Jessica Suciu-Morgan (31) describes herself as a military brat/wife, a life that involves a lot of moving around. There is no specific place she calls home, but she’s currently seizing the day in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States for one more year. Jessica likes to spend her time exploring wherever she’s living by ultra running – that is running distances longer than a marathon. Her Instagram account, @sucimorgan, is full of beautiful landscapes and fun-filled selfies. I wanted to learn a little more about this inspiring individual.
Tell us more about what you do.
The sport is referred to as trail and ultra running, which is where you run distances over the 26.2 miles in a marathon. I’m still new in the sport, but I love it. Most of my runs and training have been alone, but I was lucky this past year to find a friend to do a few long training runs with.
What can someone expect if they’re interested in taking up trail running?
Trail running is completely different from the road running. In general, when you run roads it’s smooth and fast, but on the trails it’s best to slow down, and stay engaged. You have the rocks, roots, twists that could send you falling if you’re not careful. As far as distances and elevation goes, it always varies. Though if you do choose one with a lot of elevation it’s going to be much slower than if you’re running on flat terrain. In general it’s best to hike up then fly down.
"That day I saw a hawk, a turtle, and a ton of snakes. For the first time, what I didn't see on a run were fast cars honking and yelling"
One thing I love about ultras is the fact that walking and taking breaks is encouraged. When I ran a 100K race I was able to complete it just by walking the last fifteen kilometres. It’s not as fast paced as the road. I like to refer to my trail runs as “jog-n-chill”
How did you get into this type of running?
Well I started running to get to and from places faster, and because it was safer than walking when we lived in Florida. But I was travelling side by side with vehicle traffic and Florida isn’t known to have the kindest drivers, nor is it very pedestrian friendly. I was training for my first race on the Sandy Beach, so I needed a place to practise, but I was getting pretty burned out running to the beach and onto the sand. My husband dropped me off at the trails by his work one day. That day I saw a hawk, a turtle, and a ton of snakes. For the first time, what I didn’t see on a run were fast cars honking and yelling. It was such a relief and so peaceful. From then on I wondered what else I could see out there! Since then I’ve seen tons of deer, a couple of alligators, a moose, armadillos, opossum, a mountain goat, and most recently a coyote.
"It's not as fast paced as the road... walking and taking breaks is encouraged. I like to refer to my trail runs as 'jog-n-chill'"
Do you take part in competitions?
I’ve done a few races. I’m a non competitive person, and for me personally the added pressure of making cut off times sucks the fun out of races. Sometimes you just want to stop and take a picture. Plus I get serious race anxiety and recently had to drop from a high profile race as a result. By putting too much pressure on myself to do well, I ended up getting hurt. I was still able to enjoy it as a volunteer. That’s one thing I really enjoy: helping others cross the finish line, not necessarily competing.
Where do you like to run?
I run around my neighbourhood. I’m lucky at the moment to have a wonderful trail system in my backyard.
Do you need any special equipment?
Yes, it’s best to have a decent pair of trail running shoes, and good quality socks, and a first aid kit. For long runs always bring extra water and snacks, and a headlamp just in case you get lost (I made this mistake a few times) and always have a map.
It’s pretty easy to get started depending on where you live. Here in the Pacific Northwest of USA, the trail running community is huge so there’s lots of support. But when I first started in the Florida Panhandle there wasn’t much of a trail running community, or many accessible trails in my area, so it was much more difficult. I think a group of supportive people makes achieving your goals so much easier. But for sure, it is doable solo.
"The most challenging and most beautiful course I've done, was Backcountry Rise 50K over at Mt St Helen... the thought of having a seizure out there got to me a bit"
What is your hardest race to date?
I’ve only done a few races but each had its own challenges. My longest race was a hundred kilometres, but I think the most challenging, and also the most beautiful course I’ve done, was Backcountry Rise 50K over at Mt St Helens. Being a flatlander running in the remote mountains with epilepsy was definitely scary. The thought of having a seizure out there got to me a bit. Luckily, I had a friend with me the whole time. She even stopped and waited while I got my leg wrapped up after losing a chunk of skin on some rocks. This is what people do in ultra races. They’ll wait for you! It’s amazing.
Can you tell us a bit about your epilepsy?
I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was fifteen years old, though I was having seizures way before then. It was misdiagnosed as schizoaffective disorder at first until the doctors witnessed a seizure. My auras cause me to black out and hallucinate, so the misdiagnosis is common. I have general tonic-clonic seizures, partial seizures, and myoclonic [muscle-jerks]. Luckily I’ve got access to medication that works. Though there is never a guarantee as I recently had a tonic-clonic seizure just over a week ago walking home. A combination of poor sleep and stress will do this, but I’m all recovered now.
"I'm inspired by all the strong women. Diane Van Deren proved that it's possible to run mountains with epilepsy... And all the Seize Your Adventure stories!"
So what’s your next adventure?
I’m spending most of 2018 as the year of the volunteer. Hiking and exploring the mountains when I get the opportunity. At the very end of the year, on New Year’s Eve, I’m signed up for the Snowdrop ULTRA 55 Hour race down in Texas. I’m hoping to make this my first one hundred mile. Texas is where I was diagnosed, and the event falls on my dad’s birthday, so this is very special.
Who inspires you?
All the strong women. Diane Van Deren inspired me to move up from the 50K to the 100K and proved that it’s possible to run mountains with epilepsy. My friends, though hard to find, always inspire me. And all the Seize Your Adventure stories. Hearing about the solo trek through Spain while fighting epilepsy is just wow! [ed. I’m equally as wowed by you, Jessica!]. I’ve always wanted to do something like that, but have been afraid. Now hearing that a woman did a five hundred mile trek alone through Spain is just so inspiring. Thank you!
What would you say to someone who has recently been diagnosed?
Adjust. Adapt. Overcome. Learn what your triggers are and adjust accordingly. Don’t compare yourself to all “the others” and don’t get discouraged when you have a bad day, because it’s not how you fall – it’s how you get back up.
And always “seize the day”
Do you have anything else you’d like the readers to know?
Thank you for letting me share my story and being a part of Seize Your Adventure.
You can follow Jessica on Instagram @suciumorgan.