Morgan Elliott, a 24-year-old runner hailing from the relatively low elevation of Black Mountain, NC won the Audi Power of Four 50K, in Aspen, CO in commanding fashion over the weekend. His 5:17:56 finishing time earned him a 13-minute victory over second-place Cody Lind. Elliott, who ran collegiately at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania has only been running ultras for a year, but he has already logged some impressive victories, including the Quest for the Crest 50K in 2015 and a weather-shortened Mount Mitchell Challenge in 2016. I met Elliott briefly in late April, while vacationing in Asheville. He was helping to organize a group trail run through the North Carolina Mountain Trail Runners (NCMTR), clipboard in hand when I arrived, but his foot was in a boot. I was surprised to see his name atop the ranks of a competitive race again so soon, so I was excited to gain more insight into how Elliott’s year is progressing.
Quick & Dirty: How much time did you miss with your injury this spring? And that was a stress fracture, right?
Morgan Elliott: I didn’t really keep track, but I think it was six weeks. My injury was considered a pre-stress fracture. Eventually, I just said “the heck with this,” and took the boot off and ran one day. It didn’t bother me when I ran, only when I was done running, but it went away eventually.
Q&D: How long of a training block did you have then before Power of Four 50K?
ME: So a quick rewind, Aspen [for the Power of Four 50K]was my second Skyrace this year, and Lake Tahoe [the Broken Arrow Skyrace]was my first one [on June 19]. For that, I just had three weeks of training and I totally trashed myself, it was like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After that, I had about a month and a half to Aspen, and it was all training, doing whatever my legs wanted to do. I put the watch away and just ran up mountains and had fun all the time. It was unstructured for once.
Q&D: You had a tough race at Broken Arrow, placing 42nd. What was it you struggled with there?
ME: It had everything…I’m not one for excuses, but I got lost 5 or 6 times—a lot of people got lost. I even dedicated 25 minutes of my race to fixing the course for people. I thought, I already screwed up this race, and around maybe mile 21 I went back and fixed [something]on the course so people wouldn’t get lost. But I think it was a lack of training, and altitude was probably the biggest thing. I just had the hardest time breathing, and my stomach was really bad. All I wanted to do was survive and finish it.
Q&D: Did the altitude at Power of Four—in the 8,000–11,000 foot range—bother you at all then?
ME: I was very fortunate [that it didn’t bother me]. Somebody told me that the more you race at altitude, the more it seems to get easier for you. I’m still in Buena Vista now and feeling fine.
Q&D: How did the Power of Four 50K race progress for you?
ME: Well, thinking back on [Broken Arrow], I just didn’t want to repeat anything I did there, so I tried to be a bit smarter. I went out leading the race from about a half mile in at [Broken Arrow]. I just went out too hard there, so I took it really easy this time around. I was sitting in 17th or 20th place going up the mountain [on the first climb]. My main goal was to get to mile 17 with a lot of energy left and try to pick it up there.
Q&D: What position were you in at mile 17; had you broken clear by that point?
ME: I think I took the lead by mile 9 or 10, and on a brief out-and-back I could see where the competition was. I knew Cody [Lind] was going to be up there, and he was. But I got an idea of where they were, and I just wanted to keep running my race: run the uphills, walk the very steep stuff, and just bomb the downhills. The flats were the hardest part; I was like, “whoa! What do I do here?”
Q&D: Are you planning to compete for the Skyrunning Ultra Series title this year, which would require running two of the remaining three races?
ME: Yeah, I’ll do two more. Right now I’m scheduled for The Rut 50K. It has a lot of great competition, and I would love to go, but I’m thinking of bailing as of now. I might go to Texas instead [for the Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50K], mainly because it costs a lot less to get there. I think I’ll do The Rut next year instead. And then I’ll go to Flagstaff [for the series finale at the Flagstaff Sky Race 55K].
Q&D: Coming out of college, what drew you to ultra and trail running?
ME: I always loved trail running; it’s just fun and free. I tend to run along rivers and up to vistas. I train going uphill all the time, so I figured I might as well race doing that. The Quest for the Crest 50K [in 2015]was the first ultra I ever ran. And after seeing how well I compared to some of the pretty stout runners in that race, I thought, “I’m not too bad at this.”
Q&D: How about in the future, what goals to you have beyond this year’s Skyrunning Series?
ME: I’m not really sure what my niche is. I know it’s technical uphill, but I don’t know my distance yet. I’m still exploring. For all I know it could be Vertical Ks, and I haven’t even given that a chance yet. Or it could be 100K. Long-term I’d like to race internationally, hopefully with some help getting to these races.
Morgan Elliott runs with support from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and works at Foot Rx Running in Asheville, NC.