Monday, July 11, 2011

Missoula Half Marathon (Race Recap)

Missoula, MT
Sunday, July 10
Half Marathon #38
State #33/50
Weather - Upper 40s at start, VERY sunny, no wind. Pleasant.

Montana is another state that just doesn't have that many races. The Missoula Half Marathon was rated a top race by Runner's World, so that was the one that we chose to run. L and I had decided to do the 900 mile drive to Missoula instead of flying since we were looking at paying $500+ for airline tickets.

Since there was NO race day pick up, we had to be in Missoula before 6:00 pm on Saturday. Did you know that driving 900 miles takes a while? Yeah. We hadn't really thought about that. So we opted to head out Friday evening after L got to work to get some  of the driving out of the way.

We left the house around 5:00, with our final destination of the night being Casper, WY. We had done the drive about a month ago and remembered it being about 275 miles away. Of course we had to eat at some point, so once we got out of the rush hour traffic in Denver and the northern suburbs, we ate in Fort Collins. The drive was uneventful, and we arrived in Casper around 10:15.

Sunset over Wyoming. Ignore dead bugs on window.
If you haven't stayed at a Motel 6 lately, let me just say that sometimes it is worth the extra money to stay somewhere nicer. I barely got any sleep at all, and woke up before our alarm was to go off. We headed out just before 7, and after a quick stop at the gas station and Starbucks, we settled in for the remaining 625 or so miles to Missoula. While southern Wyoming is nothing to write home about, it was pretty scenery up north (again, ignore bugs on windows):

So the drive is LONG. Did I mention that already?? We stopped in some teeny tiny town in the middle of nowhere and got Subway for lunch. Delicious. The rest of the drive also pretty uneventful. We were making excellent time. There wasn't a lot of traffic, but Montana is apparently a HUGE fan of road construction. We probably drove through close to a dozen construction zones.

We arrived in the lovely city of Missoula around 4:30. The expo was being held at a park and there was no physical address, but it wasn't hard to find. We parked and walked to the expo, which was being held outside:

There was really nothing of interest at the expo, most of the stuff for sale was specific to Missoula, which I had no interest in spending my money on. We headed back to the car and we were super excited to discover that our hotel was less than a half mile away from the start/finish area. Good job on booking, L! Now... we did pay a price for waiting so long to book. Location was good, hotel Bel Air? Questionable.

Little Fruit Fly - Pink tile! Retro!!
We checked in, and then decided to wander around Target for a bit until it was time for dinner. One of the first times I have forgotten something for a trip, luckily it was just a pair of socks to sleep in and easily replaceable :D

After Target, we headed to... you guessed it! Applebees! For a teeny tiny town, they had everything we needed. Dinner was fabulous:

Queso instead of spinach dip? CRAZY!!

After dinner, a quick trip to Walgreens, then to a liquor store for a beer.

I haven't been sleeping well and took a muscle relaxer with my gigantic beer that I couldn't even finish. It took a bit to fall asleep (we did try to go to bed around 9:30), but I woke up feeling pretty refreshed at 4:15.

4:15??? Yep, this race is an EARLY one. The race is a point to point, so we had to catch a bus to the start line. Luckily, it was only a few minutes walk from the hotel. We were out the door by 4:45 and we were probably on the bus about 15 minutes later. We arrived at the start area with about 45 minutes until gun time, and of course our normal ritual of cycling through the bathroom lines.

Gonna be a SUNNY day!
The last time we got in line and were just getting out when the gun went off.  No biggie. The start was impressive:

Hard to tell, but they do FIREWORKS!!
Me and L
So we headed to the start a few minutes after the gun went off.  Since we waited so long we of course ended up behind a bunch of people running slow and/or walking. It was crowded. Our own fault though, we should have lined up earlier.

The beginning of this race is AMAZING. I am not one to go on and on about the beauty of nature, but wow, it was beautiful. The sun coming up over the mountains (which still have snow on the peaks), super green trees, lakes, just gorgeous. The pictures REALLY do not do the course justice.

Anyway. Back to the running. Starts out a little flat, then a downhill. It takes about a mile for me to get out of the huge crowd and get my pace steadied. I'm not "hurting" but again, I just feel tired. I'm not paying too much attention to how fast I'm going, honestly, just enjoying the scenery. Mile 2. Still not able to get into a real groove of feeling good while I am running. Already looking forward to the first aid station which is supposed to be just after mile 2.6 when we merge with the marathon course. I passed these guys around mile 2 (I had seen them at the start - it was less than 50 degrees. These guys were CRAZY):

(Pic hijacked from the FB page for the marathon)
The aid station is not where it should be, it is about a 1/4 of a mile further down. Tired. Take a water and a gatorade and then try to settle in for the rest of the race. The sun is CRAZY bright. I am glad I opted to wear my sunglasses, but we were running directly into the sun and there were sections where I was staring down at the ground because I literally could NOT look straight ahead because of how bright the sun was. Cross over a bridge and then we head onto a rural road.

