Megan Kupres was the last one to believe she was a good runner.
“In middle school, my PE teachers kept telling me to run and go out for track, but I wanted to play volleyball,” said Kupres, who this year was the XTERRA Arizona Trail Series Regional Champ in the 20-24 age group. “Then, right before I started high school, my mom and I were walking the dog. The cross-country coach was driving by and called out, ‘Why aren’t you running?’ Then my mom turned to me and said, ‘Yeah, Megan, why aren’t you running?’”
By the end of her first year running, Kupres was on the varsity team. She went to states her sophomore, junior, and senior year for cross-country and in her sophomore and senior year in track in the 3200.
“I didn’t know what splits were and I didn’t care,” she said, “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a competitive streak. I just went out and chased people down and kept going.”
As one of the few distance runners in her high school who wasn’t injured, Kupres had to run a lot. The result was that by her senior year she was losing her passion for the sport. Even though she went to the University of Oregon, which is one of the biggest running schools in the country, Kupres took time off from competition. When she did run, it was with the girls from her dorm.
But by her junior year of college, the trails were calling her.
“My friends asked me to join the running club with them, and I thought, sure, why not? I’ll go to practice.”
Despite the fact that it had been years since she was in a cross-country race and that the trails in Oregon were full of mud, Kupres enjoyed her first race back.
“I wasn’t the speediest, but I knew that my fire was back.”
That year, Kupres competed in the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA) National meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania and finished 27th. Her senior year, she placed 27th again despite being out for almost a month with an IT band injury. Right after graduation in 2015, she competed in the USATF Mountain Championship in Bend, Oregon.
“Holy crap, that was no joke,” said Kupres. “That was such a hard race and such a learning experience.”
The race was a qualifier for the U.S. Mountain Running Team and included about 1700 feet of climbing in the women’s 8K race. Soon after the race, Kupres left Oregon for her home state of Arizona to pursue a career in physical therapy. However, despite growing up in Arizona, Kupres didn’t have anyone to run with there. She missed her running community in Oregon, and despite coaching for her high school alma mater in Arizona, Kupres was lonely.
“I remembered my coach telling me I was good on the trails,” said Kupres. “So I searched on Active.com for a trail race. Basically, I just signed up for XTERRA McDowell Mountain in February without knowing anything about it.”
Not only did Kupres win overall for the women, she finished close to the course record. She also ran in the XTERRA Black Canyon Trail Run and finished second overall for the women and won her age group.
“I loved the trail runs. I went into XTERRA McDowell Mountain thinking, I have no idea what I’m doing but I guess I’m going to run up this mountain. After the race, I realized I was actually kind of good at this. I had done Rock and Roll marathons and other road races, but after XTERRA, I realized I belonged on the trails.”
The next year in 2018, Kupres returned to XTERRA McDowell Mountain where she was second by less than a minute. In October, she ran in the XTERRA Estrella Mountain Trail Run, which she won.
“XTERRA Black Canyon is tough,” said Kupres. “During the race, I thought, oh my gosh, what is this? We are in the hills and then we are in a river. And XTERRA Estrella Mountain is so challenging with a lot of rocky areas and technical descents. It’s so hard and so much fun.”
For Kupres, running isn’t just about having fun on the trails. It’s also her favorite form of medicine.
“At the start of 2018, I was working a lot and had gotten out of a relationship that wasn’t good for me,” said Kupres. “I found this great running group and decided to use my runs to better myself. I am having fun now and I realized this was just what I needed.”
Kupres became inspired by her running partners as well as what she saw on Instagram.
“I was really drawn to runners who posted their favorite quotes and images to keep themselves motivated,” said Kupres. “I started to follow the runners who inspired me, and then I realized I could inspire myself. What were my favorite quotes? What kept me motivated?”
Kupres’ Instagram feed today contains one inspirational quote after another, accompanied by photos of her cross-training, working out in the gym, and of course, running on trails. Now, her posts are as motivating and uplifting as those who initially inspired her.
“This year I had a big mental shift,” she said. “I always had the drive and the fitness was there, but my mind wasn’t in the right place. And what I’ve learned is that your mind really controls how you perform.”
This past November, Kupres ran in the XTERRA San Tan Trail Run, and she admits that she wasn’t in the mood to compete.
“I was tired and wasn’t up for a race. But I am always in the mood to run, so I told myself, ‘You got this Megan.’ I was actually shocked by how big the hill was at the end of the race, and I knew my quads would take a beating in the four miles of soft sand near the end, but it’s such an accomplishment to do something like that.”
Once again, Kupres won the overall women’s race.
“I love the mountains,” said Kupres. “I love the quiet and running in the mountains has become my stress relief. But it’s not like before where I just took all my stress out on running. Now I ask myself, am I ready to have fun? I’m never going to be that girl who goes to the starting line with a serious face. I don’t want to be like that.”
Learn more about the XTERRA Arizona Trail Run Series