty, and I was fighting a bug all week and feeling pretty run down. Besides a 12-hour training run that I’d done with some friends, there wasn’t a whole lot to hang my hat on confidence-wise. And then there was the awful forecast, too.

iRunFar: Did you have any specific goals for the race?

Morrison: My goal was just to finish. That has really been the goal ever since I signed up. I just needed to prove to myself that I could still finish 100 miles.

iRunFar: How did the race go down?

Morrison: The race started off wonderfully. The weather for the entire first half was much nicer than forecasted. My only complaint was that I was a bit overdressed. It was really enjoyable seeing some familiar faces at the aid stations and meeting some new runners along the way. Occasionally someone would pass and I’d have a fleeting competitive impulse to pick up the pace, but then I would remind myself that the goal was just to finish. I got through the first half in great shape. The second half was a much greater struggle, mostly due to the weather. It became really wet and cold once the sun went down. Thankfully I had two great pacers (Ian and Morgan) helping to keep me focused and to keep the mood light.

iRunFar: Given your winding road over the past 10 years, were there any moments of lingering uncertainty?

Morrison: At mile 75, I had the opportunity to climb into my car to heat up. Ian was handing off pacing duties to Morgan, and we’d just spent the last few hours getting soaked by direct rain and wet branches. I was shivering uncontrollably and needing to get warmed up fast. As I sat there in the warm car with the heat blasting me, as the rain pelted the windshield, I definitely considered pulling the plug. Fortunately my goal of finishing and my desire to get this 100-mile monkey off my back won out and I climbed back out of the car and into the rain.

iRunFar: Okay, at this point I have to ask, have you been “haunted” by the memory of 2006?

Morrison: Oh, without a doubt. There’s hardly a day that goes by without me thinking about it. I certainly don’t dwell on it, but it’s never far from thought. It’s hard not to think about what could have been, but I’ve also come to appreciate the fact that it’s an incredibly unique story. The most “haunting” piece of it for me has been the “what if “element. Especially when I was still at a point where I was racing to win, I couldn’t shake the thought that I may, without warning, collapse at some point if I pushed too hard. And I didn’t know how hard may end up being too hard. Even knowing that I wasn’t “racing” Cascade Crest, I still thought about the possibility of passing out somewhere along the way. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully dispel that worry.

iRunFar: How has your life, and your running, changed since 2006?

Morrison: It’s changed a lot. Andrea and I now have two kids, Jack and Amalia. They are five and two and they mean the world to me. I’d so much sooner spend time with them than be out training for long hours. Running is still a huge part of our lives. We own Fleet Feet Sports Seattle, which used to be the Seattle Running Company. I’ve been at the store for over 11 years now. I still love to trail run, and I especially enjoy introducing new runners to the trails. To train the way that I did from 2005 to 2009 required a lot of selfishness. I don’t have the luxury to be so selfish now, and I don’t think I’d want to be anyway. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity in my late twenties to train and race the way that I did, but I am pretty sure those days are behind me. And I’m totally okay with that.

iRunFar: Have you taken away any lessons from these last 10 years?

Morrison: There are things in life even more important than Western States.

iRunFar: Do you have a hankering to ever go back to Western States?

Morrison: Hell yes. Finishing Cascade Crest may have felt like a monkey off my back, but there’s still a giant gorilla that I will be piggybacking around until I finish Western States. I’m not naive. I know that I will forever be known as the one who collapsed at the track, but finishing that race will be something very special.

iRunFar: Brian, I think I speak for many in the ultra community, and especially for those of us who were there on that difficult day in June of 2006 in saying, welcome back! And, truly, I look forward to the day when I can #seeyouinsquaw.

Bottoms up!

[Editor’s Note: Thank you to Glenn Tachiyama who generously supplied the photo of Brian for this article. While driving the Cascade Crest course to photograph the race, just after 5 p.m. PDT on Saturday, August 29, Glenn was run off the road by a reckless driver, and this caused significant damage to Glenn’s vehicle. The other driver, a male in a later-model Jeep that was dark green or blue in color, indicated that he may have been associated with the race (crew, pacer, something). However, the driver fled the scene, and Glenn is still looking for him. The exact accident location was Forest Service Road 52 just before it intersects with Forest Service Road 41, about a mile from the Tacoma Pass aid station. If you have any information about that driver or vehicle, contact Glenn by email at [email protected] We are an ultra community; let’s take care of each other!]

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Fremont Brewing Company Interurban IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week, from Brian’s hometown of Seattle, is Fremont Brewing Company’s Interurban IPA. This unique twist on a classic style is fortified with grapefruit and rosemary and makes the perfect summer sipper. To celebrate Brian’s return to 100-mile racing, this brew is perfect!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Were you at Cascade Crest over the weekend, and did you see Brian racing?
  • Do you recall Brian’s infamous 2006 Western States finish?
  • Have you been through a difficult experience with your running that has evolved your perspective about what the sport means to you?

There are 8 comments

  1. runsnotsofar

    Great interview and great spirit, Brian. I first read Brian's story in Scott Jurek's book where he describes the 2006 events from his point of view. I am glad to hear that Brian managed to leave the "tragic" aspects behind and keeps running strong. Utmost respect!

  2. rice1077

    I would have asked him how he kept trying over and over again. What kept him going? How did he deal with the disappointment? Trying 5 more times to finish a 100 miler is really impressive.

  3. @trudginalong

    I met Brian randomly at Sun Mountain 50 years back when we ran together at the front for a handful of miles. He couldn't have been a nicer guy as we chatted a bit about states and running. Really happy to read this, congrats, Brian!

  4. laurahouston129

    I was at CC100 – at No Name (mile 81). It should be mentioned this was the worst summer storm in PNW history. And after an unusually hot dry summer, training for this weather was not an option for most. We had a tent full of runners trying to warm up between 3:30a and almost 6a. After the sunrise, and more cars to haul them out, I gave them the option to drop or keep going, but they had to get out. All but two in the tent decided to finish. The climb up to No Name is open and exposed with no to very little shelter, and the next AS is even more remote and higher (they reported hail up there). Choosing to stop and warm up, either in the car or the tent, was a smart idea, though some (Arthur Martineau, for ex) just put their head down and kept going in those wee hours. I'm super proud of Brian and of all the people who toed the line last weekend!

  5. @markymoro

    I was happy to see Brian's name on the entrants list for this year's Cascade Crest 100. I wanted to tell him that it's stories like his- the perseverance both within the context of his ultra running career and his tackling this particular event that inspires even middle/back of the pack runners like me to toe the line and push to the finish.

    I'm sorry that as a newbie 100 miler, I was too wrapped up in last-minute prep and nerves to even notice the faces around me much less introduce myself to anyone in particular. And even from the start, I was way too far behind his pace to ever see him on the trails.

    It was a long, tough, cold, wet and very tough night and day out there. But his story and his finish adds yet another element that made this past weekend so special to me.

    Congratulations, Brian. I'll look forward to following your race when you not only knock-off, but crush that "giant gorilla" that is WS100 (disclaimer: no animals were or will be harmed in the actualization of this metaphor)

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