Megan Gannon completes ultramarathon

In July, Associate Professor of English Megan Gannon participated in High Lonesome, a challenging100-mile ultramarathon race. “The High Lonesome 100 is a high-flying Colorado mountain race transecting the southern end of the expansive Sawatch Range,” organizers state. “Starting and ending at the base of Mount Princeton, the loop course takes runners along soaring ridges, through idyllic meadows and remote basins, across five alpine passes and through two ghost towns. Runners will be treated to 27 miles of the National Scenic Continental Divide Trail and 35 miles of the classic Colorado Trail. This course is wild, tough and relentless. …”

Gannon says, “I’d seen videos and pictures from the race, and I really just wanted to see all of that epic beauty for myself. Basically, I wanted to pretend I was Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor. (And let me tell you, climbing out of the section known as Purgatory definitely felt like scaling Mount Doom!) I also wanted to find a race that was too hard to complete. This one, as it turns out, was almost too hard to complete, but I managed to complete it with some really phenomenal support from a bunch of different people.”

After already completing four marathons, two 50Ks, two 50-milers, four 100Ks and two 100-milers, Gannon says this race was special because it was a “hard” hundred miler: 22,500 feet of gain, at an average elevation of 10,000 feet and reaching at times 13,000 feet. “I knew I was in over my head when I kept having the following conversation:

‘Are you excited to run High Lonesome?’

‘Yes, but I’m nervous, because I’m a Flatlander.’

‘Oh! Have you done a hundred-miler before?’

‘Yes, once, in South Dakota.’

‘Oh. But … have you done any mountain ultras before?’

‘Nope.’

‘ … Um … OK, well, good luck!’”

Gannon first ran a marathon in her 30s but wasn’t inspired to continue and had never even heard of ultramarathons. When she first arrived at Ripon, she ruptured a disc in her back and stopped running altogether. But then she met her current partner, Jeremy, who “ran these crazy 100-mile races.”

She missed running and started out doing trail races as opposed to running on roads. “Once I experienced the miraculous phenomenon of hitting rock bottom and somehow finding a second wind and climbing out of it, I became pretty hooked on ultra running,” she says.

“It’s a big jump to the 100-miler. There’s nothing else like it: the sleep deprivation, the sheer deep-muscle exhaustion, the blisters and aching feet and broken toenails. But if you have built a base where you can go out and run a marathon for a training run, you’re in good shape to run a hundred miler. … Finding places to run 20 miles in the middle of January in Wisconsin can be a challenge, but running in snow makes you really strong for the summer months.”

Dream races for the future include The Transylvania 100K, “which starts and finishes at Dracula’s Castle, so of course that’s a bucket list race for me, with my interest in all things Gothic. The Dragon’s Back in Wales looks epic: six days, in which you complete an ultra each day with tons of climbing (but you get to sleep at night!) I’d like to complete the World Majors marathons at some point.”

Gannon enjoys many different parts of running far distances. She says, however, “I spend a lot of time in my head, so it’s nice to have an outlet that requires me to be in my body. The funny thing is, since long runs allow me chunks of time away from kids and screens, I always end up spending most of the run thinking about poems and books and teaching.

“Mainly, I’m just interested in experiencing as much beautiful terrain as possible in the most intense way possible,” she says. “Ultra running checks all of those boxes.”

(Photo: Megan Gannon hits the top of Laws Pass, one of the high points on the High Lonesome 100 course at 12,296 feet. Photo by Kristi Mayo/Mile 90 Photography)


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