Man, what a day at the Missoula Marathon. Actually, what a weekend.
Let's start with Saturday. The race expo/number pick up was at the Pavillion in Caras Park right below the Higgins Avenue Bridge. Add that to 3 Farmers Markets in Downtown Billings and beautiful weather, there was a feeling of electricity around the town.
Late that afternoon (5:00 p.m.) there was a fun run along the river trails that was run as a benefit for Alzheimers and in memory of Anne Hayes. Anne was the wife of Bob Hayes, a long time runner from Evaro, and passed away a couple of years ago. I ran like crap; but, it was nice to be able to do a run that was a benefit that was connected to one of our own.
Then, that evening, I had the pleasure of marking the course with Anders Brooker, his uncle Jay, and Kevin Twidwell. The course is spectacular. Only a few "dead" zones - it's almost all scenic and runs through some beautiful areas in and around Missoula. And, the area along the river to the west of town is spectacular. There is one climb around mid-way; but, it's not too severe and from there, it's basically all downhill or flat. And, the half-marathon has the potential to be a super fast/barn-burner type of course. It was just a fun way to spend an evening - hang out with 3 other runners, set up a race course and swap stories. Good times indeed.
An hour and a half of sleep (which was better than Anders who got no sleep) and then it was time to head out to Frenchtown and set up the start line and get ready to welcome the walkers and runners.
Initially, there was a bit of concern about the temperature. The clouds had rolled in during the evening and held the temps in a bit. When I left downtown at 3:30 a.m., it was 70 degrees. It was cooler out at Frenchtown at the start (64 degrees); but, still a tad warmer than we were hoping for. At about 4:30 or 5:00, the clouds cleared and the temp started to come down. By race time it had dropped to 50. With a very light tailwind, conditions were ripe for fast running.
With a nod to perfect timing, the clouds came back in about 8:00 and helped to keep the temps down. By the time the course closed at 12:30, the temps were still only in the low-'70's. What a break. (Sunday morning saw Thunderstorms, gusty winds and cold rain; and, this weeked woudl have seen the temps headed towards triple digits). Sometimes the weather gods choose to smile upon your event.
And, now, onto the running. The half and full marathons both start at 6:00 a.m. So, that means that the first batch of finishers come only from the half. Although this had maybe been the more competitive race in 2008, that wasn't going to be the case this year. That's not to say that it wasn't a good race. But, for reasons that you'll see in a moment, the half was definately the step-sister event this year.
On the men's side, Spencer Carter (living in Missoula for the summer) won in 1:14:00, 50 seconds ahead of Nate Canton in 1:14:50. The top 5 were rounded out by Collin Fehr (1:16:05), Peter Miller (first master) in 1:16:19 and Eric Larson in 1:16:24. (I do have to give a shout out to Jacob Naegeli of Trout Creek for his 6th place in 1:16:52 - gotta support the local boys :-) ) All in all there were 8 guys under 6:00 pace and 9 under 1:20. Not as fast on the front end (2008 saw Casey Jermy run 69:52); but, a deeper race. And pretty damn competitive for places 3 - 6.
For the women, Meg Lerch stepped up in distance beyond her 5K specialty. Running 1:25:23, Meg got a 35 second win over Rye Palen. Rye has had a solid year on the roads in 2009 and this was a really strong performance for her. They were followed by Suzanne Huse in 1:28:42, Sarah McGlaughlin in 1:28:54 (no word on if she sang "Angel" throughout the run) and Michele Bazzanella in 1:28:55. 1st master was Mary Thane (more of a mid-distance track specialist) in 1:29:05 (6th overall). Again, not as fast as last year; but, much deeper with 9 women at sub-7:00 pace, 6 @ sub-1:30 and two right at 6:30 pace.
