Missoula Montana Race Report

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Missoula Montana Race Report

The Best in the West a Missoula Montana Race Report

When it came time to pick my July marathon I found that I had quite a few to choose from. The one that stood out was the Missoula Marathon. The timing was right, it was a state that I didn’t have and rating for the race were high with both Marathon Guide and Runners World magazine. For months I resisted registering because the airfare was so high. Then one magical day the airfare dropped and I was in!

I had hoped that my other running 50 state buddies would be able to join me but unfortunately the air went up $200 the next day and never made it back down.

Yes this was another solo marathon. So the following is all my experience.

Let’s start with the flight.

If you know me, you know that as I have gotten older my love for toddlers has dropped. Now that is not to say that I hate kids, believe me I don’t, but my selfishness has grown and my patience has dropped. Why am I telling you this?

Well, my flight was a connection in Chicago. I had about an hour and a half wait to board my 3.5 hour flight to Missoula. I settled in to wait when I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of toddlers running around. Noise volumes in my small area exceeded that of a pre school class. There were about 5 different families sitting at the gate. Each family has a minimum of 3 or more children, all under the age of 4. Babies were crawling everywhere! I looked up at an older gentlemen seated opposite me. He had a look of horror on his face. I promptly decided that this was going to be a 2 drink minimum flight!

Maybe it was the motion of the plane, or parents using a little extra Tylenol, or the double Bailey’s on the rocks but the flight was great. I arrived in beautiful Montana. Getting off the plane it was easy to see why Montana is referred to as Big Sky Country. The sky was a perfect crystal blue and the mountains as majestic as I had heard.

After catching a shuttle to my hotel I was ready to explore. As the only passenger on the shuttle bus I asked my driver, “What should I definitely do while here in Missoula”. She promptly told me that I should climb the M (more on that later), go white water rafting, and visit the local breweries. Thinking about the time that I had in Missoula I began to plan.  

Once I arrived at my hotel and checked in I ran into Marathon Maniac Dave, a really super fun guy that Leah and I met in Utah in June. He said that he ran into a half fanatic at the airport and they were off to see the Bison, did I want to go.

After being up at 4a then sitting in airports and on planes I was not real enthusiastic about riding in a car for 45 minutes to look at some buffalo. I told him I would pass but we could meet up later at the beer run.

Yes you did read it right! The Missoula Marathon held a Friday night run from the Tamarack Brewing Company in downtown. You had your choice of running 3,4 or 5 miles then back at the brewery where $3 beers and great food specials awaited. How could I miss that!

He then asked me if I was going to run Saturday’s 5k. No I hadn’t registered. No I hadn’t even brought extra running clothes. No it was not on my things to do. Dave then said the magic words “You get a medal and tech shirt” and I was sold. Registration was being held at the beer run so really I couldn’t say no to that, after all I did say no to viewing the Bison.

After a little exploring I changed clothes and made my way to the beer run. My hotel was located in the best possible location. I was across the river from Montana University (Go Grizzly’s) and a ¼ mile from downtown. Walking distance to everything!

At the Tamarack I meet up with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs as well as some super fun locals who were running the ½ marathon. It was the group of locals that convinced me to cut the 3 mile run down to 2.7 so that we could be the first folks back. After all someone needed to taste the beer to make sure it was okay for runners!

At the brewery I also met up with Jeff Galloway. Okay so I had met him 2 years ago in Flint for a Brooksie Way training course but it still was kind of a thrill. Here was this ultra famous runner who changed running for so many hanging out with me! Well in all honesty I was hanging out with his wife first. She had just run her 100th  marathon so we had sooo much to talk about. Turns out they were staying at my hotel too. Jeff was planning on trying to complete the marathon on Sunday even though he had fractured his hip just 10 weeks before. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

With exciting plans for the next day, I made my way back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Saturday morning came real early for me. Not only was I still on Michigan time but the sun rises by about 5:45a so there was no lounging in bed. After some much needed coffee I headed out to hike the M.

Now about the M.  
The University of Missoula was located just across the river from my hotel. On both sides of the river were wonderful bike/running paths that took you around the University as well as in and out some really beautiful parks.

The M, is a huge concrete M on the side of a Mount Sentinel. While the hike is only ¾ of a mile the elevation climb is almost 700 feet. The path is a rocky yet tended climb not for the faint of heart especially at 6a fueled with only 3 cups of coffee.

I started from my hotel and walked just under a mile to get to the trail head. It was a glorious day without a cloud in the sky. With challenge in my heart I started up at what pace I could manage. Since I planned on running a 5k in a few hours I figured this would be the perfect warm up.

Well up I went. And Up. And Up. And Up.

