Former Olympic Nordic skier Morgan Arritola won the US Mountain Running Championships in 2013 and finished second in 2014. In the following interview, Morgan talks about her background in sports, why she stopped Nordic skiing competitively, and how she keeps trail running enjoyable even as she races for (and wins) national championships.
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Morgan Arritola Pre-2015 US Mountain Running Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Morgan Arritola before the 2015 US Mountain Running Championships. Hello, Morgan. Good morning.
Morgan Arritola: Good to see you.
iRunFar: You don’t quite live in Bend at the moment because it’s the summer, but you spend some of your year up here in Bend, Oregon?
Arritola: Yeah, I’m back in school down in town. It’s kind of my second home. Ketchum, Idaho, is my first home; Bend is second home. I’m comfortable here.
iRunFar: You were born here and spent your first couple years of your life here?
Arritola: Yes, born here but moved away when I was young, so not a lot of memories of it.
iRunFar: But you’ve been up on Mount Bachelor competing as a youngster?
Arritola: Not competing. I was ripping around on alpine skis. I learned to alpine ski here. Nothing competitive.
iRunFar: You’ve been an athlete all your life particularly on the mountains?
Arritola: Actually, gymnastics and soccer were my main sports through high school. I kind of fell into Nordic skiing late in high school, and that’s kind of when I fell into the mountain…
iRunFar: How did that happen?
Arritola: Disclaimer for those of you from Idaho who are watching. We moved to Ketchum and the soccer team was really bad, so I was really bored. A couple of my friends said, “Hey, you should try Nordic skiing.” So I started my junior year in high school with Sun Valley Ski Education.
iRunFar: You started Nordic skiing as a junior in high school. How many years later were you in the Olympics skiing?
Arritola: 2010, so six years?
iRunFar: That’s quite a progression.
Arritola: Yeah, when I go in, I go in with both feet. It was good. It was hard. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I liked that new challenge. The coach in Sun Valley is an amazing guy, Rick Kapala, and it’s hard not to love the sport when you’re with him.
iRunFar: I’d imagine at most high levels of sport be it soccer or swimming or, I’m guessing, Nordic skiing, most of the people going to the Olympics have been doing it since they were this high.
Arritola: Definitely. Especially in that Nordic world, it’s a pretty small, compact community. Most people have done since… their parents did it, their grandparents did it, they’re probably Norwegian somewhere down the line.
iRunFar: Did you feel like an outsider going through that or was it…?
Arritola: No, not really. In the beginning when I just had no idea how to do anything, I felt a little bit out of it, but it’s a really welcoming community. It’s a bunch of really athletic, goofball-type people, so it’s pretty easy to fit in.
iRunFar: Speaking of which, did you ever end up racing Stephanie Howe?
Arritola: Oh, cross country?
iRunFar: Nordic skiing.
Arritola: Yes, when I was younger. I don’t really… some of the local domestic stuff in the U.S. I knew her casually but not super well.
iRunFar: You’re both into the running scene now. How did you get into the mountain running from this Nordic background?
Arritola: For Nordic skiing, any sports, we do a lot of sports, we run a lot for training. I’ve spent a lot of time in Canmore and running around in big mountains. That’s kind of where I started learning to love to run. After I ended or stopped skiing full time—I got pretty burned out—but I still wanted to compete in something. I have to say I kind of like showing up to races and having no one know anything about you and just jump in there. I did one race in my pajamas. I think my mom and I were driving to breakfast or something and I was in my pajamas and we were in Boise. “Yeah, there’s a race. Let’s go do it.” I did it in my pajamas I’m pretty sure.
iRunFar: You’re not going to wear your pajamas on Saturday…
Arritola: Maybe. Maybe. I probably will have the longest shorts out there of anyone unless Stevie Kremer shows up. Her and I are like, “Can we have longer shorts please?”
iRunFar: Said no one ever. You’re not unknown anymore in the running. You won US Mountain Running Championships two years ago. You were second last year. Do you feel any pressure in that regard, or do you just feel like you’re still just playing in the mountains?
