Morgan Gonzalez: Running towards a Mountain's Calling, by Cait Chock

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Unknown-21-Mo on US Trail Champs.jpgMorgan Gonzalez on Moab Trail Marathon Champs, courtesy of http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html

I forgot that I had asked Cait Chock to write this piece on Morgan Gonzalez. Then, I went to her blog, and was amazed. A smile took over my face, as I remembered training up in Yosemite in the late 70s and early 80s, camping in Tuolomee Meadows in the snow. I am obssessed now with her blog, http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html. It is fun to remember how much fun running can be and how much trail running is! Cait captures the running bum lifestyle, a joyous way to tour the world, with abandon, burritoes and some good wine, sounds fantastic. Read this piece, and then, check out Morgan's blog, it is amazing!

Morgan Gonzalez: Running towards a Mountain's Calling

By: Cait Chock

MO Gonsalez.jpgMorgan Gonzalez, photo courtesy of http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html

Morgan Gonzalez capped 2016 off literally at the top of a mountain. She all but jumped into the Moab Marathon US Championships on a whim and scaled the course to wind up on the podium for 10th.

Anyone who may have been surprised to see the burrito and beer loving, blonde mixing it up with the best trail runners, clearly doesn't know Mo. A 'newbie' on the trail scene only because she hadn't officially raced a major trail event before. But, Mo is anything but new to trails. She's an adventurer by spirit, mountain girl at heart, and badass by nature. She was born for this shit.

Flashback to 2012, her and her husband, Sergio Gonzalez, also an elite runner, were living in San Diego. At that time her focus was on track and shorter road races; a need for speed. But her and Sergio were antsy; they packed their life up and got in their car. "My husband and I went on a road trip during the summer of 2013 and never went home," explains Mo. "I guess we ran away. We lived in our orange tent in Tahoe and then worked our way down the Eastern Sierras and settled in a canyon outside of Yosemite."

They had loved the ocean, but they craved the mountain. She craved it in her bones. "When I'm cradled beneath the granite peaks I feel at peace and filled with love. When I'm away, I long for those mountains and the freedom of stepping out of my front door into endless adventure. I'm certain this is a part of my DNA far out of my control."

She also craved the solitude and simplicity. She and Sergio wanted to live off of the land, get rid of the 'stuff' in their life, and be more at one with the Earth...their home. She wanted to be with the mountains, but, also let me make it clear, Mo is anything but a mountain dwelling recluse type. The word solitude didn't quite fit but in writing this, I struggled because there isn't a more appropriate word. Mo is a hilarious, people-person and makes friends anywhere she goes. So perhaps solitude works only in the sense that she wanted the option to 'escape' the noise and clutter of urban life, but through her adventures she'd meet likeminded wanderlusts.

Unknown-31-Christian Pondella .jpgA Spring Sunset shot, with Morgan Gonzalez and Sergio Gonzalez, photo courtesy of Christian Pondella, http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html

Eventually that 2013 road trip landed the pair in Mammoth, CA. To any distance runner that means home of the Mammoth Track Club, the names of legends Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi instantly pop to mind. Keflezighi has since left but the Kastor duo is strong as ever, and their team has grown into a powerhouse.

But Mo never picked their destination based off of running; she was just following the mountains' call. But there she and Sergio were, two incredible running talents too good not to hit the Kastors' radars. Trail ace Tim Tollefson made the introduction and from there the Gonzalez's had a new home and a new team. The honor of it all wasn't lost on Mo, "I was actually pretty surprised that they allowed two legitimate running hobos that smelled like campfire to join the group for runs, but we immediately felt welcomed as part of the tiny and tight knit running community that we have. Training can always be a grind at times so having the Mammoth Track Club family to run with and keep each other accountable and positive is huge."

1958316_862243236880_3049586767917040589_n.jpgSergio and Morgan Gonzalez featured in PUMA shoot, photo by Juliet Zulu, http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html

Anyone who knows distance running also knows that the Kastors are known for building marathoners. At that time Mo had been more of a miler-5k runner and Sergio a World Class miler, and the thought of a marathon seemed a little insane. But in what I love to call the beauty of 'running brainwashing' little by little, as the training runs and workouts got longer, as the race distances increased, PR'ing in every event as she progressed, the thought of a marathon no longer seemed crazy, but enticing.

I want to pause for a moment because anyone who knows Mo knows it would be a major oversight to point out that her husband is now not only renowned for his speed but for his beard. It's famous on it's own. I wish I could talk to someone about getting a 'Badass Barbie and Bearded Ken Hit the Trails' set of dolls.