It felt like I was climbing forever. Being early in the morning I only saw one other hiker going up and one coming down. The hiker coming down did not offer me much encouragement. He was a teenager who probably climbed it on a dare from his parents. As he passed me I heard him mutter, “Climb a mountain before breakfast, yeah that was smart”.

After 18 minutes of climbing I reached the top to see one of the most beautiful sun rises. Below me all of Missoula was just being touched with sun. Now I really really wish I had brought a camera with me but you can see some pictures I took on my cell phone the next time you see me. It was so worth the climb. If you ever find yourself in Missoula, make hiking the M a priority.

It’s all down hill from here… well only if you are only hiking the M. For me I had lots more planned for the day.

After returning to my hotel, where incidentally the 5K was going to start, I grabbed one more cup of coffee put on my bib, and looked for Dave and the other Maniacs.

The 5k was a great course that took us out across the pedestrian bridge and along the river then through a park finishing at the marathons post festival park.

It was everything you could want in a 5k, flat, scenic and fast with an awesome medal at the end. My goal was not to race but to come in around 30 minutes and I did! Finished in 29.26 with a huge smile and happy legs. It was nice to know that running in this elevation wasn’t going to kill me like it did in Utah.

Since I was at the park where the expo was being held, I took that time to pick up my marathon packet and do a little shopping.

Shopping… I know I said I wasn’t going to buy anything at the expo’s except coffee mugs during this year of marathons but I had to make an exception.

Like the rest of the country, Montana was having a heat wave. Temperatures were in the high 90’s and the race day forecast called for 98. Since I used my marathon shirt to run the 5k, I needed to see if I could find something cool to wear.

I also used the shopping time to kill a little time till the beer tent opened. Yes, they had Big Sky Brewery in town serving some really great brews. The brewery’s of Montana are really fantastic. There are 4 different restaurant/breweries located in downtown Missoula, again within walking distance of my hotel!

After whirlwind shopping and quick pint I headed back to my hotel to shower and get ready for my next adventure in Montana, white water rafting on the Alberton Gorge. Yes, you did read that right. After checking with the from desk I hooked up with Lewis and Clark tours just down the road from my hotel to get on the ½ day white water rafting trip scheduled for 12:30.

The Alberton Gorge is a beautiful area about 45 minutes from Missoula. I have rafted before in West Virginia so I had some idea of what to expect. What I didn’t expect was that I would be on a 6 person raft with only 1 other person who had rafted before. It was a little un-nerving going through safety instructions and realizing that maybe I could get tossed out of the raft with a bunch of folks that had no idea how to help me back in.

No worries! The trip was fantastic. I had the fortune of riding the bus with the nicest folks you could ever want to meet. My rafting buddies were a riot and we did work pretty good as a team. Our guide was a doll and pointed out all kinds of cool things that I would not have seen had I not ventured out on the river. We even got to see a first!

While rafting we saw a deer near the water. It looked at us, then behind, and took off up into the hills. We thought that it was our rafting that startled the deer but after really looking we saw that it was a black bear cub that decided to take a swim that scared it away! It was so cute but I’m glad that we were floating by because I’m sure mama beer wasn’t too far away.

Again this trip was one that I wish I had a camera for.  Luckily Montana River Photography was out that day and took some shots of us on the river. Here is a link to see just a small moment of my time at Alberton Gorge: http://www.montanariverphoto.com/p473744535/h135F5040#h5922eff

After such a great day I was excited to do what I came to Montana to do, run a marathon.

Marathon morning started at 3a for me. Since this race was a point to point all marathon runners needed to be on buses starting at 4a. The actual race was to begin at 6a.

6a and a beautiful sunrise greeted all the runners. The race, like most races, started with the national anthem followed by fireworks (I’m sure left over from the 4th) and a really cool cannon blast. And we’re off!

This was such a fun gathering of runners. In a was it reminded me of a YPOM group run. Here I was with so many runners that due to my schedule this year, I’ve had the privilege to meet. There were many greetings and good wishes from the moment I got off the bus until, due to pace, we all scattered and settled in.

I met up with Ed (you many remember him from my Utah report as the guy with the cool glasses) as well as so many others from Olathe and Kentucky. Andres, the Biking Viking kept me in his sights for many miles but as I chose to run Galloway (run/walk) I really didn’t run with anyone for very long. Galloway was not my best choice for this race.
Now I have to tell you my love/hate relationship with run/walking.

The love part is that even after many many miles I never feel leg fatigue. I could run forever!

The hate part is that if you are running intervals, you don’t get to chose where you walk and for myself, I find I run just a bit slower near the end.

Why was this a bad choice for this race?

