Montana High School Cross Country Changing to 5K Distance

Only a handful of states still use the 3-mile distance, and colleges compete in 5K

The Montana High School Association announced last week that high school cross country is changing from three miles to 5K, or 3.1 miles.

The move, which was approved last week by the MHSA executive board, came at the recommendation of coaches who felt Montana needed to join the majority of other states that use the 5K format. Only a handful of states still use the 3-mile distance, and colleges compete in 5K.

“It’s easier for kids to get recruited when they’re running a 5K,” Flathead High School Activities Director Bryce Wilson said.

Immediately following last year’s state cross country meet in Kalispell, coaches from across Montana gathered for an annual meeting to review the season. At that meeting, the proposal to move to 5K emerged, Wilson said.

“The people who stayed at that meeting, about 70 percent wanted it to be changed,” he said.

Wilson forwarded the coaches’ recommendation to the MHSA, which sent out an official survey with several proposals, including a shot clock in basketball. The responses mostly opposed the shot clock, but the 5K format received enough support to gain traction.

The change will take effect next fall.

Boys cross country began in 1964 with two-mile competitions. When girls began competing in 1971, they also ran two-mile races. The MHSA increased the length of races from two miles to 2.5 miles in 1972 and bumped up to three miles in 1976.

It’s debatable whether state records are appropriate in cross country instead of establishing course records due to the variability in specific conditions and characteristics, such as hills. Regardless, the top times in Montana’s three-mile format are now cemented in history as the best in their era. Overall, Shannon Butler of Eureka holds the fastest three-mile time in state history, 14:37.7, set in 1985. In Class AA, Chase Equall of Bozeman holds the top time, 14:40.74, set a year ago in Kalispell. On the girls side, Annie Hill, a junior at Glacier, holds the fastest time for any class, 16:30.71. Makena Morley, a Bigfork graduate, holds the fastest Class B time, 16:33.20, set in 2014.