Newcomer Morgan Arritola packs Mount Marathon into her busy schedule

Morgan Arritola packs a lot into life — at the moment, she's juggling college courses toward a degree in respiratory therapy, various jobs and a competitive career as an elite mountain runner.

Even when she's not trying to cram a lot into a little, it happens. Take the GoPro Mountain Games earlier this month at altitude in Vail, Colorado, where Arritola competed in a difficult 10-kilometer trail/mountain race and also in a 30-minute race consisting of laps up and down a ski run.

Arritola, who lives in Boise, Idaho, arrived at the competition thinking those two races were run on consecutive days. Nope. They weren't merely contested on the same day, but on the same morning.

Arritola nonetheless won the 10K, which started at 8 a.m. and finished third in the up-and-down race, which began at 11:30 a.m.

"I kind of go by the seat of my pants,'' Arritola noted with a laugh.

Next up for Arritola — her Mount Marathon debut. The 31-year-old former Olympic nordic skier will race in the crown jewel of Alaska mountain running when the 90th edition unfolds Tuesday in Seward.

Arritola doesn't rate herself a contender for the women's championship — "No expectations — I definitely don't consider myself one of those racers to watch,'' she said — yet her resume and recent results hint otherwise.


In the span of a week in June, Arritola competed in four mountain races — two in Vail, two in California — and racked three victories and a third-place finish. She's also a three-time U.S. Mountain Running champion and, in her first season of mountain running in 2012, finished third in the World Mountain Running Championships and spearheaded the U.S. women to the team gold medal.

[2016 men's champ David Norris and runner-up Nick Elson will both skip Tuesday's 90th Mount Marathon]

Anchorage's Holly Brooks, a two-time Mount Marathon champ and Arritola's nordic teammate at the 2010 Olympics and 2011 World Championships, said her friend owns a "pretty insane level of pain tolerance.'' And Brooks likes Arritola's chances in a field that will also include defending and two-time champion Christy Marvin of Palmer and Allie Ostrander of Soldotna, who owns the second-fastest women's time in Mount Marathon history.

"I think she's going to do great,'' Brooks said. "She's been on a winning streak. She's knocking it out of the park.''

Arritola finished 10th at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships in Wales. One of her Team USA teammates was Ostrander, who won the junior women's world championship.

Top nordic skiers have traditionally prospered at Mount Marathon. Current men's record-holder David Norris of Anchorage crushed in his debut last year and is an Olympic hopeful. Former record-holders Bill Spencer (eight Mount Marathon wins, Olympian) and Eric Strabel (three wins) were elite skiers, as was Todd Boonstra (four wins, Olympian). Brooks, a two-time Olympian, has won twice, and four-time Olympic skier Kikkan Randall of Anchorage owns a Mount Marathon title too.

Arritola demurred, especially since it will be her first go at Mount Marathon, where extensive course knowledge and experience on that slab of pain can reward a racer with significant time savings.

"I don't know enough to know anything,'' Arritola said. "The only thing I know for sure is I will run as hard as I can and see what happens.''

Arritola said she'll likely get in some scouting missions on Mount Marathon in the days before the race to acquaint herself with the course. She said she first heard about the race years ago from Randall. She's watched videos of the race and seems particularly taken with the steep, technical downhill, which elite racers descend at astonishing speeds.

"It just looks really fun,'' Arritola said. "I love running downhill. I just like ungroomed, nastier stuff.''

Arritola, who raced several times in Anchorage and Fairbanks in her ski career, left that sport in 2012 after it grinded her down.

"I got really burned out on nordic skiing and I hated it for awhile,'' she said. "It sucks the fun and life out of you. At some point, I just hated it.''

"I promised myself I would never do that with another sport.''

Arritola left skiing at 26 and went back to school. She had always loved running in the offseason, and particularly loved the mountains. Jumping into some mountain-running races seemed like a natural transition to quench her competitive thirst and regain her emotional equilibrium.

"It helped me get confidence back,'' she said. "When I burned out on nordic skiing, I never thought I'd be good at anything again.

"Running is a great outlet. It's kind of my mental WD40.''

Turns out Arritola is exceptional in her newer sport, and she is adept at both torturous climbs and devilish descents.

Mount Marathon awaits.

Doyle Woody

Doyle Woody covered hockey and other sports for the Anchorage Daily News for 34 years.