1. Remember when I said that it was hot and the race director was concerned with the heat wave Missoula was experiencing. Well the start of the race began with a wonderful 50 degree temp but by the first hour we were up to 82, at my finish it was 92. In hind sight I should have ran faster with no walking during the cool hours and used run/walk when running any faster was not advisable.
2. Walking hills is sometimes not a choice! By running intervals I was forced to run places I would rather have walked and walked places I should have run.
3. Last but not least since I was not the same speed as others running intervals I was constantly passing or being passed which is not what I like especially late in a race.

The course was also a bit of a challenge with rolling hills that actually were always going up (the course was a steady climb for 26.2 miles) and a truly killer hill between miles 14-16.

Most of the first half of the marathon was wonderful open land that allowed for great views of the surrounding mountains. Since we were running on the side of the road there was not a ton of shade so when we started to head into the hills there quite a bit more tree coverage.

Going up the hill from 14-16 was actually the best and worse part of the course. You see at one point just before the hill runners were serenaded by a man playing a baby grand piano in his front lawn. One gal I was running with had tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said, “this was a Big Sur flash back moment”. I just thought he was pretty cool.

Then as the hill really started I was greeted by what I can only describe as the perfect picture of an American Cowboy. He was seated on the most beautiful horse wearing, what else, leather chaps and cowboy hat. He shouted out encouragement and thank you’s to everyone running by.  He looked like every woman’s fantasy cowboy!  
Yee Haw Ladies.

Unfortunately even a hunky cowboy could not distract you from the hill for long. It just kept going up and up with no end in sight. This cute little gal was running beside me swearing up a blue streak. I think it was one of the most creative uses of many 4 letter words that I have heard in a long time. Finally I turned to her and said, you know it’s okay to walk. Luckily I must have used the right tone because she didn’t use any four letter words on me, just joined me in walking until we crested the hill.

Cresting the hill however made the trek up worthwhile. The view was awe-inspiring! Again I only wish I had had a camera to capture that moment.

As we made our way into town the temperature really started to rise. To help combat the heat, the race director had set out much needed coolers filled with ice all along the final stretch to the finish.  I even got a beer at mile 23, not a glass but a full can!

One of the things that I will be forever grateful for was how, as directed by the race director, residents had sprinklers out or turned to face the road to help keep us cool. It was hot hot hot but with the ice and sprinklers it was not miserable at all.

Into the finish I was running with these 2 other girls. Don’t know where it came from but the one turned to me and with around 100 yard to go she yells, “want to race”. Oh what the heck! So the 3 of us made a fast finish, which delighted the crowd.

Now it was time to celebrate!

The Missoula Marathon sure knew how to do everything right.
Once you finished and received your awesome medal you were invited to stop for a finisher picture for which they printed out for you. Then off to one of the best selections of post run food I have ever seen, all served under tents with tables and chairs. For me I was not interested in food quite yet but really appreciated a shaded place to greet other runners and hear their views on the race. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons runners love to run.

On the walk back to the hotel I met up with half fanatic Amanda who had just completed her 50th state for half marathons and Marc, a guy that Leah, Michele and I had met in the airport at Mytle Beach. Like I said, it was pretty cool seeing the same people over and over again. We made plans to meet after a quick clean up to go explore the many brewery of Missoula. On the walk some really nice folks offered me a beer from their cooler, yes the folks of Missoula were my kind of people.

After splitting up I decided that to really enjoy drinking my beer, I should wade into the river and have nature made ice bath.

Burr the water was ice cold but then again so was the beer and well what better way to enjoy knocking out my 18th state and 21st marathon.

After cleaning up I met Amanda and Marc. We picked up another Maniac on the way and so that is how the rest of the day went, Brewery to Brewery picking up and meeting new friends along the way.

Close to sunset we were about 20 maniacs strong when I mentioned that the day before I climbed the M.

Well, if you have met any marathon maniacs I can tell you, they just love a challenge. Before I knew it there I was hiking the M once again with 20 new friends.

Yes indeed after being up at 3a, running 26.2 miles in heat and drinking for hours I was on my way up Mount Sentinel once again in Keds none the less, this time with a bunch of crazy over achievers in tow.

Remember how I said the view was stunning at sunrise, well sunset was just as glorious. It did take us 20 minutes to climb but it was worth every minute.

After our decent we headed off for ice cream before parting ways. Well at least until the next marathon.

Now I know your wondering, with all the run walking, heat and beer stops, how did I do. Happily I finished with at time of 4:40:26 which put me smack dab in the center of my age group. Not the best race by time but one of the most enjoyable by experience.

So if your looking to visit Montana in a few years I could be talked into repeating this race, it was just that good.

Next stop Omaha Nebraska on September 23rd.