A marked turning point came when Sergio even swapped the 'number one miler' reference from his Twitter handle...he was officially a long distance guy and with the longer distance came the longer beard. What Sergio did change his new Twitter name to was @beerd_miler and that brings me right back to burritos and beer.

Mo is a foodie, girl can grind. So much so that when she walks into some of her Mammoth frequents the chef refers to her as 'The Girl Who Eats'. "I love that trail racing requires fueling with real food to sustain your energy. I think that's why I've been able to run farther than I ever thought was possible. Before the Trail Marathon Champs I ate cheese ravioli with olive oil that I cooked over a campfire in a cave and I fueled on waffles, coke, pretzels and even a beer the last mile of the race. I'm a huge believer in eating real foods but not restricting yourself either. I joined a veggie CSA which ensures I get a variety of fresh organic veggies every week to mix into my steady diet of burritos, beer and Nutella."

Which brings us to the second half of 2016. Finishing her track season, Mo went on her usual 'running break' but it's anything but a break because she's out exploring the mountains from sun-up to after dark. She set a goal to learn how to rock climb and, "I ended up running more than I ever have in my life in order to get deeper into the mountains and usually, but not always, make it home before dark. NOTHING was very premeditated, I really listened to my soul and instinct about what I wanted to do each day whether it was hitting a new trail in the morning, flying halfway around the world to explore new mountains, entering my first trail races and sticking my noses in the action with some of the best women trail runners in the world in the Moab Trail Marathon/US Champs."

All of this was new, but in typical Mo fashion, totally spontaneous, she looked at every situation like a challenge. And Badass Barbie never shies away from a challenge, she antes up and raises.

Mo learned some tough lessons the hard way, "bonking and technical downhill when you're toasted," but she plowed forward and onto the next adventure. She ran the 48 miles across the Sierras and back, which, previously would be an entire weeks' worth of miles. Once, after a full day of running, sitting in a bar, Mo decided she wanted to run the 105 miles around Mt. Blanc so she booked a plane and flew out to Chanomix the very next day and did so alongside Jenn Shelton. Live in the moment, People.

Three weeks after that, Mo had finished third in the US Trail Half Marathon Championships and went on to hit that podium for 10th place at the Trail Marathon Championships. None of this had been planned; all of this came about because a girl was drawn to the mountains.

Training-wise, most of her running and treks were done with a destination as the goal, the distance dependent on that. Ample time was spent on technical trails and insane elevations, and Mo focused more on effort rather than time and she's, "enjoying running more than at any point in my competitive career."

Mo's taken on every possible challenge thrown her way and even invented some. She taught herself to rock climb, ice climb, she's crack climbed, alpine climbed, gone bouldering, went backcountry skiing, and went on a backcountry ice skating mission up at 12,000ft. These adventures and running go hand-in-hand. "Running also helps on the adventures because I feel tough enough to endure anything even when I'm out of my element. I know I have the ability to suffer down. I don't see adventures and running as separate entities, it's all playing outside, it's always an adventure and really it's just living my life!"

Mo's days are anything but routine, but, as she also works as Vice President of SMACK! Media, she's a maven at multi-tasking and somehow hitting deadlines amidst an ever-changing schedule. The day of this interview she'd eaten breakfast, ran with her Mammoth Track Club Team with special guest Desi Linden, powered through a working lunch, then took her two dogs (aptly called the Track Puppies) out to ski in the snow. She's out playing in the mountains until well after dark, and comes back with a monstrous appetite. If she had it her way she'd sleep outside every night. "Coming home in the dark feeling overjoyed because that's my favorite way to spend a day--sun up to sun down outside."

Andrew and Deena Kastor have been more than coaches, and both Mo and Sergio count them as close friends and mentors. "[Deena's] focus on gratitude and exploring our own possibilities, internally and also in the wilderness around us, closely match my own perspective and drive in running which has made our friendship and training together a true joy."

20160526_pondella_run_09040mogonsalez.jpgMo Gonzalez, one of few we found her on flat surface, photo courtesy of http://www.runningdharmabums.com/p/meet-running-bums.html

Looking forward, Mo's goals are right in line with her personality: spontaneous and high AF. "This year I want to experience a full variety of trail disciplines and play around with what I like best and dial in where I'm most competitive." Slated are the US Mountain Running Championships, an Ultra, a Vertical K, and return feats in the Sierras. "Since nothing I did last year was planned more than two weeks out, I'm confident that I will keep myself plenty busy racing and adventuring as the year progresses."

To which, I can only say, "Hell, yea." That, and, pass the burrito and beer.

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Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and comedian, you can see more of her work on her website, Instagram @caitchock, and Twitter @caitlinchock.

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