But then, a week after Independence Day, the fireworks started. At the finish line, we had been getting reports off and on at odd markers (i.e. X hours and XX minutes at 10.2 mile, X:XX at mile 19.7). We had to do some conversions; but, it seemed like the race was right on 2:30 pace. And, we had reports of at least one person way out front; but, we couldn't get any confirmations on who was in the lead. But, after a bit of waiting, here came the lead bikes over the Higgins Avenue bridge with Kiefer Hahn of Missoula in tow. Hittin the line in 2:33:17, Kiefer broke his own race record (set in 2007) of 2:43:30 by over 10 minutes!!!! That was exciting enough. I can't remember the last time for certain that we had a sub-2:40 marathon in Montana. I ran 2:37 in 1994 to win Governor's Cup; and, Scott Creel may have been in the 2:30's at Lewis and Clark some years ago; but, I think that's been in. So, to be so near 2:30 in Montana was super exciting.
But, the thrills weren't done yet. Kiefer barely had time to catch his breath when here comes Jimmy Grant onto the bridge. Like Kiefer, Jimmy was hoping for a sub-2:30 today. And, like Kiefer, close but no cigar. Still, here we have another guy in at sub-2:40. Not only that, Jimmy's 2:35:10 was another sub-6:00 run for the day and two guys under the old record.
But, then here comes Leif Seed in 2:43:11 (also under the old record), then Andrew Drobek in 2:45:50, then Chuck Engle in 2:49:41, the JR Roberts in 2:52:28 and Jesse Carnes in 2:53:52. Holy Crap, that's already 7 guys under 3:00 - as many as the first two years combined (4 in 2007, 3 in 2008). But, wait the sub-3:00 club is still open. 8, 9 and 10 are Jason Ridgeway in 2:55:57, Brad Ferris in 2:56:28 and John Herring (Masters Champion) in 2:56:53. So, at this point we have 10 under 3:00 and the madness isn't over quite yet.
7 more people decided that they needed to go under 3:00 as well. That's right kiddies, 17 people doing a sub-3:00 marathon in Montana. Unbelievable. Maybe the Governor's Cup in the mid-'80's had that kind of depth. But, it's clearly been a long, long time since we've had this kind of marathoning in the Big Sky State.
Of those 17, 5 were masters. With Herring leading the charge of the old farts, the group also included places 13-16 overall with Steve Noone (50), Dean Lipp, Kevin Plumage (who is a very recent 40) and Brian Fruit all breaking the 180 minute barrier.
And then, in a case of anything you can do I can do better, the women decided to kick up the exictment level just a notch. Annie Thiessen of Tacoma did a smack down of Jamie Schuster's 2008 course record (3:15:08) and of the 3:00 barrier with her 2:57:44. And, to top it off, Victoria Russel of Spokane decided that the women's side also needed multiple sub-3:00 runners - so, she kicked it across the line to hit 2:59:57. Madness I tell you, complete and utter madness.(By this point, I'm up on the announcers scaffolding about ready to wet myself with excitement. Glen Moyer (my announcing partner) must have thought I had lost my mind.)
The top women were rounded out by Trisha Miller in 3:05:24 (3 under the old record), Darr Tucknott in 3:17:36 and Julie Gilchrist (Masters Champ) in 3:17:37. To top of the day, Tami Harmon and Mary Hanna both decided to get under 3:20. Again, an unbelievable field - fast and deep. 3 under the course record, 2 under 3:00 and 7 under 3:20 ( with only 1 under 3:20 in the first two years).
For me, it was kind of like Christmas in July. It was all that one could ask for in a running and racing event. An energy filled pre-race expo, a well managed event (put on by runners for runners), a fantastic finish line (the whole Higgins Avenue bridge is closed off to allow the runners to cruise into downtown Missoula unimpeded), large enthusiatic crowds, fast and deep fields. I've been at this sport for 30 years now. I've run and raced all over the United States; and, I have to say this event was as exciting as almost anything I've been involved with over the years. On a smaller scale it has the feeling of a Boston or Twin Cities. Really, race weekend was that electric. It was stupendilicous!!!!!!!
Man - I'm getting jacked up all over again just thinking aobut it!%!!%!%!%!%!%!%
For full results and more aobout the Missoula Marathon - go to www.runwildmissoula.com
For those of you thinking about 2010 - this year saw the event climb from about 1,500 to almost 2,400 runners. I would encourage you to put this on your calendar for next year and to Run Wild in 2010.
See you on the roads, tracks and trails
The Muddy Buzzard.