Missoula Half Marathon: Quality all-around
Updated: Jul 6, 2019
Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Missoula Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro by going to https://www.bibrave.com/bibravepro. Find full race reviews at www.bibrave.com.
It had been more than a year since I had been training and preparing to run the Missoula Half Marathon. I was actually signed up to run it in 2018, but when the unexpected hospitalization of a close family member ocurred during the week prior to the race, I chose to cancel my plans and try again this year instead. So needless to say, I was more than looking forward to experience the scenery, course, hospitality, and overall atmosphere that have earned the Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon races top ratings on the BibRave 100 list. The full marathon has been recognized as the #1 race on this exclusive list, and the Half Marathon is on the Top 20 rank among half marathons, so my expectations were clearly quite high for the entire experience.
Packet Pick-Up/Expo/Beer Run The expo/packet pickup was held starting on Friday afternoon at Caras Park in downtown Missoula, Montana. Caras has a large, covered pavillion area that accomodates the tents for race packets with bibs, participant shirts, and gear vendors. There are tables organized by last name of participants, clearly marked by white & red signs placed by them, so I quickly knew where to get in line.
The lines moved quickly and I had my bib within just a couple of minutes. I then went to the next tent over and picked up my participant shirt. At first I wasn't sure if I liked its color, but now I do. It is an olive green that I do not have already on my running shirts and know that I will wear in the future, so it is a welcome addition to my collection.
There was plenty of race personnel on hand at the expo; very friendly and helpful to answer any questions I had, such as specifics on the logistics for race morning, etc. I was also able to check out some of the merchandise being sold by vendors and really liked most of it. Loved the designs and selection and had a hard time not buying several items I wanted, in particular from Runner's Edge.
Then it was on to the Beer Run on Friday evening (6:00 p.m.); a tradition of marathon weekend. It is a 3.1 mile social/fun run around Missoula, with a course that crosses the Clark Fork River and then tours runners through a nice route along the University of Montana campus. I had a blast goofing around with other runners at the Griz statue in the middle of campus before we returned to Caras Park, then joined the party and live entertainment, which included free beer for all finishers over 21, compliments of Big Sky Brewing Company.
Volunteering at the 5k on Saturday Friday evening I had the opportunity to meet the race director and decided to volunteer to help out on Saturday morning for the 5K. They still needed a few volunteers to help with road crossings/traffic control at various points along the course. I felt I would have fun doing that and at the same time help give back to this running community I was already enjoying. And that is exactly what happened. We had great weather and a great turnout of runners as well, and I can't say enough how enthusiastic most of them were as they would go by the intersection I was covering, thanking me for helping out, expressing their appreciation.
Farmer's market and afternoon hike
After volunteering at the 5k I headed back to Caras Park to check out the Farmer's Market and eat breakfast. While there I met with some friends and joined them afterwards for a hike at a nearby state park. Both the park and the weather were great, so we had quite an enjoyable afternoon taking in the great outdoors and connecting with nature.
The half marathon course is point-to-point, starting at an area with no parking available for participants, so the race provides buses that shuttle runners to the start. Bus loading times were from 4:15 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. at the Adams Center in the University of Montana campus. I took an Uber from the AirBnB where I was staying to the Adams Center, and was able to load and ride a shuttle bus to the start at 5:00 a.m.
The ride to the starting line took approximately 15 minutes. That left me plenty of time to go through my warmup routine, change to my race gear, drop my gear bag, and even meet some friends for some pre-race jokes and pictures.
The starting area was quite spacious to stretch and warm-up and had plenty of port-a-potties where I didn't notice very long lines on them at any one point.
The weather was perfect at our 6:00 a.m. start with temps in the low 50s with very little wind. It was all quite memorable with fireworks and a cannon blast, immediately followed by a gorgeous view of green rolling hills; something truly scenic.
Within just a few minutes, we were on a downhill slope, and I was able to get into a fast yet easy and comfortable rhythm. There were a lot of runners around me, but I had no problem finding a good straight line to run on without having to dodge or run around anyone. The course then started following the banks of the Bitterroot river and everything around me felt like out of a movie. Truly picture perfect. With those conditions I was able to get into focus on my pace and rhythm, and sustained it until approximately mile 10.
At that point I felt fatigued and found it more difficult to keep up with my target pace over the last 3 miles. However, training and experience helped me to just keep the legs moving in that last portion and not stress about my sliding pace. That mindset ended up paying off as I was still able to finish under 2 hours at 1:58:10.
I felt that the support on course was outstanding with plenty of helpful and cheerful volunteers and tables, all well-stocked with both water and electrolyte drink (Powerade) as well as energy gels in some of the later miles of the race. All of the stations were also well marked and spaced out every couple of miles, so I never felt thirsty or hoping for them to be closer together at any one point.
Finish Line/Medal/Food The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals. There were large metal tubs on one of the sides full of ice and soda, water, and Powerade. After hydrating for a few minutes I headed to the adjacent Caras Park to enjoy the post-race food, music, and stretch. There was plenty of room to find a spot, be comfortable, and relax. Before heading out, I went by an area where race photographers were taking pictures of finishers with their medals against a banner backdrop. This and all the other pictures taken by race photographers are included free with race registration, something which is an OUTSTANDING benefit that not many races do.
Conclusion I feel this is a neat and different style of race that is definitely worthy of its top rankings on the BibRave100 list. It is extremely well organized with easy-to-follow processes and systems that efficiently accomodate thousands of participants, but still has a small-town, friendly atmostphere and feeling to it from beginning to end. The town and surrounding areas are FULL of natural beauty just about everywhere you look, so it makes the trip there that much more enjoyable.
There are just so many positives to visiting the area and participating in the entire race weekend that I plan on returning with my family next year as part of a road trip out West. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn't had an opportunity to experience it yet.