Mountain Runner Dani Moreno Prepares to Tackle Boston
Here’s how the champion trail runner is preparing to take on the legendarily ‘hilly’ Boston Marathon Course in her 26.2 debut.
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American trail Dani Moreno is no stranger to steep terrain.
She is a four-time member of Team USA, a two-time U.S. champion, and was the first-ever American woman to podium at UTMB’s OCC 50k. She was ranked 5th in the 2021 Golden Trail World Series, and has racked up top finishes at the Marathon Du Mont Blanc, Broken Arrow Skyrace 26K, and was the USATF 50K Trail Champion.
While Moreno isn’t afraid to tackle ultras, she’s somewhat of an apologist and cheerleader for sub-ultra distances and currently co-hosts the Sub Hub podcast with EmKay Sullivan, which aims to counterbalance the occasional overemphasis of ultra races in the trail world. Now, the 30-year-old Mammoth Lakes, California-based mountain champ is turning her attention to America’s most prestigious road race, the Boston Marathon.
“The Boston Marathon has always been fascinating to me because it has such a legacy,” says Moreno, who ran track and cross country in college at UC-Santa Barbara “It just carries an extra weight to it in the American distance running tradition. It’s about the community coming together.”
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Moreno has had her eyes on the race for a while and says the historic 26.2-miler loomed large over her running career when she was younger. “Honestly, when I was a kid, I thought Boston was the only marathon,” says Moreno. “For a while, I didn’t even realize there were other marathons, because Boston is all you hear about.”
“I’m attracted to hard things,” says Moreno. “You always hear epic war stories from Boston. And that fascinates me.”
To get ready for her debut marathon, Moreno has shifted from more effort-based trail training to pace-based training. “I like that, in trail running, you can’t necessarily compare your times to past efforts,” says Moreno. “But marathon training is different because I’ve had to really focus on hitting specific splits. It was kind of tripping me out at first, but now I’m into it.”
Moreno hopes to run under the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying standard of 2:37 (6-minute mile pace) and says the training has felt a bit like a grind, but in a good way.
“It’s a grind in that you have to hit a lot more quantified efforts consistently,” says Moreno. She’s been increasing her training mileage and adopting a more traditional road-training approach. Her hometown of Mammoth Lakes is having a record-breaking snow year, which Moreno says has been a challenge as much as a reason to get even more excited for the marathon.
“It’s been a lot of treadmill running,” says Moreno. “But honestly, if anything, that just made me hungrier.”
Moreno says she’s had to shift her mindset away from the world of trail and ultrarunning, where seconds and minutes are a bit less precious than in the marathon.
All About Hills
In the world of mountain, ultra, and trail running, Moreno is known for her fearsome downhill running, which she hopes will translate to a strong finish at Boston, whose hills are known to wear down the quads of lesser-prepared runners.
“That’s probably the part I’m most excited about,” says Moreno. “I’ve been throwing my butt down mountains for years now, so the quad part isn’t that scary to me. It actually makes me really excited.”
Moreno doesn’t so much run downhills as hurtle down them, then, shifting gears to climb back up a mountain. The relatively dynamic terrain of the Boston Marathon is part of what attracted her to the course.
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“I get to run downhill for 10 miles, then I can keep climbing,” says Moreno. “I think that can really suit my skill set.”
Mountain runs and races can often have climbs exceeding 30 degrees, and races like OCC (where Moreno was third overall) sports just over 11,236 feet of gain. Boston, in comparison, has 891 feet of gain and 450 feet of descent.
“You always hear these dramatic stories of pros who do Boston absolutely blowing up their quads,” says Moreno. “But I think I”ll be OK there.”
Knowing Her Why and Embracing Her Prime
After changing sponsors this year and signing with adidas, Moreno said she was prompted to reexamine her running career positively and put some projects that she had been mulling over, like Boston, on the front burner of her ambition. She’ll still be competing for the adidas-terrex team on the trails, but she’s excited for new challenges, too.
“I’ve thought to myself, oh, I could do it next year, or the year after that,” says Moreno. “But I had to finally say to myself, it’s not a demon. It’s a fun challenge. I’m finally ready to take that on and whatever the result is, I’ll be excited.”
Aside from Moreno, Nienke Brinkman (Netherlands), Fernando Cabada (U.S.) and CJ Albertson (U.S.) are among the few other runners with trail or ultra experience in this year’s Boston Marathon elite fields. Brinkman, 27, set the Dutch national marathon record (2:22:51) in Rotterdam last April and then earned the bronze medal at the European Championships in Munich (2:28:52) last August. From there, the Nike-sponsored athlete switched back to the trails and won the 13.3-mile Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado and the Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26K in Arizona in September and later claimed the women’s title of the 2022 Golden Trail World Series.
Cabada, 40, the 2008 U.S. marathon champion with a 2:16:52 personal best, placed 15th at the JFK 50 in 2020 and was the runner-up at the U.S. 50K championships in 2021, while the 29-year-old Albertson (2:10:23 marathon personal best), set a new world record in the 50K (2:38:44) last October in San Francisco.
Moreno says running the Boston Marathon is a way for her to try new things and push herself in a novel way.
“In this particular season of life, I just want to feel like I’m in my prime,” says Moreno. For the champion mountain runner, being in your prime isn’t a physical state, it’s mental and emotional. “Being in your prime, to me, means you’re innately passionate about committing your time and energy to something. That can last for years, or even a lifetime,” says Moreno. “From a competitive standpoint, I’m waiting to see where my ceiling is, and I’m willing to figure it out.”
Zoë Rom is Editor In Chief of Trail Runner magazine, and Managing Editor of Women’s Running. When she’s not running, she’s writing, and when she’s not climbing she’s cooking or eating. Southern story-teller turned mountain-dweller, she starts every day with a cup of strong coffee and a good story. Her work has appeared in REI Co-op Journal, Discover, Rock & Ice, Trail Runner, Backpacker, and Threshold Podcast. She currently hosts and produces the DNF Podcast. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, Becoming a Sustainable Runner with Tina Muir.