Thursday, July 27, 2006

Valiance and Humility at the Western States - An Interview with Brian Morrison

Most Pacific Northwest ultrarunners were familiar with Brian Morrison before his now-legendary finish at the 2006 Western States. The 27-year-old phenom from Seattle, WA, has been consistently improving his times and earning his place among the elites, such as his 10th place finish at the 2004 USATF 50-mile Championships at White River (7:34), a 5th place finish at the 2006 Chuckanut 50k (4:06), and a stunning 8th place finish at the 2006 Miwok 100k (8:55) racing against the best in the sport.

(Brian leads the pack at the 2005 Capitol Peak 50k; photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

But it was Brian’s infamous finish at the 2006 Western States that announced his coming to the rest of the world. After setting a wicked fast 18-hour pace for most of the race, Brian found himself leading the field in the final miles of one of the hottest Western States on record. Hyponatremia set in during the last mile, causing Brian to falter and stagger while Graham Cooper and Eric Skaden were catching up quickly. His pacers, including 7-time Western States winner Scott Jurek, assisted him to the finish line and into the arms of medics. For a few minutes he was the winner of the 2006 Western States, but was later disqualified for receiving assistance. He spent two days in the hospital recovering, as word of his epic finish circled the globe. One thing for sure – Brian Morrison had put his stake in the ground, and there was no doubt he is one of the rising stars of ultrarunning.

I had a chance to catch up with Brian over e-mail after a Pearl Jam concert, and hear how is recovery is coming.

Brian, thanks for doing the interview. How is your recovering coming? Will you be racing any more this season?

At this point, I don’t have any definitive race plans. There are a couple of local 50ks here in Washington in the fall that I may do. I’ve also toyed with the idea of running a fall marathon. At this point, nothing is set in stone. It has been nice to just take a little break from training.

Your Western States race was amazing. Did you have any idea you were capable of an 18-hour finish?

I really was not sure what I was capable of, since I had never run the course. All I knew was that I was in the best shape of my life. I actually felt like to win the race I would have needed to run closer to 17 hours. However, as we all know, the heat really slowed the times down.

Had you raced other 100-milers before States?

I had run the Cascade Crest twice before Western States. It is a mountain hundred miler here in Washington. It is a much different course than Western States. There is about 22,000 feet of ascent, and my fastest time there is just under 22 hours.

(Brian in the early stages of the 2006 Western States; photo courtesy of Florida Sports)

Can you tell us in your own words how the race went? I understand it was incredibly hot.

Well I could really elaborate on this one, but to keep it simple, I will just say that it went very well for the vast majority of the race. I had a couple of low points, and I think I threw up just twice. Beginning with the very first weigh-in at Robinson Flat, I was a couple of pounds up. By the last weigh in at Auburn Lakes Trail, I was five pounds heavy. I was drinking fluids like crazy and I was taking two S! Caps per hour during the hottest part of the day. Having now talked to a few different doctors, it seems that I was over-hydrated. Anyway, the only real indication of any trouble was the rise in my weight. It wasn’t until the climb up to Robie Point that I started to have any significant issues. At that point, I think that I was red-lining it just trying to get to the finish. You can only red-line it for so long, and unfortunately I was only able to go that hard until entering the track and then everything blew up.

What do you remember about the finish?

My memory about the finish is very sketchy. I remember coming into the track and seeing the finish, and it looked so far away. I collapsed immediately, and I think I was able to get up under my own power that first time. I remember collapsing once more, and while I was on the ground, I expected to see Graham Cooper come blasting by. I remember being stunned when he did not. Then really my memory picks up in the med tent. I have no recollection of actually coming through the finish line.

Any lessons learned that you would like to pass on?

It’s been really interesting talking to various doctors since Western. They all have their own take on some of the specifics, but they all seem to agree that I was over-hydrated. They all seemed to agree that I was taking a good amount of sodium, but the amount that I was drinking was diluting that sodium level to a dangerously low measure. Talking to Dr. Lisa Bliss, I have realized that what I really needed to do when my weight was up was slow my rate of hydration not just focus on more sodium. I’m sure I learned some other lessons, but because hyponatremia was the condition that ended my race prematurely, I have really soaked up a lot of information on how to avoid that.

