Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Missoula Marathon - July 2008

Leap year moved my favorite July marathon to August! Yes, the San Francisco Marathon will be run on August 2nd . It seems to be a trend this year, marathons run at the beginning of one month moving over to the end of the previous month and vice versa. As many of you may know, I’m working running a streak of a marathon a month, so August wouldn’t do. I had to find another July marathon.
Prospects were not looking good, that is until I did a search of and discovered the Missoula Marathon. Now in its second year, this marathon offered much more than just the fact that it’s run in July- not only did it fit perfectly into my schedule, the course was beautiful and it was very easy and reasonable to get to thanks to Allegiant Airlines.
If you are not familiar with this Las Vegas based airline, take a look at their web site,
They keep fares low by offering service to secondary markets-like Missoula. Granted, the planes are small and they do charge extra for baggage and seats, however once you’re past the additional fees you’ll realize you are getting a better deal than the major airlines are offering and even better-a nonstop flight where otherwise you’d spend the day connecting.
My flight left early on Saturday morning, arriving into Missoula before noon. I chose not to rent a car as everything in town is within walking distant and I didn’t see that we have any time to explore outside of the city. A quick phone call from the airport to the DoubleTree, was all it took to have the hotel shuttle at the airport within minutes and whisking me back to the hotel.
The DoubleTree is rated one of the top hotels in Missoula and I have to say I was impressed. The rooms are quite spacious and very reasonably priced. The best feature is the location; it is situated along the banks of the Clark Fork River across from the University of Montana’s campus. From the restaurant and some of the rooms, you have a great view of the river.
I had a chance to get some rest before my friends arrived, Kathy and Kevin from NYC and Donald from Arizona. All three belong to the 50 States Club and the Marathon Maniacs, as did many of the marathon runners in Missoula that weekend. This would be at least the 6th marathon of the year for each of them and my 8th.
Once they arrived we headed over to the marathon expo, which was held outdoors in a park a couple of blocks away from our hotel. It was under a huge tent, so in case of bad weather there would be no need to bring everything indoors, although this weekend there were no worries the weather was picture perfect and the temperature ideally in the 70s.
After we picked up our race numbers and tee shirts, which were very nice short sleeve tech shirts in blue (the half offered a more attractive, rust brown); we shopped a bit then took a walk around town. Later, we drove out to the suburbs for an early dinner at Carino’s, a popular chain of Italian eateries. Donald had flown into Spokane and drove 3 hours to Missoula, so we use of a car; although if we didn’t have a car, there were a number of good local restaurants that we would have been able to walk to in town.
It was an early night and an even earlier wake-up call at 4am. We were ready to go and on our way before 5am. It was a short walk from our hotel to the shuttle out to the starting line. The buses left from a parking garage offering free parking for the day for those who drove.
The race started in Frenchtown, about a 25 minute ride away. After a hundred degree day last year, the start time had been pushed up from 6:30am to 6:00am and the course was altered to provide more shade for the runners.
While we were waiting at the start, we met a couple from Australia who were running 8 marathons in 8 weeks in 8 different countries. There’s always one marathoner attempting something more extreme than the next! This is a link to their web site for more on their adventures:
At 6am sharp, a cannon blast started the race and we were off. I would say that every one of the 400 runners crossed the starting line within a minute. The morning air was crisp; temps at 6am were still in the 50s-quite a difference from a typical July morning in Las Vegas!
The view of the foothills as the sun came up was amazing. We ran past horse farms, mountains, rivers and streams. With the exception of the lumber mill, there were no sign of commerce on the first half. We were truly in Big Sky country!
Spectators were limited to the few people who were curious enough to venture out of their homes to see what was going on and to several family members and friends of runners, who followed along in their minivans or on bikes. If you like the cheering crowds of a big city; don’t run here! This is the type of race that someone runs who just wants to enjoy nature and the fact that they can run 26.2 miles.
For those goal oriented runners, there were pace groups and for those on their own, although the field was small, it never seemed that you were running alone at any point.
Aid stations were spread out 2 miles apart on the first half of the race, then every mile after that. All were well stocked with water and Power Ade and offered a port-a-pottie-with no waiting lines! Power Gel was offered at two locations on the course, as well.
Plaster leg sculptures, decorated by local artists, served as mile markers along the course. These legs where part of a fund raising project similar to the cows from Chicago or the pigs in Cincinnati. The “legs” added a fun touch to the marathon; something other than water stations to look out for! Plus they were on display at the expo the day before so you were able to recognize your favorite designs.
With the exception of the one mile long hill I was warned about at the halfway point, the rest of the course seemed to be flat, so I was a bit surprised when I found out later on that there was a total gain in elevation and the entire course is slightly uphill.
In spite of the gradual incline and elevation-Missoula is 3200 feet above sea level, I would say this is definitely a fast course. At the finish line, I heard many happy reports from those who made their Boston qualifying time and PRs.
The average finishing time was 4:16; however with a 6 hour cut off, there were not many slower runners. For those needing more time or not ready for a full marathon in the middle of the summer, there is also a half marathon.
Unfortunately, if you choose the half, you’ll miss the most beautiful part of the course. The second half runs through a residential area, as it leads you back downtown, crossing the Higgins Avenue Bridge over the Clark Fork River to the finish line in front of the historic Wilma Theater. The balloon arch was a welcome sight! I spotted it about a half mile away.
Community effort was really at work at in the finish area and it showed. The locals put a great deal of thought and effort in accommodating the runners. From frozen fruit pops to massages; and Moose Drool Beer to home-made lemon pasta salad, complete with the recipe; they thought of everything.
The one thing they didn’t plan on however was my friend, Donald, running as Elvis. The crowds cheered and broke into “Viva Las Vegas!” as he approached the finish line. As in almost any marathon, you never know what to expect!

*For anyone who likes statistics, this was my 119th marathon, 14th marathon/month streak and 16th state toward 50 States Completion, 2nd time.

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