To set the record straight, this was not quite Morgan Pearson’s first triathlon. During summers in high school he was a lifeguard at Spirit Lake, New Jersey, and, as he explains, “Some lifeguards would get together and do a triathlon. I did four of those. That was the sum of my triathlon experience.”
On Sunday, Boulder, Colorado resident Pearson shocked the USA Triathlon National Championship Sprint distance race with an overall victory by a margin of 1:45 over runner-up Kevin Denny of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The shocking aspect of his win wasn't his second-fastest 10:00 split for the 750-meter swim. Nor was it his 30:57 bike split on a non-aero road bike, a time that left him 50 seconds behind at T2.
It was his 14:15 5k run split, which was 21 seconds faster than Mario Mola’s winning 5k run split at WTS Edmonton. Was the Omaha run course accurately measured? Maybe not. But Pearson did slow down in the final mile. “I was enjoying that last mile because I knew I had it in the bag,” said Pearson. “I could have run faster.”
Pearson’s race was an exciting answer to the questions he had about the sport.
“I was in the first wave,” he said. “One guy beat me out of the water. I could have swum better. But it was all right. I was on a road bike, so I knew it would be hard to match the speed of guys on time trial bikes. Only one guy passed me on the outbound. After we turned around and on the way back I got passed by maybe 5 or 6 guys, all on time trial bikes. It was fine. That gave me people to chase. When I got to transition I had a 50 seconds deficit. I just ran a pace I thought I could hold and I was able to catch them all within the first mile. I think the final guy was the first off the bike. I don't know his name. [Possibly Evan Culbert of Johnston, Iowa, a fellow competitor in M20-24, who swam 10:12 and rode 29:45, 1:12 better than Pearson. Pearson’s 14:15 run was 3:06 better than Culbert’s 5k, which would account for his 1:45 margin of victory.]
While this was Pearson’s first serious triathlon, he was not without serious athletic experience.
While a runner on CU Boulder’s Division 1 track and cross country teams, Pearson was a 5-time indoor All-American and set the eighth fastest mark for a CU Buff in the outdoor 5k with a time of 13:36.22. After graduation in 2016, Pearson embarked on a professional running career. Sponsored by 361 Degrees running shoes, Pearson’s best race was a win at the 2016 Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5k which he won with a time of 13:32, beating 2016 Olympic 10,000 meter runner Shadrack Kipchirchir by 4 seconds.
Pearson’s post-graduate running career was interrupted with two injuries. “Outdoors this year I had a stress reaction in my left foot which forced me to take some time off,” he said. “Then another bone came out of place and I had to take five weeks running on ground and another five weeks I ran on it while hurt. I went to a few doctors to treat it and things settled down.”
Pearson, who did a little biking to stay in shape while recovering, has been making ends meet with a few different jobs plus his running sponsored by 361 Degrees. With his degree in mathematics and economics, he did some tutoring. He also worked with The Feed, an E-commerce site for sports nutrition that focuses on cyclists and triathletes.
In mid-summer, Pearson planned to drive to New Jersey to visit his mother and siblings. This provided the seed of his decision to race the USA Triathlon sprint nationals. “To be honest, I was driving from Boulder to New Jersey and I thought it would be kinda fun to stop and do this race on the way home.”
Before Omaha, triathlon was kind of a daydream. After his win, Pearson says he will have to do some serious thinking. “It shows I could be pretty good at the sport if I trained more for it,” said Pearson. “I know I want to do it. Especially after today. I knew the bike would be a big question mark. I have done some bike rides. But I didn’t know how it would go. Especially as I had a road bike, I knew I wouldn’t be the fastest biker. But the fact I was able to keep those guys in sight, I think it shows I might have talent for the bike as well.”