Collin Fehr

Missoula’s Collin Fehr returns to the full marathon field this year after winning the event three years ago.

The focus of the Missoula Marathon generally centers on the big race, the one that starts out in Frenchtown and snakes 26.2 miles until it ends up on Missoula's Higgins Avenue Bridge.

That may not be the case this year, according to the race's elite competition coordinator Tim Mosbacher.

Yes, a well known Kenyan will join Montana Grizzlies long distance coach Colin Fehr in the men's full field. And Missoula's Trisha Drobeck, a course record holder, will highlight the women's full. Even still, Mosbacher contends the race's biggest names can be found in the men's and women's half marathons.

"We have two women who are running the half who are already qualified for the Olympic Trials," Mosbacher said Friday evening.

He was referring to Heather Lieberg and Allison Morgan, two women who have established themselves among the best long-distance runners in the country. Lieberg, who generally runs marathons, will attempt to save her legs for the IAAF World Championships that begin Aug. 22 in Beijing.

She is set to be tested by Morgan, a former All-American distance runner at Kentucky.

While Lieberg is more apt to run longer distances, Morgan's discipline is closer to the the 13 miles both will run early Sunday morning when Missoula's ultimate running event begins at 6 a.m. Morgan is one of the top 20 10-kilometer racers in the nation and just competed at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

The half marathon begins at the PEAK Health & Wellness Center on Blue Mountain Rd., while the full marathon commences in Frenchtown. 

The difference in the two runner's favored disciplines should be no matter for the Olympic hopefuls, they both list personal record times in the half of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 10 seconds. That time is more than two minutes faster than the course's record previously set by the Helena-based Lieberg.

Morgan's husband, Thomas, will continue the name recognition over to the men's half marathon. Also a former All-American at Kentucky, Morgan moved his family from the Bluegrass State to Bend, Oregon after he coached Luis Orta to a second-place finish in the 2014 Missoula Marathon and fell in love with the rural beauty of the Western United States.

Morgan comes in with the fastest personal best, but will be pushed by Montana State's Seth Garbett, the Great Falls's Jacob Bradosky and Evan Sims of Spokane, who finished third in the half last year.

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Bradosky crossed the line just behind Sims in fourth.

Though the full distance generates much of the discussion from the race's spectators, Mosbacher said it isn't unusual that the shorter distance supplies a larger share of the race's more well known names.

"Really it's how it falls in the schedule," Mosbacher said. "A Marathon, the faster you are the more it takes out of your body so a lot of them will run one in the fall and one in the spring; that's generally when the biggest races are. In between they are training up so it's a lot easier to recruit people to run the half."

Though the half may be stocked, it isn't as if the full will go completely unnoticed. 

Mosbacher said he expects Drobeck to be the class of the women's field. The course record holder -- she ran 2:49:32 in 2012 -- has since lowered her time. She recently ran a 2:44:45.

The addition of Kenyan runner Peter Chebet has created some buzz in the men's field. Chebet, who has finished second at the Berlin Marathon and fourth in Paris and Chicago, was one of five Kenyans slated to make the long trek, but travel issues whittled that list down to just one name. 

But it's one that has caught the attention of those expected to challenge the world-renowned runner. Chibet's coach insisted that his runner will try to break the 2:20 mark -- he has run as low as 2:08:42, which would shatter Missoula's course record.

The proclamation has prompted Fehr, who won the race in 2012 and recently set a course record in the half marathon at Helena's Governor's Cup, to shoot for the record as well.

"I'm always willing to risk it on a race," Fehr was quoted as saying according to Mosbacher.  

Marathon organizers added prize money for both the full and half races beginning last season. The result was four male runners who dipped below the 2:30 mark, making Missoula's marathon one of the fastest in the region in 2014. Mosbacher said he expects similar results Sunday morning.

"I like to use the expression of bringing the race to the race," he said, "of trying to bring in some people who are (talented) and give them some incentive to run hard."