Monarch alum Kaitlyn Benner ready for final run with CU Buffaloes

Buffs distance runners again well-represented at NCAA finals

BOULDER CO – MAY 30, 2019: Kaitlyn Benner during warm ups for the University of Colorado track athletes. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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It is fitting that the first thing on the agenda for Kaitlyn Benner once she hits the finish line in her final race for the Colorado Buffaloes is to hit the open road. It’s the sort of calling near and dear to a distance runner’s heart.

First, however, Benner has a job to finish. As usual, the Buffaloes will send an impressive contingent of distance runners to the NCAA track and field championships, which begin Wednesday in Austin, Texas. In addition to Benner, the CU women’s team will be well-represented at the finals with reigning NCAA cross country champ Dani Jones competing in the 5,000-meter run and junior Makena Morley joining Jones in that race while competing with Benner in the 10,000-meter run.

Yet unlike Jones and Morley, Benner has been logging miles in Boulder County pretty much since she was able to lace up her own running shoes. Her run in the 10,000 will be the final race in black and gold for the Superior native who helped lead Monarch High School to three consecutive cross country Class 5A team state titles.

“It’s definitely bittersweet. I’m ready to go out there and show them what I’ve got,” Benner said. “It hasn’t quite hit me that it’s the end. I think it’s going to take a while for that to sink in, but it’s definitely going to be sad. All the times we’ve had at practice, I’m really going to miss being part of a team and getting to run with my friends every day. That’s probably the most special.”

This will be Benner’s third appearance in the NCAA championships, and her second in the 10,000. She earned second team All-American honors in 2016 after finishing 12th in the 5,000 and added a first team All-American honor last year after placing seventh in the 10,000.

Benner had an opportunity to qualify for both events last week at the NCAA West Preliminaries after finishing eighth in the 10,000 with a time of 33 minutes, 44.70 seconds. Morley was immediately on her heels in ninth at 33:44.72. Yet two days later in the 5,000, Benner knew the writing was on the wall after a poor start, so she throttled down to preserve her strength for the nationals in the 10,000 while leaving the 5,000 in the capable hands of Jones and Morley.

After next week’s race, Benner’s big summer plan is to have very few plans set in ink at all. She already has mapped out a long road trip, which includes picking up Montana native Morley in her hometown before traveling to Seattle and California. Benner hopes to run in some local races along the way “to make some gas money” before diving into the task of finding a job later this year.

“I think there’s just a lot of support from the community,” Benner said. “There’s people who have been around since I was in high school, following my running and stuff. One of my favorite accomplishments was winning the 5k at Pac-12s, and just all of our cross country championships. Even though I wasn’t on the team this past year, training with them was motivating and seeing them win (the national title) was awesome.”