Morgan Pearson had a great race at the recent WTS Yokohama race and will now represent the USA in the Olympic Games thanks to that performance. We reached out to him and had a chat with him about the race, the selection, his background, family and much more.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Morgan.
Morgan Pearson: Thank you for reaching out. I don't mind taking the time at all as it is nice to get some attention after a performance that I am really proud of!
ST: To say that you had a few eventful last few days might be an understatement. But how do you see it?
Morgan: The past few days have been pretty crazy but also amazing. I have had so many people in my past and present congratulating me and telling me how proud they are of me. It's an amazing feeling. The trip back to Colorado was about 22 hours and I'm always pretty tired from Olympic distance races, so I'm pretty wrecked physically right now. But it is good to be back home to a little bit of normalcy.
ST: With your finish at the WTS Yokohama race you captured a spot for the US Olympic spot, and maybe allowed you to take a monkey off your back.
Morgan: For sure! You know, it would be one thing to be selected for the team [as a] discretionary [selection] and I would never take away anything for the members of the team that are selected. However, it feels amazing to have a set criteria at Yokohama and go out and get it. No if, ands or buts! I also have the luxury of having a bit more time to get mentally and physically prepared for Tokyo.
ST: How certain or hopeful are you that the Olympics will happen?
Morgan: Well it goes without saying I am 100% hopefully they will happen. As for certainty, I don't pay attention to that stuff. Right now the race is at the end of July and that is what I am preparing for. I don't like to think past that because I don't see value in going down that rabbit hole mentally.
ST: Have you gained a few social media followers since?
Morgan: Probably, but I don't really pay attention to followers. I did put a few posts out about the race and have plans to do one more. I don't think athletes should ever be measured by social media followers!
ST: Your stellar run in Yokohama surely made this Olympic slot possible, but you have had that run speed before and had some fine results. But this was a big one that really mattered and what made this race go well?
Morgan: Thanks for complimenting the run. I also had the second fastest run split in the Hamburg World Championships in 2020. But that was only a 5k and there was a breakaway, which I was the first guy to miss, and thus I was only able to run up to 8th. I would say my run improvement in triathlon comes more from being a better swimmer and a much better biker. I have worked tirelessly to improve my bike fitness and technical ability. I am probably in the best bike fitness of my life right now, but don't think I am at my highest running level. But when you are a fit biker and can ride technically well to conserve energy you are fresher off the bike and able to run closer to your running ability. Consider Kristian Blummenfelt, he ran 29:20 or something on the track last summer and then ran 29:26 in Yokohama. I'm sure he can run a faster track 10k with better pacing and not all alone but he is one of the strongest bikers in the field, so I think it shows my point.
ST: Talk about your bike setup for that Yokohama course and how did it go for you?
Morgan: I ride on the Ventum Ns1 with Shimano components. Both sponsors of mine! I didn't use TT bars in Yokohama but sometimes I race with them. The bike for me was almost two completely different rides. The first half, I was in the lead group of about 20 riders. My coach told me to not lead at all, but I was trying to stay in position 15-5 and the ride was super smooth and I felt super strong and comfortable. Unfortunately, a little past halfway the chase pack caught us and I tensed up a bit and found myself near the back of the 40 man pack. I made the conscious decision to try and move up the pack but only doing so by not taking risks. I knew if I was in the main pack, even near the back going into T2, I would have a chance at top 8 - which meant Olympic qualification. But if I were to crash or something like it, I would have no chance. There were some riders in the pack who were taking huge risks and in my opinion were out of control. I wanted to stay away from them.
ST: Can you also talk about the swim in Yokohama and what you have done to be more competitive there?
Morgan: The swim at Yokohama was an interesting one. I got in a bit of a wrestling match with some other athletes early on but by 100 meters in I actually made my way to what I thought was a really good position. I was swimming on Henri Schoeman’s feet! Pretty soon after that I realized we were swimming way off target towards the first buoy. At that moment I made the decision to stay on his feet rather than try to correct because I figured he would eventually notice and hopefully swim us back course. When we eventually did and rounded the first buoy I lost track of Henri, and was somewhere in the mob of the pack. I spent the rest of the 1500 meters moving up as well as I could but also being smart about it. I watched the swim again and after lap one I was 20 seconds down for the leader and in 29th place and at the end of the 1500m I was 18 seconds down in 20th place. I should note that Henri who usually leads out the swim or is top three was out in 15th. While this was by no means my best swim, it actually gave me a lot of confidence because moving up in a WTS is hard and I was able to salvage the swim and make the lead back despite swimming so much further.
ST: Could you describe a hard swim workout set for you?
Morgan: Most of my swims are with the club swim team Elevation Athletics. I am really lucky to be able to swim with this team because they are honestly the fastest swimmers in the Boulder area despite being in high school! The practices are very technique and power focused which has helped me improve long term as a swimmer instead of just trying to get fitter and fitter in the pool. That being said, none of the workouts are that flashy. One set I did a few weeks before Yokohama was 15x50 on 60 seconds interval. The goal was to hit a pace you would want to hold for the 3rd 50 of a 200 LCM. We were swimming in a SCM pool and I hit 30 on all the 50s which I was happy with. On the weekends I usually do more open water / triathlon sets. A week out from Yokohama I swam with Ian O'Brien's group and the set we did in the SCY pool was 2 x 800 threshold on 9:45, 400 recover on 5:00, 3 x 200 hard on 2:30). The first set I averaged 2:02 on the 200s and the second set I averaged 2:03. This is done at Rally Sport in Boulder and I swim in the gutter lane so I would like to think in a fast sea level pool I would have averaged under 2 minutes.