I will say that there was a surprising amount of crowd support considering we were not in the "city" of Missoula,  but on the outskirts in sort of a "farm country" area. Many people who lived in the area were out watching the race, and lots of them  put out sprinklers for runners to run through to cool off. I didn't need that at 6 something in the morning, but I bet the marathoners coming up behind us in a few hours were going to love it.

The course thinned out a lot more when we were on the wider road. I think this race was the perfect size in terms of the number of people running at my pace and always having a "rabbit" to chase. Next aid station was just before mile 5 and I was starting to think I needed to use the bathroom again. It didn't seem urgent. I knew there were bathrooms at ALL the aid stations (great job, Missoula!!) I figured I'd wait and see. Sure enough, I keep going and it's getting worse. I have to stop at the next aid station around the halfway point. There were four bathrooms, but I still had to wait a minute or so to get in. Then I had trouble with my skirt again (what is WITH me and these clumsy bathroom stops??)

Feeling much better, I am off again and even though I am still feeling sluggish, I am really looking forward to the rest of the race. The aid stations are now only a mile apart, and the rest of the course is flat. The sun is higher in the sky so it has warmed a bit, but not uncomfortably and there is a lot of shade on the course. Into a more "suburban" area, with a lot more crowd support:

I just could NOT seem to get into a good pace. Tired, tired, tired. Aid stations just sorta came and went, one around  mile 7.5, 8.6 and then just before mile 10. I started thinking I needed to use the bathroom again. REALLY?? Why?? Decide to stop again at the one just past the mile 11 marker. Luckily no wait this time, so I was in and out.

The last few miles I decided to just go all out (well, as much as I can this far into a race). I had a few women I had been chasing on and off for a few miles, and I really just wanted to beat them. I still was stopping and taking water at all the aid stations, so they would pass me, but then I'd start running and feeling refreshed I would pass them again. Cat and mouse for the last few miles. I even FINALLY saw a Half Fanatic (she was walking, but I tapped her on the shoulder and said hi).

My right ankle that has been giving me trouble on and off for months was feeling ok, but my left ankle was feeling a bit tender on the inside. I was super relieved to see the mile marker 13 AND the Higgins Ave bridge which I knew as the finishing area. I gave it all I could - and ran toward the finish. A bit disappointed in my finish, but considering I stopped twice, it's about the best I've raced in months.

Wild  Montana Skies and an AWESOME medal
Official Time - 2:13:22
Official Pace - 10:11
Overall Place - 1138
Garmin Time - 2:13:23
Garmin Distance - 13.12 miles
Garmin Pace - 10:09
Mile 1 - 9:40
Mile 2 - 9:12
Mile 3 - 9:49
Mile 4 - 9:54
Mile 5 - 10:24
Mile 6 - 10:00
Mile 7 - 12:16 (bathroom)
Mile 8 - 10:05
Mile 9 - 10:03
Mile 10 - 10:09
Mile 11 - 10:09
Mile 12 - 10:53 (bathroom)
Mile 13 - 9:48
Mile 13.1 - 8:05

One of my best medals yet!
So it was CHAOS after the race was over. They were doing instant results, and I finished in a huge wave of people so the line was pretty long. L brought me a vitamin water and said she would wait for me by the water tents. I got my results and then couldn't find her. I was thinking maybe she meant the food area or something. I saw the area where I could get my FREE race picture, so of course I did that really quick, then walked through the food area and still didn't see her. Luckily she saw me from the other side of the fence and we met up.

We wandered around trying to figure out where to pick up our bags. Hard to get to with all the crowds, but got everything with no problems. It was already after 9:00 by the time we were heading back to our room. Goal as always - quick shower and then be on our way.

I get out of the shower and the first thing L tells me "Grannie died this morning." Oh man. Remember, I went and visited her back in May for a week, and she was already in hospice with a poor outlook (as in, I was hoping she would still be alive for me to see her one more time). Of course I knew this was coming, but not something you want to hear when you are 900 miles from home.

Packed as quick as we could, got gas and Starbucks, and then on our way... We are in even more of a rush because now we need to get home, pack and pretty much leave right away for Wisconsin for the funeral. We stop and get a burger for lunch in Butte, then stop for gas in Bozeman.

