Bigfork native Makena Morley, 22, has signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Asics and joined the Idaho Distance Project (IDP), a professional running team based in Boise.
“As a group, IDP sees running the same way I do,” Morley said. “They truly love to run, have fun doing it and are able to compete at a very high level while keeping that love for the sport alive.”
The team was founded by Emma Ulmer (née Bates) and is coached by Ulmer’s husband, Kameron. Morley’s boyfriend, Zach Perrin, has been a remote member of the group for a year and also signed a sponsorship deal with the team.
Morley said Emma Ulmer was one of the biggest draws for her to join the team.
Emma was the 2018 USA marathon champion and recently finished sixth at the U.S Olympic Trials in the event. She ran for Boise State University, winning an NCAA title in the 10,000 meters, before turning pro and joining the Boston Athletic Association.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Emma since I was in high school,” Morley said. “She thinks about running the same way I think about running, and not many pro people think about it that way.”
After Emma spent two years on the East Coast, she returned to Idaho and wanted to form her own group to provide a positive environment for training. The Idaho Distance Project quickly took off.
Since it was formed in 2018, the IDP has grown to include nearly 20 athletes specializing in distances from the mile to the marathon.
“I couldn’t be more excited; anytime we add a new person to the team it’s always a big deal because we’re growing our family,” Emma said. “We’re more than just training partners; we hang out all the time. So I just know Makena is going to add so much to the team with her personality.”
Emma first met Morley in Scotland, at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country meet in 2015. Morley won the race and led the USA junior team to a gold medal.
“To see her run so strongly at that race and win, it stood out to me,” Emma said. “Someone with that poise and strength … I knew she would have a great career.”
Morley considered a few different training groups after her collegiate career at the University of Colorado ended this spring. She talked to coaches and runners in Flagstaff, Arizona, and in Colorado before ultimately choosing to move to Idaho.
“I have high expectations for her,” coach Kameron Ulmer said. “I know how good she was in high school and college, and I know how good she wants to be.”
Kameron said he likes Morley’s tenacity, which he attributes to growing up and training in northern Montana. Having such a strong runner join the team and immediately be able to train with Emma will benefit both athletes.
“It’s a great starting place for Makena to see what it takes to be a pro athlete at a high level — she’ll be able to base a lot off of Emma’s day-to-day balance,” Kameron said. “Both runners thrive off of being pushed and I see them pushing each other to the very top level.”
Emma is excited for her new training partner for the same reasons.
“She’s going to be a big asset to me and my training, and I’ll owe her for making me faster,” Emma said. “I hope I can do the same for her.”
Kameron hopes to spend the next year or two working with Morley over intermediate distances, but says her future is in the marathon and she will be a prime contender to make the Olympic team in the marathon in 2024 and 2028.
Morley and Perrin moved to Boise in early August to settle into their new home.
Most races have been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Morley, along with several IDP members, are planning to return to competition at the Payette Lake 30K over Labor Day weekend. Perrin plans to race a mile the same weekend.
“I’m not sure when or what races will happen this fall, but once we are able to safely race, I am so excited to do so alongside my teammates,” Morley said. “They have such a positive energy as a group and I can’t wait to learn from them in the running world and beyond.”