The Zoo - Page 4
The start line of the 2012 Missoula Marathon. Photo by Tom Robertson.
A MARATHON RUNS THROUGH IT
The first Missoula Marathon was in 2006. Even though the weather was unusually hot for a state that has seen snow in every calendar year, it went off without a hitch. The point-to-point course, designed by Canadian Olympic 10K runner Courtney Babcock, starts in the small town of Frenchtown and has only one hill. Dean McGovern put together pace teams and the race attracted a large number of the “50 Staters.” In 2010 Runner’s World named it the “Best Overall Marathon in the U.S.” and Bart Yasso came to announce the news. Registration has grown to 6000.
But you know what? Lots of places have great marathons. It’s easy to forget how hard it is to pull off the organizational night- mare that planning and directing a race can be—until you run one where the miles are mismarked, where’s there’s not enough water, where the results get messed up. A well-conducted marathon is nothing to sneeze at, but the Missoula Marathon is the least of
what Anders Brookers achieved when he put it together. The main effect of the marathon was that out of the Balkanization of a place replete with different niche sports and hard-to-penetrate pods of people, the race, the club and the store created community.
Run Wild Missoula (RWM) now hasnearly1500members,making it one of the largest running clubs in the country. In addition to raising money to bring in speakers, they have a trail committee dedicated to promoting the use of open spaces and pass some coin to the city government to develop connector trails. That, perhaps, is the best analogy for what the marathon has done—it has connected athletes to each other, and perhaps more important, connected roadies to trail runners.
David Brooks, a member of the Adams State 1992 cross-country team coached by legend Joe Vigil—the only team in America to achieve a perfect score in an NCAA championships—who came to Missoula after a stint as a professional runner and now has a PhD in history, says of the town, “This is the only place I’ve ever lived where I can run from my front door to trailheads in almost every direction. Most runs lead you up from the river and creek bottoms through grasses and shrubs, then the shade of conifers, then ascend to open rock outcroppings and ridgelines, or the occasional boulder-strewn peak if you care to go that far, before dropping back through the various layers. You almost always finish near some creek or river that offers a cold pool of clear water for soaking tired legs.”
The easy access to trailheads means that most people don’t drive to get to them. So everyone, even the most devoted dirt heads, have to cover some road to get to where they’re going. “In Missoula we have hundreds of miles of trails within five minutes of wherever you are. People are surprised at how quickly you can access trails here,” says Brooker. That makes a difference to the kinds of shoes he chooses to stock: “You can be on pavement, hard pack, singletrack, jeep roads.” What the marathon has done is to show people that life is better when it’s trails and roads.
The marathon, directed in the first years by super-organized Jennifer Straughan, served as a platform for Run Wild Missoula to take off. There are all sorts of RWM training groups that leave from the store. In addition to beginning runners programs, there are also groups for those who are trying to break three hours in the marathon and those who are going for Boston qualifying times. Thirty people show up each session to take the eight-week trail- running class first taught by local trail runner and professional trainer Rhea Dahlberg. Each week they leave from a different trailhead; in the spring they train for the Pengelly Double Dip (“a vertical half marathon”) and in the fall for the Blue Mountain 30K. Dahlberg has recently turned over the class to an employee of Runner’s Edge whose full- time job is to promote trail running, not just in Missoula but in all of Montana.
Mike Foote (see Making Tracks, page 22) approached Brooker in 2009 about helping him coach the high-school cross-country team. Brooker knew immediately that Foote was going to be a good fit and then hired him to work at the store. The cherubic 29-year-old runner broke the course record at the 2012 Bighorn 100-miler, taking it from Mike Wolfe, who recently left his job as an attorney in Helena and moved to Missoula to train. Foote was also the first American to finish in the 2011 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), placed third at Colorado’s 2010 Hardrock and won the Bear 100 in a time that remains the course record. He finished third overall at the 2012 UTMB and won the TNF Ultra Maraton de los Andes in Chile.
