In the three years since Morgan Mahn became a runner, he has run four marathons and dropped his time from nearly five hours to 3:17. He’s run several ultramarathons, including his first 100-mile race in February. When he runs the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon at the end of April, his goal will be to finish it in less than three hours to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Mahn’s route to becoming a runner started with a photo he took with his dad on Father’s Day 2015. He had just finished his sophomore year at the University of Illinois, and he was at the heaviest weight of his life, almost 250 pounds.
“I had really started to notice the weight gain. It made me upset and I really didn’t like the way I looked,” he said.
Mahn made small changes in his diet, drinking less soda, eating one slice of bread rather than two with a sandwich or skipping the bread altogether, and eating more salads and fruit.
“I tried to be more mindful and pay attention to the food I was eating, rather than just getting takeout or fast food and drinking beer,” he said.
He also started going to the gym, and in spring 2016, he began running. Mahn lost almost 100 pounds in a year. At age 24, he now weighs between 155 and 160 pounds.
He considered running the 5K or 10K at the 2016 Illinois Marathon, but a friend encouraged him to push himself and run the half marathon. Mahn followed an online training program and finished the half marathon — his first race — in 2:06.
“The overall experience of the Illinois Marathon was so fun and so supportive, it made me want to keep doing those races. It gave me nice order in my life, having a training plan and something to get ready for,” Mahn said.
He ran another half marathon in Chicago, then wondered whether he could complete a marathon. He ran the 2016 Chicago Marathon as a charity runner raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, a cause that is meaningful to him because his mother and grandmother were both diabetic.
“It went well for a while. Then that first time I hit the wall, that really got me. The last three or so miles were kind of a struggle. I felt lot of relief having been able to finish it,” Mahn said, His finish time was 4:55.
In February 2018, Mahn — who now lives in Kansas City, Mo. — ran his first ultramarathon, a 50-kilometer race on trails in the Kansas City area. He followed it with a 50-mile race in March 2018 and a 43.77-mile run at the Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Run in August 2018 at Kennekuk Cove County Park.
Mahn also ran two more marathons last year, finishing the Illinois Marathon in 3:49 and setting a huge personal record at the New York City Marathon with 3:17.
While he was training for New York, Mahn ran with a friend who was preparing for a 100-mile race. Mahn paced him for the last 25 miles of the 100-miler last September, and the thought of trying a 100-mile race himself was brewing in his brain.
“That experience of seeing all the emotions through the race, and especially when he finished, seeing all that raw emotion and what it meant for him to accomplish that … I kind of had a bug going that I really wanted to do it sooner than later,” Mahn said.
He ran the Run LOViT on hilly, singletrack trail in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas starting on Feb. 22, running the first 18 hours in rain and fog. He finished in 33 hours and 40 minutes, after having some issues with his iliotibial band and hamstring.
“It was a really cool experience, just being active for 24 hours and the control aspect of it, really having to plan out your nutrition the whole way, making sure your gear is ready, the experience of having to mentally be in it the whole time. It’s like running and also survival,” Mahn said. “It’s a good metaphor for life — you can plan everything but rarely everything goes as planned so you have to adjust on the fly.”
Mahn is building his mileage back up now, and if he feels good on race day at the Illinois Marathon, he’ll to try qualify for Boston with a sub-3:00 marathon.
Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. You can email her at [email protected], or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.
Photos: Top: Morgan Mahn at the Run LOViT 100-mile race on Feb. 22, 2019. Middle: Mahn with his father on Father’s Day 2015. Bottom: Mahn after his first race, the Illinois Half Marathon in April 2016. Photos courtesy of Morgan Mahn