Colorado Alum Morgan Pearson Qualifies For 2020 Olympics
BOULDER – Even though Colorado track and field has yet to complete the outdoor season or had the USATF Olympic Trials, CU track and cross country alum Morgan Pearson has already punched his ticket to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.
The 27-year-old added two more disciplines to his running background and has become one of the world's top male triathletes since leaving Colorado in 2016. He has since risen to the top of the triathlon world, placing bronze in the 2021 World Triathlon Championships Series in Yokohama, Japan in May to punch his ticket as the first male representative for Team USA. In claiming his first medal, Pearson also became just the third US male to earn a medal at the WTCS.
Thanks to his bronze medal he is now third in the standings after one event and is ranked 16th in the world in the Individual Olympic Qualification Rankings according to triathlon.org. We sat down with the runner turned triathlete and asked him about his experiences.
Q: Congrats on making the Olympic Team, what does it mean for you to make it?
A: It's really cool and I'm really excited. This was a goal I had when I started doing triathlons. I started racing pro in 2018. It's not only like a goal accomplished but it's also kind of a dream since I was a little kid.
Q: What does it mean to rise so quickly and be part of US triathlon history to medal at a World Level Championship in the sport?
A: It's the World Traveler Championship series, they change the name just this year, being able to podium is a pretty big deal, this is the highest level of racing in the world. I guess there's like the Olympics and a Grand Final, but that's basically the highest level you could go to and getting this is like I was third in the world that day, so yeah that's pretty cool. I'm definitely a world class athlete now, it's kind of surreal for me because I never looked at myself like that I've always kind of looked at myself like, we're going to get there and you get there and you're like wow.
Q: How was the transition to the sport, having only been in it for 3-4 years?
A: Three years and like two months or something. Most people will probably look at it and be like, 'oh, he had such an easy path.' It was such a fast transition because I mean compared to like a lot of other runners that are trying to do it like swimmers or something, I mean I came up pretty fast. My first race was a World Cup and a second level race but I got seventh. It was pretty crazy and showed me I had the potential, but it's been hard. I've dedicated my life to it and I don't love using the word sacrifice, but it's been a grind. When I take time off I'm not taking time off, I'm working on my weaknesses and I'm working on always trying to improve every day. Obviously it's not all I think about that but it's definitely been my obsession for the past three years. There's a lot to this sport, I mean it's three disciplines and I just obsess over getting better every day. Every practice I do I'm working on technique and every bike ride, I do. I'm trying to get more feel for the bike and more comfortable on the bike. I've just been on it mentally for so long. I think that's what people don't see, they just see me show up to the race, but I've worked really hard. I think my mentality really has helped, to go from someone who never did the sport to getting third at the WTS. I definitely have a lot of talent for the sport, I'll admit that because that's the big reason why I switched, but the mentality is different, like I think my mentality is a lot different than other US athletes or at least that's how I feel.
Q: What was the hardest part of the transitioning to include a swim and a bike in a competition?
A: Biking. I always say I rode bikes around town growing up, but I never did a bike race or raced a road bike. These races are draft legal so it's like a peloton, it's like a pro tour cycling race in terms of the dynamics of the pack. To go to never doing that to being in a pack with 20 to 30 guys that are all inches away from each other and you're moving at like 25-30 miles an hour on your limit with your heart rate really high is crazy. For example, learning how to corner and just move to the pack I mean I'm honestly still getting better at it. I wouldn't say I've mastered it by any means. I'm a lot better than when I started, but that was the hardest part, just being in the bike pack and being comfortable and relaxed and cornering and just the tactics and techniques on the bike.
Q: I can't imagine it's very easy to simulate that kind of pack in practice when you practice?
A: Definitely group rides, and they're really helpful. I do try to do those whenever I can, like, I can go to a group ride and do intervals. Group rides are usually the best thing to do, you're getting that fitness but you're also getting that pack experience. You can only get so close to what it feels like but you can never really stimulate the race. Last weekend in Yokohama I was riding really well, it was an elite pack of like 20. I felt so strong and so relaxed. The chase pack caught up to us and I just felt like I hadn't been in a real race in a long time. I raced in September but even that was just a one off because of COVID.
Q: You dropped a sub-30 minute 10K to pass a ton, can you describe that final run?
