Alumni Feature: For the love of running

Posted on October 5, 2017, in Lancer Life

This story first ran in the Fall Alumni Newsletter (10/4/17),
which  is e-mailed quarterly to members of the Alumni Association.
To register or update your information, visit our website.

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When Morgan Elliott graduated from General McLane High School in 2010, he left as an all-region and all-district performer in cross-country.

Now, he’s breaking out in the trail-running scene as one of the top extreme runners in the United States.

For the second year in a row, Elliott took first place this past August in the Audi Power of Four Trail Run 50K. As a result of this international race, he is the continental ultra sky champion.

A month later, Elliott placed second at Montana’s Run the Rut – 50K.

And then, just a few weeks ago, he set a FKT (fastest known time), for a popular route in Colorado called the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop.  The four-pass loop is about a 27-mile trail hike/run with around 8000 ft of elevation gain.

This weekend, he will compete again in the Flagstaff 55K. Last year, he took first in this race and became the overall winner of the US Skyrunner Series in the ultra category.

“I definitely want to be running for a while,” Elliott said.  “I don’t care how successful I am on the podium, I really enjoy running, the competiveness and the journey of training. It has been so much fun.”

While at General McLane, Elliott lettered four times in both track and cross-country and once in swimming.

In Cross Country, Elliott won the McDowell Invitational, was the region 5 champion, and qualified and medaled at states. While a senior track member, Elliott was the District 10 champion in the 800 and qualified for states in the 1600. In the 1600 preliminaries at the state meet, he ran 4:23, the second fastest mile in Lancer history.

He continued his running career at Slippery Rock University, thanks to advice from General McLane High School teacher and coach John Guzik.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run in college, but he told me that I may regret it if I don’t do it. He encouraged me to try it out, even if it was just for one season, and I owe him for that, he was a great coach,” Elliott said. “He really motivated me and kept me running when I had no one else to do it.”

It was a good thing he listened. During his senior year, Elliott set a school record for the 1500 meter—3:50.18. This record was just beaten this past spring.

He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2014 with his Bachelor’s of Arts in Park and Recreation Resource Management and minor in Aquatics, although Elliott jokes that he majored in running.  It was there where he realized he was tired of running on the road and enjoyed the technical terrain that came with running in McConnells Mill State Park.

“I love being in the trails when the sun is shining onto the trees and river. The technical terrain is more callous, with more rocks, roots, mud and ruggedness to it than a flat, cross-country course. I really love the grit of it,” Elliott said. “In these races, you have to be completely aware of where you are placing your feet and have to be focused as you change gears running up or down hill.”

Elliott currently lives out of his car and travels to different spots to train for races.

“It’s very simplistic, how little can I get by with. I wake up at trailhead and go run on it – the freedom of it all is very amazing and surreal,” Elliott said.

His races have between 10,000 to 12,000 vertical feet of gain within a span of 31 miles. His favorite races are the ones near rivers and waterfalls, where Elliott said he is able to jump in whenever he wants. Through his running, he serves as an ambassador for inov-8, an all-terrain running brand.

After the races finish for the year, he plans to return to Asheville, North Carolina, where his family has relocated. His goal is to eventually qualify for the U.S. Ultra Distance Running Team and represent the United States overseas.

His experiences at General McLane, however, have made a lasting impression.

“It took a bunch of little steps to get me where I am now. The first step began when I was a member of the 7/8th grade cross-country team and then it continued throughout high school,” Elliott said. “My experiences at General McLane morphed me into the athlete that I am today.”

His favorite memories are ones of his teammates.

“The pride we all had back then, we are all happy to be part of General McLane. My teammates made a big difference in my high school experience, and I loved my teachers and I loved my coach,” Elliott said.

Guzik gave him a mantra that he still does today.

Condition, strong, confident, relaxed, focused, prepared.

That last part – prepare – is what keeps him running.

“That’s why I do it, mostly for the journey of it, the 9-12 weeks that you put into it. The race is one day, one morning. I want to be healthy and out having adventures in the mountains. I don’t want to stop.”