In It for the Long Run: Ultra-Marathoner Meghan Morgan ’15 Goes the Distance

For most of us, running the 26.2 miles of a standard marathon lies somewhere between a fantasy and a hard-won goal. But for Meghan Morgan '15, it's the equivalent of a stroll in the park: Morgan is an ultra-marathoner who finished in the top 10 among women at the Western States Endurance Run in June, traversing 100 miles of challenging terrain through snow, hills, backwoods, and canyons. Morgan, who ran cross-country at The Rivers School, recently spoke about her journey from Rivers to WSER and her experience on the trails.

The “ultra” nature of an ultra marathon 

The Western States Endurance Run, or WSER, is run on a portion of the Western States trail and has been taking place annually for 50 years. Given the length of the race, almost half the event may be run in the dark, and while the route remains roughly the same each year, certain variable elements of the terrain, such as snowfall in the Palisades or soaring temperatures in the forest canyons, add to the endurance element of the experience. Last year, there were wildfires on part of the course.

All of that is part of the excitement for Morgan, who started running at the age of 10 with her mom and later joined the cross-country team at her middle school and at Rivers. She embraces the varied and unpredictable conditions that are part of the sport. 

“I’ve run races in deserts, areas that are misty and humid, around Portland, Oregon with green landscapes and waterfalls, in California where it is very hot—all types of terrains and climates,” said Morgan.

Running at Rivers

Morgan attributes her love of running and outdoor courses in no small part to the strength of the community shared by Rivers’ cross-country team. She credits her Rivers teammates and coaches Katie Henderson, Andrea Diaz, and Paul Karasch with the positive mindset and team spirit she has carried with her to other communities.

“There’s a lot of pressure to achieve in high school, and those three coaches at Rivers helped me achieve goals but also to take things with a grain of salt,” said Morgan. “Ms. Henderson was super talented and had great stories and led us through our chill run days.

“Ms. Diaz was amazing—every time she laced the shoes, we knew we would need to push ourselves. She would place herself half a mile from the finish line and cheer us on through.

“I don’t think anyone loved the sport more than Mr. Karasch; he always stressed how he wants us to do well and be a supportive team. He really believed in me as a runner but also knew what would be supportive for me at the time. Running can often be very toxic for high school runners, but Karasch was able to cultivate a positive and healthy team environment.”

Beyond the trails

While training and running at the professional level, Morgan also works full time at a nonprofit focused on facilitating the transition to clean energy for financial institutions. As an undergraduate at Cornell, she majored in math and took energy-related engineering courses; she also competed on the varsity polo team. Although she was not an “official” runner at Cornell, Morgan continued running for fun. 

After college, and during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, she found a community with friends doing trail running in the White Mountains. Her love of running, adventure, and the outdoors influenced Morgan to relocate to her current home base of Boulder, CO, with its abundance of trails and rock climbing and its strong sense of community. 

The community aspect is a huge part of what it takes to be a successful runner. In preparing for an endurance race such as the Western States Endurance Run, said Morgan, “the mental component is bigger than the physical component.”

Before the race, she said, “I love to socialize as much as possible with the other racers. It helps make the time go by faster, and it puts me in a really good mood.”

Morgan does not listen to music as she paces herself through a race, but she has several mental mantras she employs to stay focused and pace herself until the next interval. 

“I keep reminding myself I am fully prepared, I’ve done it before,” she said. She also stays focused on the excitement of the occasion, telling herself, “This is a big goal of yours, and you’re running on this course right now! You’re exactly where you want to be.”

For other runners or current Rivers students interested in distance running, Morgan offered some advice from her own experience: “There are so many ways that running can be a part of your life,” Morgan said, reflecting on her journey with the sport. She divides her activities between cross-country, adventure running, and road marathons, going in and out of all categories. Sometimes she runs alone, and sometimes she runs with a running community. 

"People often get caught up in how others define what it means to be a runner," she says. "But your relationship with running should always be personal, and it should always be something that brings you joy."

Morgan certainly ran her own race at WSER. She explained that finishing in the top 10 in this race is equivalent to placing at the podium at any other race, which makes the achievement all the more impressive. 

“I knew almost all of these women personally and how strong they are,” said Morgan. She is taking the summer to recover before doing shorter races in the fall and training for the next Western States run in June 2024. Her goal for next year’s race is to make the top 10 again.

“I’m excited to come back next year and get stronger.” 

Megan Morgan is sponsored by LaSportiva. Her running record can be found here