Emily Mortensen went to college to play basketball. Five years later, she's one of the top up-and-coming distance runners in the country.
"I never thought I was going to run after high school," she said. "But, looking back, I'm really happy with the way things worked out."
Mortensen, who graduated from Moffat County High School in 2001, went to Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D., to play basketball. During her freshman year, she gave Damon Martin, the cross country and track coach at Adams State College in Alamosa, a call.
"I realized the second semester (at Wesleyan) I wanted to look into running at Adams," she said. "I had talked to Coach Martin in high school, and I thought I'd give it a try."
Mortensen never ran cross country in high school, but her first year at Adams State she made the varsity cross country team and continued to improve.
"The most mileage I'd ever run in high school was probably 30 miles in a week," she said. "The first 10-miler we went on killed me. During my first year (at Adams), I was at 80 miles a week."
She finished 19th at the NCAA Div. II cross country national championships that year.
Everything but a title
Mortensen continued to improve and become an integral part of one of the best D-II girls distance programs in the country.
She helped the Grizzly cross country team to three national titles in four years. She also compiled 12 All-American honors.
Going into her final year, Mortensen was considered one of the best runners in D-II. She was one of the favorites to win the cross country individual title but finished 30th.
At the indoor track national championships, she led the 5,000 meters, but in the final five meters, Central Missouri State's Kristin Anderson passed her for the win.
"I used that race for motivation," she said. "I was at the point where I could really get down from losing that race or use it to make me better."
Every day she trained for outdoor track, she used that race to inspire her. In the outdoor season, she ran times in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters that put her in the top two of D-II and were among the best in the collegiate ranks in all divisions.
At the outdoor championships in Emporia, Kan., Mortensen pulled away halfway through the 10k and held her lead for her first individual national title.
Mortensen had never raced in the 10,000 before this spring. Her best time of 33 minutes, 45.99 seconds was the second-fastest in the history of the tradition-rich ASC program.
At the national meet though, she didn't have to run it that fast.
"I wanted to win it as slow as possible, because I still had the 5,000," she said. "It was a relief to win it, because anything can happen in a six-mile race."
She finished second in the 5,000 to finish off a 20,000-meter performance in three days.
"Of course I would have liked to have won every event," she said. "But I had so much fun in college I wouldn't take any of it back."
Pouring on the miles
Mortensen's eligibility is over at ASC, but she is still living in Alamosa to train and go to school. On Thursday she's competing in her first professional race at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis.
Her best time in the 10k puts her at 14th in the field of 26.
"I have no idea what to expect for a placing," she said. "I've never run in a race like this, but I want to try to run my best time."
Mortensen is going to train through the summer to run her first marathon. That race is tentatively set as the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 1.
"Coach sat me down and talked to me about goals a couple of weeks ago," she said. "I was surprised at what he hopes for, but Coach told me that I can go for it, and I believe him."
She said one of those goals was to train for more than 130 miles a week. For those of you keeping score at home, that's more than 18 miles of running a day. If the marathon goes well, Craig could have its second qualifier for the Olympic Trials.
Clint Wells ran in 3,000 Steeplechase in the 2000 Trials.
She'll stay in Alamosa through at least the next school year to finish her master's degree in health and physical education. She said she plans to be a dietician or go to college for another degree.
And to think, she never planned to run again after high school.