Montana state #38
We started our trip by flying into Bozeman on Friday and then driving to Missoula. We went straight to the packet pickup site in downtown Missoula. There was a lot of activity as it was a Friday evening, so it was a little congested and parking was a bit of a challenge. The expo was in an outdoor pavilion with a few vendors. The pickup was easy and the volunteers were helpful. You receive a t-shirt and a nice backpack style bag. The bag had a place to write your bib number and was supposed to be used as a drop bag on race day. On point-to-point races, I usually just use clothes that I picked up at a thrift store and leave at the start for donation. This allows me to keep warm as long as possible without rushing to drop off my bag and saves me time at the finish line picking up my bag.
The next day, we explored some parks around town. We always try to look for birds and other wildlife, especially in places far from Ohio. I had BBQ pulled-pork sandwich for lunch and did a little more exploring around town. I love sweets and like to load up the night before a race. I do research about good cookie shops in the locations we'll be visiting. So, we had to make a stop at Mary's Mountain Cookies. We saved them for later than night in the hotel. They were amazing. For supper, I find someplace that I know has food that is safe to eat before a race. I've done well going to Panda Express and getting the orange chicken. No one wants a disaster during the race.
Missoula is a point-to-point race. Which means you start in one town and end in another and therefore, I needed to ride a bus to the start area. The race started at 6:00 AM local time. The bus pickup window was from 4:15-5:15 and was at the University of Montana. I don't get on the first bus, but I make sure I'm far from the last one as well. No need for any extra stress on race day. They had an easy drop-off spot for people just dropping off runners. The half and full had separate start areas and different busses. There were signs that indicated which bus you needed and the volunteers were also directing runners to the proper location.
The ride to the start in Frenchtown was seamless. There was a small strip mall and a bank where the runners waited. There were plenty of port-a-johns and they were serving water and coffee. People were resting against the outside of the bank until the start. There was a nice stretch of road around the start to warm up. The race started promptly at 6:00 with fireworks. There were no corrals, so runners lined up close to one of the pace groups based on their perceived pace.
The first part of the course goes through a lot of farmland. There are horses watching as you run by. They were very curious about all the people running by on two legs. You cross over a river just past 10 the mile mark with a beautiful view. Most of the course was very scenic. There is a significant hill just past the halfway point. I struggled to get back to my original pace after staggering up the hill. I can usually make up time on the downhills, but it was steep and I had to ride the brakes most of the way down. It seemed like different muscles took turns hurting. I have never had a problem with my IT band before, but it was nagging me for a few miles.
There were a lot of water and sports drinks offered on the course with friendly volunteers cheering you on. Luckily, there was good cloud cover for at least part of the race. The sun seemed so intense in Montana. The last 3-4 miles you enter town and go through a few neighborhoods. It was not nearly as scenic in this area, but the neighborhoods came to life with strangers cheering you on. I used the enthusiasm of the crowd to get me through that last bit.
The finish line was across a bridge over the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula where they announced the name and hometown of every finisher. Another volunteer placed the finisher medal around my neck. I met up with my parents as they followed me from their spectating position on the bridge as I made my way through the finisher's chute where I grabbed a water and a Coke. There were some different food options in the pavilion where the packet pickup had been. I piled a few things on my plate, but I can't usually eat anything for a little while after a hard effort. There was some entertainment and a free adult drink, but I didn't stay long. I needed to get back to the hotel and shower before checkout time.
Just a couple more notes about the race. Although it's difficult to wake up early, I like the start time because it does get very hot in Montana in June. I also had plenty of time to get back to the hotel and shower before I needed to checkout. The race is billed as being flat and fast. With the exception of the big hill in the middle, it is a gentle uphill most of the way. It was not a huge elevation gain, but it was a net gain. The last thing is that the elevation was between 3000-3200'. This isn't terrible, but it could be noticeable for those that are used to running at closer to sea-level elevations.
After checking out of our hotel, we made our way to Columbia Falls. Columbia Falls was one of the closest towns to Glacier National Park which was the next stop on our adventure. We stayed at an AirBnB and was within walking distance to shops and restaurants in town. That first meal after a marathon is always one of the best. There was a great little pizza place in town. We ordered it to go and took it back to the hotel with us.
The next two days we spend exploring Glacier. It was a beautiful place. The rivers and lakes were so clear and pristine and the sky was so blue. We went on a couple hikes drove the Going-to-the-Sun road. We finally saw bears in the wild, two black and a grizzly.
Montana was more spectacular than I had imagined. I highly recommend exploring the state if coming for a race. You can really feel one with nature. Glacier can get pretty congested. Plan ahead to take a shuttle during busy times. It can be difficult to find a place to park at trailheads otherwise.