You couldn’t ask for a better pacer than Scott Jurek, and I’ve heard you mentioned as “Scott Jurek’s protégé”. How did you meet him and how long have you trained together?

I work as the manager of Seattle Running Company, and Scott works as a physical therapist in the same building that we’re in. He works with his clients in our store a few hours a week, so I see him quite frequently. Last year, when he was training for Western States, I ran with him on a couple long runs, and that was really the first significant amount of time we had spent training together. This year we spent a lot more time training together. I’ve learned a lot from Scott, and I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent running and hanging out with him.

(Brian Morrison and pacer Scott Jurek just outside of Rucky Chucky; photo courtesy of Robert Bell)

How long have you been running? Trail running?

I really began running in 2000. At that time, I was training to climb Mt. Rainier with my uncle, and running was just a way to get in shape. However, the more I ran, the more I enjoyed it. It was while I was in college in Bellingham, WA that I really got hooked on trail running. I began attending the Fairhaven Runner’s Wednesday night trail runs. A handful of the guys that I was regularly running with were training for the Chuckanut 50k. I decided that I’d give it a shot myself, so in March of 2002 I ran my first ultra.

What are some of your favorite races?

The White River 50-miler is incredible. The scenery is awesome, and the event is very well put together. Miwok is another fabulous race on a beautiful course. Some of my other favorites are: Cascade Crest 100, Chuckanut 50k, and the McDonald Forest 50k.

What kind of work do you do? Do your workmates think you’re crazy?

I work as manager of Seattle Running Company. No one at work thinks I’m crazy. We all run ultras. It never ceases to amaze me the talent that has worked at or been affiliated with Seattle Running Company. Beginning from the top down, Scott McCoubrey is a top notch ultra runner himself. However his real knack seems to be for hand picking some of the best ultra runners in the country and hiring them to work in the store. I’ll forget someone I’m sure, but to give you a sense here are a list of people that have worked there: William Emerson, Krissy Moehl, Hal Koerner, Brandon Sybrowsky, Scott Jurek, Justin Angle, and Phil Kochik. Plus Greg Crowther and Uli Steidl are members of the SRC club. Anyway, I’m surrounded by ultra runners all the time, so at work, you’re crazy if you don’t run ultras.

Do you cross-train at all, or is it mostly running?

I lift weights 2-3 times a week. Plus I try to get in as much rock climbing as possible.

Can you tell us a bit about a typical training week for you? What elements do you consider crucial for getting ready for something like States?

In my peak training, I was running 90-100 miles per week. I do one day of speed work and then two long back to back runs on the weekend with sections of threshold pace.

What about diet? What are your favorite foods, for racing and when resting?

I feel like I eat pretty healthy. I love Mexican food. It seemed like this year I was craving burritos after all my long hard efforts.

I hate to be the marketing guy, but your story is perfectly set up for a sequel. Will you be coming back to States next year?

Yes. I definitely want to go back next year and do it with a little more style. Everyone keeps telling me that this year’s race makes for such a good story. My response has been that if I win next year that will make for a great story.

Thanks for your time, Brian. We wish you the best with your recovery!

- SD

[Note - You can read another interview with Brian about his Western States finish here]


  1. SD...

    Thanks for letting me know you were using the photo. By the way, my last name is Tachiyama. I know there's no way you'd know that.

    Great job keeping up the consistently informative content!

  2. Thanks, Glenn. I updated above. I appreciate you letting me use your great photos!


  3. As Usual very good interview Scott. It is very interesting to read so many elite runners from SRC club.

  4. Nice interview... Very inspiring.

  5. Morrison will definitely be a force next year. Once you know you're capable of a sub-18 hr run, you can race to win.


  6. Hi Scott! Thanks for giving airtime to such a fine young man. A small error: he was 10th at White River in 2004 not 2005. :)


  7. Thanks, Kendra. Duely corrected.


  8. I continue to be amazed at how trail running elites are more than happy to share their lessons learned. It's unlike any other sport!

    Morrison adds his integrity to the sport, and I thank him.



I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.

Latest Excursions