Tuesday, July 30, 2013

State #25 - Montana: The Madison Marathon - An Adventure to Remember


The panorama photo above was not lifted from a postcard.  It was captured during my 25th State marathon at the Madison Marathon in the Gravelly Mountains in Montana.  I had to get out my thesaurus for words other than "amazing," "incredible," "magnificent," "stunning," and "beautiful" to describe the course.  It IS the most beautiful course I've run in my in 33 marathon so far across the country and world.  It was also one of the toughest courses I've ever completed...  but, worth every step in these mountain ranges in Big Sky Country.

running in the clouds in MT

Being a city slicker from Orange County, CA, completing Montana started out as just a check mark on my way to completing the 50 States.  But when I stumbled across the Madison Marathon website I was struck by the photos of the incredible course.  Now, have you ever been fooled by hotel websites with unbelievable photography only to show and and find out that the place was a dump?  Well, make no mistake, the beauty of this race is as advertised.  If anything, the pictures cannot do the experience proper justice.  The endless blue skies and miles of velvet green fields, the smell of the wildflowers, and the touch of the gentle breeze are simple indescribable by words or photos.

My buddy Mike L. from Denver (AKA Yoda, finished in 4:11) and I decided that we'd meet to run this extraordinary race.  Mike brought his wonderful wife Michele and three boys and spent a week in Yellowstone prior to the race.  He was also kind enough to pick me up and transport me throughout the weekend.  My only regret was doing this trip in my usual fashion, which is to fly in Saturday and fly back home immediately after the race on Sunday.  This is a part of the country that deserves and requires days to explore.  The turn-around trip posed some logistic challenges.  The nearest airport to the town of Ennis (race central; hotels, bib pickup, shuttle to start) is in Bozeman approximately an hour drive away.  

first view of Montana at the Bozeman airport
The drive from Bozeman to Ennis is straight forward and scenic.  It immediately screams, "you aint' in the city no more!"  Miles of fields decorated by the occasional barn looked like oil paintings.  We saw families playing in the waters and floating in rivers besides the freeway on our drive in.  Something you just don't see in the city (unless you are into Raging Water parks packed with pool peeing kids).

                                        view from drive from Bozeman to Ennis
Ennis is a small town of approximately 1,000 residents.  From all the signage it looks like a terrific town to visit and do A LOT of fishing.  We stayed at a modest motel called Rainbow Valley Lodge. Main Street Ennis is the gather place of the marathon on Saturday and has several restaurants, stores and the town pump for our needs.
The fly making station at the Rainbow Valley Lodge

From Ennis, runners would be shuttled to the staging area and start of the race in the Gravelly Mountains approximately 2 hours away.  Sounds complicated?  It is and it isn't.  The race organizers did a tremendous job providing direction and support of this small and intimate race.  In order to meet my flight time on Sunday evening, I requested for and took advantage of the early start option at 7:00 a.m. (regular 8:30) offered by race organizers.  I met the RD Sam Korsmoe Sat afternoon after our arrival at the bib pick-up.  Sam was friendly and we joked about the sophisticated timing device used at the race...  his hand held stop watch.  After a quick bite to eat at the local pizza joint (Pit Stop Pizza; very good by the way), it was off to bed early in order to make the early shuttle pick up at 4:50 a.m.

Race morning started with a gathering of the early starters at the town pump promptly at 4:50.  About 10 of us gathered and exchanged pleasantries in the early dawn.  Then we were divided into three cars for the two hour drive up to the start line at the base of Black Butte Mountain.  Now, I had the misfortune of getting the cherry seat in front of an extra cab pick-up truck with five other dudes.  And I don't mean little dudes.  I think most of us stood at about 6 feet tall.  Imagine a two hour ride with six dudes in the dark with a little space and lots of morning breath of coffee...  But the ride actually turned out to be an entertaining treat.

the early starters on the way to the starting line

Our driver was a local triathlete named Cory.  Cory is like a character straight out of "Born to Run."  Between the sideburns and big laughter was one funny dude.  Between Cory and the elder European gent on my other side we got stories about marathons in Poland and living in Tokyo.  We also found out about the magic qualities of the coffee from the town pump and vodka in the morning.  With a few more stories about bear and sheep dog attacks on the marathon course we were almost at the start.

last pit stop before the start
We arrived at the start promptly at 7:00 a.m. and began one of the most memorable runs of my life.  The course "road" is a dirt trail of mostly loose gravel and small pebbles.  There were a few sections with fist sized rocks.  The climbs are challenging and some descend are steep.  I was glad to have worn my Hoka Ones!  They saved my feet.  Ok, I'll let the photos below do some of the talking...  

At the start with fellow 50 Staters, Marathon Maniacs Cowboy Jeff, Melinda, and Sandy

view of Black Butte

At Monument Ridge rocking my RIF shirt for the first time

somewhere near the valleys of 13

one of the challenging hills at 19
The Madison Marathon is billed as "highest road marathon in America."  The course peaks at near 9,600 feet near mile four of the course at Monument Ridge.  My Garmin recorded a total elevation gain of 2,894 (drop of 3,547) throughout the course.  The first four miles presented the most major climbs but climbs continued throughout the course with some real tough SOBs after mile 19.  The last six miles were "hard" as the knees began feeling the effects of the descends.  I finished the run with a time of 5:23 which is one of my slowest recorded marathon time.  Am I unhappy about the finish time?  Not at all.  Do I feel like I let down the "Run It Fast" shirt I was wearing?  No.  Just the opposite.  This was a run for the adventure and a run for the unique experience of being in one of the highest and most beautiful races.  Was it "fast?"  Yes.  It was my fastest marathon at  9,600 feet.  It was my fastest marathon with the amount climbs and descends.  I ran it as fast as I could...  but more importantly than speed, I ran it with my eyes wide open like it was my first marathon.  There were places on the course so beautiful I wanted to cry.  At times during the run I forgot that I was running altogether.

Madison Marathon is a must do and I hope everyone gets to experience it in person.

Yoda and me at the finish

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,


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