ST: You lost your brother earlier this year and you talked after the race how he as with you in spirit. He must have been smiling upon you.
Morgan: Thanks yeah. Andrew passed away on March 1 unexpectedly. I spent March at home in New Jersey with my family, not really training normally. It has been really hard for my family especially for my mom. Obviously it's still really hard on all of us, but I knew that if I qualified for the team on that day it would bring some light and happiness into my family’s life. I was thinking about them watching me the entire last lap of the run, and upon finishing the race I was overcome with emotions. I think it was a special moment for all of us even though we were on different sides of the world.
ST: Talk about your athletic background and how you found triathlon.
Morgan: When I was in elementary and middle school I played and did all different sports. Soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, and even ice hockey one year. I also started swimming at a pretty young age, I can't remember if it was 1st or 3rd grade. The first time I ran competitively was in 7th grade for the 6-week cross country season. From 7th to 10th grade I was kind of fazing out the other sports and just focusing on swimming and running. Up until that point I wasn't very good at either of those sports. I was running like 10 minutes for 2 miles and swimming 5 minutes for 500 yards. My junior year of high school though, I took a huge leap in running ability. I qualified for the national cross country meet and ran 9:06 for two miles. I kept swimming a few times a week but basically was all in on running and committed to run for Duke the fall of my senior year. I went to college and for the next 5 years I didn't touch the pool. I did one year at Duke and ran some solid times (14:03 for 5k, and 8:06 for 3k), but after a year I decided to transfer to CU Boulder. At CU Boulder I had a solid career, finishing with 7 All Americans, 2 NCAA team titles in cross country, and solid PRs of 13:36 and 7:51. I graduated college in 2016 and was a bit directionless. In my opinion I had underperform in college based of the training I was doing so I decided to work some odd jobs to support myself and I would give myself one year to pursue running and see if I could get a deal. That fall I started racing really well, I won the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in 13:32 against guys who had just competed in the Olympics. This was before super shoes so back then that time was pretty sick on the roads. I also qualified for the USA Cross Country team in Scotland which was my first international running race. At the start of 2017 I signed with 361 and was a pro runner! Unfortunately, I got a stress fracture right before the outdoor track season started. USAT had been recruiting me since the fall of 2016 and sent me a bike, I then started biking and swimming more as cross training. The summer 2017 I decided to do Age Group Nationals, on my way home to New Jersey from Colorado, because I had been healthy for a few weeks running but also had been swimming and biking a bit. I won the sprint race and I guess here I am now!
ST: You also raced in the PTO Championships in Daytona. Can you talk about that experience?
Morgan: The PTO Championship in Daytona was not a good race for me. I was hoping to kind of fly under the radar going into the race, but I won a half marathon in 62:15 beating a bunch of pro runners so that seemed to create some hype about me. Also, my buddy Sam Long was saying how excited he was to race the ITU boys and I let him get to me a little! But anyways, I only had the time trial bike for about three weeks before we traveled for the race, and most of this time was spent adjusting and changing the position. I had some decent rides on it and a week before the race I did a 45-minute time trial around the flats of Boulder and averaged 320 watts, which was what my coach prescribed to me for the race. This effort was super controlled and at altitude, so I was decently confident going into the race. The swim went well, I think I was out 6th, and I was just trying to pace myself on the bike. About 60 minutes into the race I started feeling some real discomfort in my legs and I wasn't able to put out the same power. Another lap went by and I was in complete discomfort. The goal went from having a strong race to just finishing and I pulled to the side of the track to stretch out my legs. No joke it took me 10 minutes to even get off my bike because my legs were so tight. The only other races I've dropped out of were a mechanical and a crash, so it wasn't easy, but I decided to pull out of the race to avoid injury. Sadly, I actually still had to take off a week from running because I pulled a muscle in my leg. I think the 60+ minutes of riding hard only in the TT position which no breaks whatsoever destroyed me. The same thing happened to Matt McElroy and the other Swiss ITU guy. Three weeks on the TT bike was not enough. If I had been smart, I should have just put the bike on the trainer and ridden hard for 2 hours every other day. I will say this though in my defense, I wanted to do well at Daytona but it was more for fun, and I was still focused on ITU the entire time doing cyclocross races every week and speed work on the run. I think if I was ever able to compete there again or a similar race, I would be able to prepare much better knowing what I know now and also having my TT bike already.
ST: Do you prescribe to a specific diet?
Morgan: Not really. I work with 4th Discipline which is a nutritionist that helps me plan on my nutrition during training, travel and race days. It has helped me a lot but I wouldn't say it is a specific diet.
ST: What is next for you?
Morgan: Leeds WCTS.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Morgan: Ha, I think I went into some good depth on the athletic background question so hopefully that gives people a pretty good idea. I guess I would add, I know my face can look a bit angry or pissed off all the time. I am actually a pretty happy guy, it is just the way my face is. So, if you see me at a race or around don't take it personally! [laughs]. Also, I was a Math major in college. Which for some reason people seem to think is funny and that is the only reason I am sharing it.