By EVA DUNN-FROEBIG
After arriving in Cardston, Alberta at 9:30 p.m. a few weeks ago, I wondered why I agreed to participate in the Waterton-Glacier Relay Race.
I hadn’t even eaten dinner yet and I would have to be at the pre-race meeting in six hours. But as I grudgingly trudged to the starting line in the darkness at 3:30 a.m. the next morning, wearing my Clumsy Ninjas team shirt, a reflective vest, and headlamp, the excitement in the air started to rub off on me as other runners chattered about the race with coffee mugs in hand.
The Waterton to Glacier Relay is a 100-mile race starting in Cardston, Alberta and finishing in East Glacier, Montana. Teams of four, eight, and twelve can join. My friends and I formed a team of eight, which meant we each had to run about 12 to 14 miles three times throughout the day. I was the second runner, so my first run of about 4.5 miles was completely in the dark.
Our first runner had stayed ahead of all but about two or three runners, so I focused on trying to pass runners in front of me as a distraction from the dark and unknown ahead. This leg seemed the longest even though the first part of the race was rolling hills and farms. The darkness prevented me from seeing where the handoff to the next runner was going to be.
Our team quickly took the lead, even though one runner had to weave through several cowboys and a large herd of cattle. Many of our team members had predicted that they would run 10-minute miles because of the hills and because we said we would just run for fun. We quickly realized that we were more competitive than we thought and we probably should have started with the 5:30 a.m. group. The race asks teams ahead of time their estimated pace and selects your team start time based on it. The options were to start at 1 a.m., 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
Logistically, a relay race is a lot of work, but what I liked about the Waterton Glacier Relay is we didn’t have to rent vans. We had four people in a car and after a reasonable hour—about 9 a.m.—our family members joined us on the course to cheer us on and drive from handoff to handoff.
I ran to the United States border during my second leg. The race organizers asked that we run with our passports, so I tucked mine into an Amphipod belt and away I went. This leg turned out to be 900 feet of elevation gain, but I was relieved that it was only four miles instead of the 5.7 the info sheet predicted.
As I climbed, the air got foggier and foggier and soon I could see only about ten feet in front of me. I was grateful for the kilometer markers on the road, which gave me a sense of how much further I would have to run. With about a quarter mile to the border left, I looked up and saw the American and Canadian flags flying side by side. It was a dramatic way to enter the United States.
We had about four and a half hours between legs so I decided to eat something other than energy bars and bagels before my next run. I managed to find a restaurant open near Babb and had a garden burger that wasn’t great, but at least it was food. I felt refreshed and ready to cheer on my teammates.
At this point, we caught up to some of the runners who started at 1 a.m., which was exciting. With only 30-some teams in the race, we were often running alone so we were excited to have the challenge to run against someone once in a while.
My last leg was also uphill and was even foggier than the second one. Basically, I didn’t get to see any of the beautiful scenery of Waterton and Glacier, but it was still breathtaking.
My last run was on a road that was under construction. The cars were stopped, but the runners were given permission to run through. Luckily, my timing was perfect because I didn’t see any cars during most of my run. They were all stopped in front of a pilot car and started whizzing by just before I handed off to the next runner. With the visibility even worse, I couldn’t see much and for a moment started to fear wild animals. I thought, no one can drive by me a save me if a get attacked, but my fears quickly turned into appreciation for the beauty and solitude around me. Likely, few people have had the privilege to run on that road without traffic.
Our team was quickly realizing that we had a shot at doing well in this race, so I kicked it in at the end of my last run. I handed off to Mark again and decided to relax and crack open a beer. I was done and now all I had to do was cheer on my teammates.
The last few legs were exciting as we started catching more 1 a.m. start runners. One runner, Tara, busted out 6:30 miles and Matt tackled a challenging hill to pass a strong runner. Our last runner, Julie, duked it out with more strong 1 a.m. start runners. We knew they started hours before us, but it was still fun to race.
Our total finish time was 13 hours 20 minutes and we ended up coming in third overall and were the first co-ed team to finish. I had never participated in a relay race aside from the 4 x 400 in 7th grade, and the Waterton Glacier Relay brought camaraderie to a new level.
If my teammates are up to it, I will definitely participate in this one again. Besides, you can’t beat the beauty of Waterton and Glacier.
Stay in the loop with Missoula’s running community! Check out the Run/Walk It archives for more posts from Eva and other Missoula runners and walkers.
Eva Dunn-Froebig is the executive director of Run Wild Missoula and has been running since the seventh grade. She moved to Missoula 12 years ago from upstate New York to attend the University of Montana’s Journalism School graduate program. Eva never dreamed that she would have a running-related job and feels lucky to be a participant in Missoula’s vibrant running community.