LT Matthew Arreola

Conversation with High Riser: LT Matthew Arreola (USNA ‘08)

Jan 08, 2014216digital Collaborator

By Liz Lang

LT Matthew Arreola

High Riser Matthew Arreola graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2008 and was stationed in San Diego, CA for nearly five years. San Diego “introduced me to trail running, and I was instantly hooked,” Arreola told Rise Bar. “I realized that I could only tolerate running on roads through the city for so long, but that I never got tired of seeking out new challenges on the trails. LT Matthew Arreola was born in Visalia, CA, which is in the central valley not far from Fresno. He’s also an EMT, the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team Operations Officer, and a trail/ultra runner. He played baseball and football through high school and decided he wanted to join the Naval Academy after graduation. To become a more competitive candidate, Arreola began to focus in on academics and fitness. He says, “Running is a natural by-product of training for military life, so I became a fairly solid novice runner.”

Upon entering the Naval Academy, Arreola began to participate in smaller races and set the foundation for his interest in physical and mental challenges. He ran his first race at the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA in 2008, it was “on sort of a whim,” he says. Five months before race day Arreola and his roommate decided to take the challenge. His roommate opted for the half marathon, while Arreola was ready to bust out the full 26 miler. “I finished in 3:30 and I remember feeling extremely empowered through overcoming the adversity of the final six miles,” he recalls

When asked about what motivates him, Arreola responded, “Challenges and inspirations keep me moving on a daily basis. The books and articles I read about other runners make me want to be a better runner. The idea of a new trail, or finishing an old favorite trail in a faster time keep me motivated to keep training. Eventually, I read a few books written by or about famous elite endurance athletes. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek and Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karanazes all sparked an intense desire to push far beyond any limits I had previously set for myself. I began searching for my first ultra race and found the Avalon Benefit 50 held on Catalina Island.”

LT Matthew Arreola Other endurance athletes including “Rich Roll, Brendan Brazier and Scott Jurek are all amazing elite athletes who also espouse clean nutrition and I have found their books motivating and extremely insightful nutritionally. Brendan Brazier, the author of Thrive, has inspired me to eat better. He focuses on eating food that makes him the best possible athlete and fully believes that his plant-based diet is what gave him the edge as an elite Ironman athlete. Clean Dean Karnazes is also a role model and I was stoked to hear him speak and meet him at the North Face race in Georgia. However, I think the largest single source of inspiration for me comes not from an ultra athlete, but from a 5K runner, Steve Prefontaine. Pre said “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts…” I think that captures the spirit of all runners but especially ultrarunners, who end up battling physical and emotional limits more often than competing with other runners or goal times.”

As far as diet—Arreola and his wife eat mostly plant-based (vegan) now, with the exception of eggs, salmon and some tuna. He comments, “I have noticed an immense difference in my life, including more energy, better recovery, better mood and better sleep,” because of the change in diet. “Foods like Rise Bars (my favorite is Coconut Açai Energy+ Bar) help me push beyond the walls I encounter in long distance running.”

Some of our proudest moments are not always the gold medal winning achievements. For Arreola, things went horribly wrong before he realized he was about to experience his proudest moment. At his second 50 miler, the North Face Endurance Challenge in Georgia he claims to have been “cruising along in about 15th place, taking things easy and being conservative. My body felt good and I was thinking it was going to be a good day.” At about mile 29 Arreola’s race took a turn for the worst. His quads started cramping first. After trying to walk and stretch them out the cramp shifted to his hamstrings, then his calves, then even the bottom of his feet. He described himself as looking like “a zombie, shuffling around and fighting one cramp just to have it shift to another muscle. I was despondent and ready to quit.”

The passion to complete the challenge was deep inside somewhere, Arreola continues, “At the mile 36 aid station a lot of runners were meeting their crew and picking up their pacers. I had neither, which didn’t help my poor attitude. While I considered quitting, I was talking to the EMTs when I saw some other runners talking to the aid station coordinator, informing him of their withdrawal from the race. Watching them quit caused a gag reflex and I decided quitting wasn’t for me. I would rather someone carry me off the trail then have to quit. I hobbled back down the trail and continued to the finish. It took me more than 13 hours to complete the race, but the feeling at the finish was absolutely incredible. I had run my first 50 miles in 8:55, which was a pretty good time for a novice ultra runner. However, I was so much more proud of my 13-hour finish since I had to work so much harder for it. I was so physically and emotionally stripped down by the finish. It was an amazing feeling!”

Arreola’s first goal on the horizon is to finish at Western States 2014, preferably within 24 hours to receive the silver belt buckle, though he’d be happy with an official finish (within 30 hours). The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race. The race begins in Squaw Valley, CA, close to the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and stretches through 100.2 miles of historic trails ending in Auburn, CA. According to Arreola, the next step beyond WS is some type of stage race event, whether it is an informal setup or an organized race, like the Grand to Grand Ultra at the Grand Canyon. To keep up with Arreola— visit his blog, where he will be posting his training experiences for Western States. (Stories from previous races and trail runs as well.)

When he isn’t running around the world, Arreola can be found enjoying any type of outdoor activity, including rafting, mountain biking, climbing and hiking. The nerdy side in him enjoys reading books, especially literature. Though the strict diet is in effect most days, on guilty pleasure days Arreola is known to scarf down a Hawaiian pizza (though it’s a rare occurrence).

LT Matthew Arreola

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