Then... just as is our "luck," things go wrong. I am super tired after racing. L is driving and I start to doze off. Next thing I know we are parked at a rest area. She tells me something is wrong with the car, and that she had almost pulled off on the highway and was glad she had been able to get to a rest area. The car won't start. She thinks it is the battery. Of course we don't have jumper cables and the people I ask don't either. It is 90 degrees, 3:00 in the afternoon, and we are still, oh, 600 miles from home. Finally a guy comes over from the truck part of the stop and asks if we are ok. He asks around and manages to find us cables and gives us a jump. The car DOES start, but as soon as we start moving, L says there is something wrong.

She pretty much has the pedal to the medal but she can't go faster than about 50 mph. We are on the phone with everyone - what do we do?? It is Sunday so there isn't anywhere that is going to be open, not to mention we are in the MIDDLE OF FREAKING NOWHERE. We are still about 30 miles from Billings. We don't know if it is the alternator, the transmission, the battery... NO lights are on indicating anything is wrong. None of the gauges are out of range. We decide to just drive as long as we can, maybe stopping in Billings for the night if we have to. This is NOT going according to plan.

L decides to just drive until the car won't run. Yikes. Have I mentioned we are in the middle of nowhere? The car does ok on flats and downhills, but the uphills... scary. The car gets down to 30 mph and can barely move. Construction zones are especially scary. Driving with the hazards on. Do NOT want to get stranded.

We are slow moving, but we are still going, which is good. Unfortunately we do have to stop and get gas. We make it to Buffalo, WY, where the car dies as soon as we have to come to a stop.  Great. I say screw it, maybe lets just let it sit a minute, and we go get some dinner (Pizza Hut). It's getting late, and we are still at least 5.5 hours from home. We get to the car, and it starts fine. Huh. We get gas. Start the car again. Fine. WTH???

Start driving... no issues at all. Weird!! Have to stop again in Cheyenne to get gas. Car still fine! Crazy.

Well, we finally make it hope, just before 1:00 am. Longest.Day.Ever.

Anyway, back to the race, summary of my thoughts:
  • Great race. Scenery is amazing, course is good, all road.
  • Busses are very organized and near the start finish area with plenty of parking although you could walk there from most of the "downtown" hotels.
  • Plenty of bathrooms at the start area, bag drop that could wait until the last minute (which was nice since it was in the 40s and I wanted to keep my sweatshirt as long as possible).
  • Awesome start with fireworks!!
  • Lots and LOTS of aid stations, especially at the end. Stocked well with water and sports drink, PLUS bathrooms at all of them, which is awesome. (only minor complaint is they didn't offer the Clif shots until the mile 10 aid station... that's a bit late, would have been better around mile 7-8).
  • Great volunteers. Great spectators. FRIENDLY.
  • A "small town race" with all the perks of a big race (without tens of thousands of people). Volunteers estimated around 4,000 runners between the two distances. Perfect size!
This is definitely the Montana race to do! (If driving, allow extra time :D )


  1. Great recap, as usual. So sorry about your Grandma. I'm so glad you are going to the services. Best wishes.

  2. Very sorry about your Grandmother. And your harrowing journey home.

    I love your recaps. How do you get such great pictures while you are running?!

  3. Well shucks, I'm so sorry about your grandma. :(

    The car part is SCARY!! My car did that in college. I only had to drive about an hour and 45 minutes and finally I couldn't even get that far in it before I had to get my dad to pick me up, load my stuff and drive me to my dorm. For my car it was the alternator. Hopefully the car is A-OK now!!

    Congrats on another race, another state, another cool medal!

  4. I'm so sorry about your grandmother. Even when you know it's coming, it still sucks.

    Thank you for the thorough recap. I may make it to that one someday. Great time, especially with two bathroom stops and having to wait at one of them!

  5. Oh, and if you find out what was wrong with the car, would leave to hear what it was.

  6. Sorry about your Grandmother. and your car troubles. You drove right through where I live. My house is between Billings and Hardin, too bad you didn't know that you could have pulled off and had my mechanically inclined Dad or brother look at it, I am glad it turned out okay though! There are some big empty spaces out there. I have heard a lot of good things about the Missoula Marathon, the one is Billings is an awesome course for the half also in September.

  7. I've been really hit & miss on reading blogs lately - I missed the fact that you were running Missoula! Great report! And great pics ... they look like mine (except I didn't wear a skirt this race) Great job on marking another one off!

  8. Great recap! Weird car. Weird weird car. What the heck happened with that thing!

    So sorry to hear about your Grandma, even though you knew she was in a hospice. Sending you strength.

  9. Great recap and awesome photos. Thanks for sharing.. I love the blog title.. ordinary is boring.. keep on inspiring.

  10. ::hugs:: I'm truly sorry to hear about your grandmother.

    Congratulations on another successful race - this was the second Missoula race report I read in a row. Very cool to get another perspective.

  11. great recap!! I think you could write a book just on your many transportation stories :) I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother-hope y’all made it to Wisconsin okay.


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