SWAN LAKE – Makena Morley wasn’t sure what to expect at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in early June. She certainly wasn’t a newcomer to the big stage, having earned five previous collegiate all-American nods while running for the University of Colorado, but rather the location of the Championships that had Morley anxious.
For the past two seasons, Morley, along with the rest of the NCAA field, competed at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. for the Outdoor Championships, but renovations closed the facility, moving the NCAAs to Austin, Texas, which provided challenging conditions for distance runners like Morley.
“I was kind of nervous for it because of the heat, but the 10K was a little rough, a little more humidity, but the 5K, it was nice to come back and get a good one in there,” said Morley, who placed sixth in the 5,000-meter run and 11th in the 10K, earning first- and second-team all-American honors, respectively. “It was nice to have teammates in both events, too, to run with them, feel their energy and stuff. It was nice to be out on the track again.”
The finishes marked all-American accolades Nos. 6 and 7 for Morley, who helped lead Colorado to the NCAA Cross Country Championships team title last fall. The results are no surprise to her following back in Big Sky Country after Morley won four consecutive Montana high school cross country titles and seven individual gold medals in track and field.
“That’s so special to me, actually. I always think about Montana when I race and it’s definitely a special part. Whenever I come back here, I always feel so one with everything when I start running here,” said Morley, who returned home earlier this month.
The three-time defending champion in the Missoula Half Marathon, Morley will look to defend her title this weekend after setting the course record of 1 hour, 15 minutes, 52 seconds last summer.
But how did the dynamite distance standout get involved with the Missoula Marathon to begin with?
“I think the first time, I just decided on a whim that I was going to do it. That was, what, three years ago? I was just like, ‘I kind of want to do the Missoula Half Marathon,’ and I had a long run (scheduled for) that day, so I was like, ‘Might as well,’” she laughed. “I love the whole atmosphere. I love road racing and the Missoula Half is the epitome of that for Montana.
“I definitely, when I’m done with college, want to get more into road racing than track. It’s a little less boring, so it’s so special to be able to race on the roads, because I’m not in Montana anymore — I’m racing in Colorado most of the time, so it’s really special to see all those people I saw in high school, see all my friends again and the whole community. It’s great.”
Admittedly, winning makes running more fun, and Morley has certainly done her share on Montana soil. Her father, Steve, jokes about “running out of room for the medals and trophies,” which is understandable, but she insists returning home and winning in her backyard is as good as it gets.
“It’s one of my favorite ones to win. It’s almost as special as when we won (the NCAA Division I cross country championship) as a team. It just has a really special place in my heart,” she said. “When I win it, it’s just for all of Montana. It’s great.”
Morley has also become a recruiter of sorts for the Missoula Marathon, encouraging college teammates to visit and compete. As her fondness for the race continues to grow, her vision of its future does, as well, bringing hopes of more runners of all skill levels.
“It’s definitely been bigger each year I’ve done it, more people there. I think the bigger it gets, and it’s so beautiful, too, I think more people will come in, which would be great to see some more really competitive women in there where it’s going to get really hard to win it,” Morley said.
If her previous accomplishments are any indication, there’s probably no reason to doubt her chances.