A: 29:30 for the 10K. You just train for it. Obviously, it's just training. The run honestly is the easiest part for me and just in terms of the mindset. I just run, I'm never at the front of the race. I had an awful transition from bike to run. I had an issue getting my shoe on. I ran the first lap, so it was four laps in 2.5k, the first lap I ran really hard for a bit and caught up to the main pack, which was like 5:50. I probably dropped a 2:45 1k to start off, just to catch up and I sat with that pack for another 2.5-3k and I felt really relaxed. Then I was just running basically a pace that I knew I could hold to the end of the 10K from there on out. So from the 5K to the end I was running hard and that's just training. Your body can only do what it can do like you can't expect it to ride to some new level in a race you just hope that on race day you are firing on all cylinders at 100%, but you can't run at 110%, that's just impossible or you can't bike at 110%. That's just training, you just got to be ready to prepare. I'm a pretty good runner, that helps and then I train really hard on the bike so I've gotten better at biking and technically better. I'm fresher off the bike and I'm running closer and closer to my best run potential. Obviously I can run a lot faster at 29:30 on like a road 10k, but instead of running like 31 minutes or something which I was running like two years ago, I'm really getting closer to my run potential.
Q: You ran for a national championships team here, many of which ran from the back of the pack to win titles. How did your time here train you for these kind of moments?
A: I remember in 2013 when we won cross country coach Wetmore told us to get out, I forget if this was for the team or me specifically. This is bragging a little bit but he told us to get out and wanted me to be in 50th place through 3k and I remember rewatching the race and I was exactly 50th place and I was like, dang, that's pretty cool. He definitely likes that come from behind, and triathlon especially a lot of these guys go out way too hard the first kilometer of the run. It is kind of similar to a cross country race in the sense that you want to get out at a good pace and you want to have contact with the race, but you also want to be relaxed in the sense that people around you are not going to be able to hold the pace they're running and if you run just a bit smarter you will be able to. I wouldn't be where I was without my time at CU. That goes without saying. In term to the mindset of moving up the pack yeah I didn't even think about that but when you say that it's like, yeah, for sure.
Q: What do the next two months look like for you?
A: I got to figure that out, I mean I'm actually back in Colorado now. I'm really tired. I felt alright for the first few days back but just today I was like, oh my gosh I feel destroyed. So I'm here now but I'm actually going to do another race on Great Britain Leeds. I think that's June 7. So I'll hang out here until then, I'll train and try to get ready. Go to that race a few days before. Do it. Luckily, I don't have that kind of pressure on me now, because I qualified. Obviously I want to do well and stuff but I can just go in there with a little bit of a lighter attitude and just race and have fun. I still want to do well, that podium feeling was amazing and I can't lie I want it again. I have to decide, I'm probably going to stay in the US to the Olympics. I'm either going to go to Park City for a month for the Olympics, or stay right in Boulder. I haven't decided. I think I'm leaning towards staying here just because for me there's more opportunity. I have a swim club I swim with, there are all the group rides going, there's some cyclists I work with and obviously there's some good runners in town that I could hopefully link up. I'm leaning towards staying here. I think we can only go a few days before our race at Tokyo because of COVID I think there's pretty high restrictions. From what I've heard, we can go five days before or something. But I'm actually looking at this as a positive, because the race is at 6:30am in Tokyo. When you travel that way I'm waking up early, in Yokohama I was waking up at five every morning and just going to bed early. So I'm actually looking at that as a positive in the sense that I don't want to get too adjusted. A 6 am race you do that it's not that big of a deal but it'd be almost nicer to wake up at four and feel normal. I'm not waking up at five every day. I'm trying to get as much sleep as I can. But, if that makes any sense I can make it an advantage. We got to plan ahead and I'm just recovering and soaking it in right now but I think that's kind of my plan.
Q: What does it mean to add to the legacy of CU running in a different sport?
A: Yeah, it's really cool. I hope that both the coaches and my teammates when I was there but also all CU Buff alum running cross country and track, I hope they take some pride in it. I know it's not track or the marathon, but I hope they take pride in it. I take a lot of pride in the cross country team and I'm still friends with pretty much every guy I ran with. All of them on the team has reached out to me and just congratulated me so I know the guys I ran with are super stoked. Emma Coburn messaged me and said congratulations which, I mean I know her, but it's still pretty meaningful because she's been to two Olympics. That was really cool. I wish I was running at the trials myself. It'd be really cool to go there. Unfortunately, with COVID and all the scheduling and differences, I'm definitely not going to try to run a track race. Actually in the winter I was hoping to run a 10k and try to qualify but I had a little ankle injury. It wasn't bad or anything but I wasn't about to risk my whole trying to make the Olympic season just to run a 10k for my second sport. It's cool and I definitely pay attention to that stuff and I'll be watching the trials, cheering everyone on.
Q: How does the running scene stick with you?
A: I've actually done pretty well in some running races in the past couple years so I definitely think I'm in sub 28-minute 10k shape which qualifies for the trials. I mean 29:30 after a hard swim and bike on the road, I don't know. Especially with these new shoes, I think I can probably break 28 right now. I mean that's at least what my roommate told me, he's a pro runner. He's seen the workouts I've done. I don't think I'll do that (make a track worlds team) but I think for cross country I'll try to run US XC next year and make that worlds team.