“It doesn’t make financial sense to have a full-time employee doing this,” Brooker said, but his ambitions go beyond just selling shoes. They’ve set up a website called 406running.com to bring together trail and road runners from all over Montana. Foote spends a lot of time traveling around the state scouting locations for future races and spreading his enthusiasm. Foote says, “The typical Missoula trail run starts and ends with good friends, has views of multiple mountain ranges, involves a cool off in one of the many rivers meandering through town and is followed by an obligatory trip to the local ice-cream hangout, Big Dipper!”
He’s also been busy inviting his friends to come visit. Krissy Moehl recently spoke to a standing-room crowd and Scott Jurek is coming. In a benefit for the Five Valleys Land Trust, Foote organized a screening of the film Unbreakable about the 2010 Western States race. He got three of the four lead guys to come, and, after the show, Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka and Geoff Roes fielded questions (Q: “What do you eat?” A: “Everything.”) and entertained an audience of 600 people who came to see a film about a race with 400 entrants. It was the biggest showing for the film. Hal Koerner was impressed by the place: “It was kind of a tour-de-force weekend, hanging and running trails for hours on end and then entertaining a sold-out theater. Not to mention eating antelope sausages and gorging on fresh elk tenderloin while visiting a different brew house every night, but I got the feeling that perhaps that’s just the norm in this unassuming little town in the middle of nowhere.”
The use of the venue, the historic Wilma Theatre, a baroque Louis XIV wonder, was donated by the Rocky Mountain Development Corporation, two of whose owners are trail runners. One of them, Rick Wishcamper was, with Dean McGovern and several other Mis- soulians, part of a contingent that went to do the 2010 Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, got friendly with Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True), and invited him to come to what writer Bill Kittredge called “the last best place.” The man who called himself horse came and ran and conquered the hearts of the gang. This year, the Pengelly Double Dip, founded in honor of a trail-hounding mountaineer, David Pengelly, who died mountaineering, was also a tribute to Micah True. Among the sponsors of the race are Wishcamper’s Rocky Mountain Development Corporation, and Momentum Fitness, co-owned by Rhea Dahlberg and Keifer Hahn, who has twice won the Missoula Marathon and holds the course record at the race, and the law firm of Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, where Kevin Twidwell, the director of the race, and his partners kick in support in all kinds of ways, including staffing the aid stations. At the course’s highest point, runners are treated to a tiki bar with free margaritas and leis handed out by folks in hula skirts.
When it came time to find pace group leaders for the marathon, Team Stampede’s Dean McGovern turned to the trail hounds. “They just see it as another long run and don’t care about racing,” McGovern says. “Trail runners enjoy the camaraderie of running, want to be helpful—and are sometimes chatty. Perfect for pacing.” So Wishcamper, who started trail running in his early 30s as, he says, “a way of connecting with nature,” led the 4:30 pace group. Hahn led those who wanted to break three hours. In all, McGovern corralled about a dozen runners to lead pace groups.
Not long ago McGovern organized a 33-mile trail run in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. They climbed 4500 feet in nine singletrack miles to Stuart Peak and then zipped around in the wilderness area. The group of 11 people (10 men; one tough woman) included lawyers, computer geeks, a bus driver, a retired military guy/rancher, a sub-three-hour marathoner who’d never run trails, a speedy 5K-10K dude who’d never run double-digit mileage and a Cairn terrier named Tallulah. They had, it has been reported, a blast. All these people were serious runners. But until recently, they didn’t know each other. Montana is a small town, but somehow, before the marathon, Missoula wasn’t well integrated.
If Missoula was a person, he would show up on the Sunday runs and go from Dean’s house for hours in the trails on Mount Jumbo, Mount Sentinel, Pattee Can- yon, Deer Creek, the Rattlesnake and, on easier days, Waterworks Hill. He would ride his bike home at closing time from the bars on Higgins, even in the winter. She’d show up at the Tuesday night track workouts where, joined by professors of economics and exercise science, by doctors and car dealers, she would be coached by an Olympian. He would go to poetry readings and Gillian Welch concerts. He would have a job, and would know that it takes work to make a place work. Natural beauty goes a long way, but it does not create community. If Missoula was a person, she would be grateful to all the people who have come together to turn the town into something so much more than a cliché.
Rachel Toor’s most recent book is Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running. She teaches creative writing at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.