Meet the Div School’s “Energizer bunny”

Yale Divinity School student Sabrina Moran DIV ’12 regularly runs over 130 miles at a time in ultramarathons.
Yale Divinity School student Sabrina Moran DIV ’12 regularly runs over 130 miles at a time in ultramarathons. Photo by Sabrina Moran .

Like most serious athletes, Sabrina Moran DIV ’12 works out every day: She runs, lifts weights, bicycles and uses an elliptical machine.

But the similarities end there.

While most other athletes exercise in preparation for their next soccer game or tennis match, 25-year-old Moran trains for 24-hour races known as ultramarathons, during which she often logs more than 130 miles. Moran, who is the eighth-fastest female 24-hour distance runner in North American history, is currently training for the North Coast 24-Hour race near Cleveland, Ohio on Sept. 17 and 18. There, she hopes to run 140 miles and beat her personal record of 137.83 miles. If she accomplishes that goal, Moran will be one step closer to becoming the fastest 24-hour distance runner in the history of the continent.

IT’S ALL IN HER HEAD

Moran set her personal record at the Lone Ranger Ultramarathon in Pennsylvania in July. That race, and her next ultramarathon in Cleveland, is run on a set of paved loops. A competitive racer such as Moran does not leave the track until he or she has logged 24 hours of running.

Physical training isn’t enough to ensure success on the track. In order to make it through what Moran calls the “mental warfare” of the race, she does not allow herself to reflect on how she feels or how far she has run until she has completed 100 miles — a mark she typically reaches in about 16 hours.

Moran reads a “dense” book before every race — including, as of late, a volume on symbolic logic and a book by Noam Chomsky — and sometimes uses her time on the trail to plan out papers to distract from the grueling task at hand. Before her race in Cleveland next week, Moran said, she will “probably read something for school.”

Moran finds that the time she spends thinking about philosophy during her run informs her studies at the Divinity School, where she is pursuing a master’s of religion and focusing on the philosophy of religion and theology.

“There is a link between philosophy and running,” Moran said. “There are deep thoughts in my head that I need time to process. When you watch your body break down, you also come to know yourself better.”

After the race? She winds down with something less intellectual — a two-hour nap and a meal with close friends. Then, she said, she moves on with her day.

A SECRET LIFE

After six years running extra-long races, Moran has become something of a celebrity in the world of ultramarathoning — often, runners approach her at races and tell her she is an inspiration.

But off the track, few people know about what Moran calls her “secret life.” Of average height and slim build, Moran doesn’t look more fit or muscular than any serious cross country runner. Still, she runs at least 150 miles each week, in between studying for her master’s degree in religion at the Divinity School, working two part-time jobs and playing on the Divinity School’s intramural sports teams, including the Paracleats soccer team.

“I’m like Hannah Montana,” Moran said. “At Yale or at the grocery store, no one has any idea about this other side of me.”

When Moran came to work on a Monday morning looking tired, her co-workers asked what was wrong. Moran revealed her “secret”: She had run an ultramarathon that weekend, and was still feeling the effects.

Moran said their shocked reactions are the reason why she normally does not tell anyone but her close friends when she plans to run another race.

Now that several of her friends know, they try to support her whenever they can. Five of them trekked to Pennsylvania to watch her set her personal record at the Lone Ranger race.

Watching Moran run was “exhilarating,” said her close friend Tala Strauss. Moran is a fan favorite, Strauss added, because she is as kind to her competitors as she is to those who come cheer for her.

“Even though she is so accomplished and remarkable in so many areas of her life, there is a humility about her that makes it possible for anyone to feel comfortable opening up to her,” Strauss said.

‘AN ENERGIZER BUNNY’

In high school, long before she had ever heard of ultramarathons, Moran felt she had an excess of energy.

“I played nine sports straight through high school,” she said.

She continued to run track at the College of William and Mary, but found it wasn’t enough to keep her busy. Moran’s dissatisfaction persisted until age 19, when she decided to run 100 miles to celebrate her mother’s third year in remission from ovarian cancer. She began the race running fast and hard, but eventually found a rhythm and managed to complete her 100 miles. By the end of the last mile, Moran said she knew she had found her niche.

Off the track, Moran was studying psychology and philosophy on a pre-medical track at William and Mary. She said her greatest research interests are the theories of mind and the self, and that eventually she will pursue a doctoral degree in neuroscience. She said she hopes her philosophical research at the Divinity School will inform the more scientific work she plans to do in the future.

Despite her high-flying goals and past achievements, friends said she rarely talks about her academic or athletic wins.

“We, as her friends, often have to brag about her accomplishments before she will,” said Will Prosser DIV ’13. “And she is always able to draw a laugh in late-night study sessions.”

Despite her recent success as an ultramarathoner, Moran has not abandoned the love of team sports she developed in high school. She continues to play every sport offered at the Divinity School, including frisbee, soccer and basketball, said Alex Peterson DIV ’12, who manages the school’s sports teams.

“She is an Energizer bunny,” Peterson said. “She does not get tired, that she lets people know. She uses her energy not only for herself, but is also always supporting others as a friend.”

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