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MISSOULA — Treasure it now, folks. Change is on the horizon.

This is the last time, at least for two years, that the Missoula Marathon weekend will be in July. The race is moving to June due to the threat of wildfires and smoke. 

But next year's calendar can be a concern for next week. This year's festivities of the 11th annual Missoula Marathon are already here. 

As of Thursday evening, more than 6,000 participants had registered for the weekend's events — Saturday's 5K and Kids Marathon and Sunday's full and half marathons.

Those participants hail from all 50 states and 14 different countries, including the six inhabited continents. For example, there are runners from United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Japan, China, Australia and Brazil. 

"Six thousand, that's not the highest weekend, but the numbers are a bit stronger than they were last year," Missoula Marathon race director Tony Banovich said Friday at a press conference. "We feel great about being over 6,000."

Even with the international interest, Banovich said there are approximately 2,000 Missoulians registered, as well as 3,200 Montanans making up the race participants. 

The favorites

Marathon

Two-time defending champion Geofrey Terer is not in this year's field, so the men's marathon title is back up for grabs. 

There are several competitors who could stand atop the podium on Sunday, including Missoula's own Mark Messmer and Jimmy Grant or Polson's Jason Delaney. 

Messmer is on a hot streak right now. The Missoula Sentinel and University of Montana product broke the half marathon record at the Governor's Cup in Helena in June. 

Messmer placed second behind Terer last year. 

"He is our favorite," Banovich said of Messmer. "... He's in shape. He's ready to go. It's exciting. It'd be amazing to see a hometown kid that grew up here and watched this race evolve from when he was a young boy, to be able to come home and win it."

Grant is making his master's debut — that's runner code for turning 40 — but is showing no signs of slowing down. Grant won the half marathon in 2010 and has placed second in three times. Most recently, Grant placed fifth in the marathon in 2016.

Delaney won the event in 2013 and has the third-fastest time in Missoula Marathon history. He placed third in the two most recent renditions of the race. Delaney's personal best of 2:19:17 is the fastest time in the field, though he ran that time eight years ago in the Boston Marathon.

"We've got a great race with a lot of people relatively close together," Banovich added of the elite men's field. "It should be fun to watch."

Competition is stiff on the women's side as well. 

Trisha Drobeck is back in full marathon action this year after placing ninth in last year's half marathon. She elected to run the shorter distance since she was three months removed from having her first child, Maisie. 

Drobeck, the four-time champion and course record holder, told 406mtsports.com in April that she hadn't made a decision about running in this year's Missoula Marathon, but her outing in the 10K race at the Riverbank Run gave her some confidence. 

"This is her first marathon in three years," Banovich said. "She's ready to go. She wants to come back and get that title back in her pocket. We're really thrilled to see what she might be able to do."

Keely Baker, who ran as Keely West last year, placed second behind Bryanna Petrie — who is not in this year's field. Baker, of Great Falls, placed 13th at the Los Angeles Marathon in March and is coming off a half marathon win in the Governor's Cup in Helena in June. 

Mary Owen, a MSU-Billings alumna, placed eighth last year and has since set a new personal best. 

"We have an excellent field on the women's side," Banovich said.

Half marathon

The half marathon is set to be a good race as well. 

The favorite to win is Fernando Cabada of Lakewood, Colorado. Cabada placed 13th at this year's rendition of the London Marathon and ran in the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials. 

"He's clearly the outstanding member of this half marathon field, but he's throwing this in almost as a training run," Banovich said. "... He is a world-class competitor. We're thrilled to have him."

But Lakeside native and Kalispell Flathead graduate Zach Perrin won't let Cabada win without a fight.

Perrin recently graduated from the University of Colorado and earned All-American status multiple times as a collegiate track and field athlete. Perrin placed seventh in last year's half marathon. 

"He really wants to come in and start to get into his postcollegiate career," Banovich said of Perrin. "He's in all kinds of shape and is somebody who can challenge Fernando."

The most interesting race of the day might come on the women's side. 

Makena Morley, the two-time defending champion from Bigfork, has the fourth-fastest time ever in the Missoula half marathon. 

But Morley will have some stiff competition this year as Illinois Marathon and All-American Half champion Misiker Demessie of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was a late addition to the field. She had the fourth-fastest marathon time entering the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials but suffered an injury. She also recently qualified for the 2022 Olympic Marathon trials. 

Demessie's personal best of 1:09:10 could compete with Cabada on the men's side, who entered a time of 1:02:00 for his personal best time.  

"Her PR in the half marathon is faster than many of our men in the elite field," Banovich said. "... She's an incredible, incredible athlete. She's clearly our favorite but Makena knows she's here and Makena is ready to go chase her." 

Other notables

Even with all the road construction projects dotted around the county, the course routes remain the same as in past years. 

Sunday's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 91 degrees, though that high isn't predicted to come until around 4 p.m. The temperature at the 6 a.m. start is predicted to be around 60 degrees. The temperature is predicted to hit 80 degrees by noon. 

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Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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