Arritola: Yeah, I guess I always feel pressure. I’m competitive with myself in anything. I guess it’s not my ideal race. It’s pretty short. I prefer kind of longer stuff that’s really technical. So it’s good for me to get out of that comfort zone. I like the people. I still feel like an outsider in the running world because I don’t feel like a ‘runner.’ I do run.
iRunFar: No? You don’t feel like a runner. You’re a national champion, but…
Arritola: I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you how many miles I run. I don’t have a coach. It’s not my full-time thing which I think mentally is good for me. I just enjoy being outside and in the mountains.
iRunFar: You don’t have a coach and you don’t have any idea how many miles you run, but I’m guessing having competed at such a high level in Nordic skiing, you have an idea of how to put basic elements together. You’re training.
Arritola: Yeah. Oh, yeah, don’t get me wrong. I train, but I’m at work and I’m in school. If my friends are like, “Oh, we’re going to go on a great mountain-bike ride,” and I thought maybe I’d go for a run that day, I’d go biking. It just depends kind of on the day. I show up as well prepared as I can be. I’m an idiot, so I’ll go as hard as I can for any race. That’s never an issue. It just might not be fast. We’ll see.
iRunFar: How are you feeling fitness-wise right now?
Arritola: I feel like a diesel, not as much like a high performance… once I get warmed up I can go for awhile, but the shorter… it’s going to hurt.
iRunFar: It’s 8k.
Arritola: It’s short. It’s short. Yeah, it is what it is. Nothing can be done at this point except… we’ll see.
iRunFar: How has your racing gone this spring or this summer now?
Arritola: It’s gone well. I actually did the Bend Olympics in May, the Pole Pedal Paddle. That was my first… it’s kind of like, if you’re going to live here, you have to do the Pole Pedal Paddle. I did that which was fun. It was the most high-maintenance race I’ve ever done in my life but really fun. I’ve done several running things. I did a local race in Ketchum last weekend which was fun. I’m plugging along. I’m going to try my first 50k. I’m going to do The Rut.
iRunFar: You’re doing The Rut?!
Arritola: Yeah, and do some other things throughout the summer.
iRunFar: You’re going to keep mixing it up.
Arritola: Oh, yeah, for sure. I kind of look at races like, That looks hard and a challenge, and I haven’t been there or done that, so I’ll try that. Nordic skiing became something that I loved and quickly turned into a just disaster and I hated the sport. I don’t ever want to do that to another sport.
iRunFar: It’s interesting having that perspective to know… what turned it into a disaster? Was it your own mental make-up and that you were all-in and kind of overdid that? Was it external factors?
Arritola: Everything. When you’re in that world, every day is train-rest-train every day. It’s a lot of training and a lot of traveling and living out of a suitcase. It’s a pretty selfish lifestyle. I just got pretty burned out. By the time I got to the Olympics, it was kind of a disaster and I was a disaster. Everyone has these grand ideas that you go to the Olympics and you have your best races, and I had my worst races, and I just wanted to hide and crawl in a hole.
iRunFar: Did you quit immediately thereafter?
Arritola: No, I tried to drag it on for another year. Finally, I threw my hands up. It took me… I did my first ski race a little over a year ago. That was the first time I could actually get into a race and not have high expectations or start hating it. It took a little while.
iRunFar: Did you enjoy it?
Arritola: Yeah, and I’ve been ski racing now. I ski up here a lot. I’m coaching a little bit in the summer and winter.
iRunFar: There are a couple places around the U.S. that have—you did the Pole Pedal Paddle—that have four sport disciplines including Nordic skiing. Have you thought about jumping in those races? The Quadrathon—I think it’s down in New Mexico?
Arritola: Yes, and then Jackson has their Pole Pedal Paddle. They’re fun, but this one, it took a week to organize all the gear. I borrowed Zach Violett’s boat, borrowed a friend’s bike, alpine stuff—luckily they didn’t have Nordic skiing this year, which was fine with me because it was one more piece of equipment to not have. It’s really high maintenance. Once you’re going, it’s fun.
iRunFar: There are a lot of moving parts.
Arritola: And the sleekness. Usually they have custom-fitted alpine boots that your Nordic boots fit in. Then I did my running shoes in there. It’s a lot of… how quick can you transition. It’s the Bend Olympics. I’m just telling you.
iRunFar: There’s no beer drinking involved in that.
Arritola: At the end. Every sporting event in Bend, Oregon, involves beer drinking.
iRunFar: I was going to say, it’s probably mandatory.
iRunFar: The Visit Bend committee is like, “And beer.”
Arritola: Yes, it’s just a given.
iRunFar: It’s great to meet you, Morgan. Thank you for your time.
Arritola: Really good. Thank you.