Well, the Buzzard got a bit of a feather up his rear orifice last year and decided to take a stab at evaluating who were the best runners in the state of Montana. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a bit of a task; and, since the Buzzard was flying solo on this - he decided to stick with the men only. Maybe we'll add the distaff side to the 2010 equation. Yet to be seen.
But, back to 2009. Given the size of the Big Sky State, found that there was a lot of dilution in the talent pool. But, I think that there were enough races run by enough races with enough cross-over or frame of reference to be able to make some form of semi-objective, mostly rational, fly by the seat of the pants choice.
In this post, I'm going to focus on the open men. The old farts will get their due in the next few days.
At the front end, there were some great athletes out there on the roads, tracks and trails this year. The names that were at the front of races more often than not, included people like Alan King, Jimmy Grant, Thomas Jodoin, Steve Hickman, Keifer Hahn, Mike Foot, Zack Strong, Matt Winter and Mike Wolfe. But, in the end, it really came down to a "front-running" threesome - Alan King, Jimmy Grant and Thomas Jodoin.
Each ran about 10 - 12 races within the state; and, at least several of those were against top end competition. On top of that, each of them went out and competed on the regional and/or national stage.
In the end, the Buzzard gives the nod to.....................................................................................Jimmy Grant of Missoula. He didn't race quite as much as Alan or Thomas; but, his range of performances, his consistency and his level of performances were pretty outstanding. Consider this - he won raced from the 5K to the Marathon, never finishing lower than 2nd (excepting Bloomsday - where he was 36th overall and first Montanan). He won Snow Joke, the Riverbank 10K, the Lolo Pass run and several other local runs. He finished second at the Missoula Marathon and the Roots Festival 4-miler.
Against the top level competition, he beat Matt Winter, Michael Fisher, Mike Wolfe and Keifer Hahn in the Riverbank Run 10K, Mike Foote and Andy Drobek in the Roots Festival 4-mile, and Keifer Hahn in the Evaro Mountain Challenge 10K.
His times ranged from 16:37 at the Wheat Montana 5K, 31:47 at the Riverbank 10K, 39:16 @ Bloomsday (12K), 1:16:16 at the Snow Joke 1/2-marathon and 2:35:10 at the Missoula Marathon.
When all this was considered, had to give the nod to Jimmy.
But, oh so close behind was Thomas Jodoin. Thomas got out of his comfort zone of the short stuff on the track and hit a wide variety of distances and surfaces this year. His times weren't quite as spectacular as Jimmy's; but, his level of performance was exceptionally high none the less. He scored overall wins at the Anaconda St. Pat's Day 3-mile (14:41 - wow!!), the Big Butte Challenge (just missing the Buzzard's course record), the Don't Fence Me In 12K, the Governor's Cup 10K, the Veteran's Day 5-mile (Butte) and - perhaps his best performance of the year - the Wulfman CDT 14K.
At Ice Breaker he took the measure of Alan King, he got Zach Strong at the Don't Fence Me In, Kurt Michels and Steve Hickman at Gov's Cup and Kiefer Hahn, Alan King and Matt Winter at Wulfman's. On the national level - he went to the Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race in July (a selection race for the US Mtn. Running Team) and finished a solid 20th in an elite field of mountain racers.
But, the thing that ended up being the difference maker for TJ was the MT Cup. Don't make any mistake - his performace was solid. But, his 7th place just wasn't spectacular. A top 3 finish probably would have been enough to vault him over Grant. That's how close it was between the two.
Next up would be Alan King. Alan raced a fair amount; but, he didn't have same level of top-end state wide races. But when he raced, he raced well. He won Montana Cup, got 3rd at Wulfman and 4th at Ice Breaker. He also ran a solid 44th overall (33:56) at the ultra-competitive first wave of Bolder Boulder.
His quality of performances was stellar. 16:10 5K at Heart and Sole, 25:32 at the Quality of Life 5 mile in Billings, and an exceptional 1:09:23 solo performance at the Montana Marathon 1/2-marathon.
The choices were hard and the Buzzard wavered back and forth on how these three should be ranked. Now, you may not agree (and feel free to let me know your thoughts on who you think was the Best of the Best in Montana in 2009); but, that's the way that I saw it.
The other trouble in picking one overa another was that these are all great guys. All very personable with positive outlooks and demeanors. And, they all have a passion for the sport. It's so great to see younger guys like this who are leading the charge of the current generation of runners. I'm proud to know these guys and to have had the opportunity to run and race with them over the last year.
Even outside of these 3 there was a long list of other great runners and great performances in 2009. Among those would be:
Keifer Hahn - winning the Don't Fence Me in 30K and the Missoula Marathon (in an outstanding time of 2:33:17 (perhaps the fastest marathon in Montana in the last decade - somebody let me know if I'm wrong on that) and solid performances at Wulfman and the Riverbank Run Trifecta.
Michael Fischer, Matt Winter and Mike Wolfe who each had several other good races; but, had an outstanding head to head match up in the Riverbank Run trifecta
Kurt Michels and Steve Hickman- neither raced much; but, when they did they ran fast. They were 2/3 and 1/2 at the Gov's Cup 10K and Bozeman Classic 5K respectively. And, Hickman ran a solid 2nd at MT Cup.
And special mention goes to Dewey Peacock. He ran here there and everywhere. From the Governor's Cup 5K to the Ridge Run and everything in between, he was never afraid to show up and put himself into the mix. And, when he showed up, you knew that he would be in the top 2 or 3. A solid year of top end performances for this trail expert.
So, that's the way that I see it. It's not perfect; but, as they say ---- it is what it is.
Here's to looking forward to more great performances for 2K10. Who's going to step it up and be this year's Best Of The Best.
See you out there on the roads, tracks and trails.
The Muddy Buzzard