By DAN LYNE
Last summer, I stopped in Missoula, a small city along the Clark Fork River in western Montana, enroute from Western Washington to Big Sky Montana. Missoula is beautiful area where you don’t have to go far to see elk, moose, deer, many different bird species and possibly even black bears. Last summer was like others where I was training for a fall marathon, so I was anxious to get some exercise after a long day in the car.
I had heard that the people of Missoula are very passionate about their running. Missoula has an expansive park and running trail system. No wonder, Missoula’s considered a wonderful place to run. I knew that the Missoula Marathon is consistently ranked as one the top marathons in the U.S.A. Despite the city’s proximity to some mountainous terrain, this Boston Qualifier and USATF certified race is run in a beautiful valley and is touted as being flat and fast.
I like to mix up my marathon training with trail runs or an occasional bike ride. Varying my workouts is great way to remain injury free during training. There’s a lot options in Missoula, including mountain biking, trail running, kayaking, canoeing among other activities. I spoke to a few locals for ideas and one recommended I take a ride to the North part of Missoula to the trailhead right off the Orange St exit (off Interstate 90). It’s about a 5 minute drive from downtown and the University of Montana campus. This is where you can run to the Water Works Hill area which then connects to the Rattlesnake National Recreation area.
Another option for trail running was to go to the other side of town, to the Blue Mountain Recreation Area. There are a few short 1 – 2 mile loops as a part of the Maclay Flat Interpretive Trail. These interconnected trails are kind of like a figure eight. I was told that it’s a great place to see wildlife, including bald eagles. I figured that in a place like Missoula, everywhere I go is a great place to see wildlife.
After all of my research, I decided that instead of renting a bike and going mountain biking, taking a run through the downtown area along the Milwaukee trail was my best option. This trail is not as scenic as many of the wooded trails around Missoula, but it’s a great connector from downtown Missoula to the western edges of town. My family could hangout downtown and I could get in a run. I found this trail to be well marked, but only about 2 miles long. Fortunately, it connected to the Riverfront Trail & Kim Williams trail which are on both sides of the river downtown where I could extend the distance all the way to the University of Montana campus where I would eventually meet up with my family.
Later we walked the Riverfront Trails which extend for about 3 miles along both sides of the river. These trails cross bridges and intersect connecting running paths going east and south. The people were really friendly, frequently commenting on my Boston Marathon t-shirt. We spent a relaxing evening around historic downtown Missoula and talked to a lot of people hanging out at a music & beer festival. We thought about hiking up to the “M.” It’s about ¾ mile half way up Mt. Sentinel and overlooks the city and the University of Montana’s Grizzly Stadium. There’s 11 switchbacks on the steep incline.
I know that I need to come back to Missoula soon for Marathon weekend. It’s actually a number of events right after 4th of July that are great for the whole family. The weekend is a showcase for everything that’s great about Missoula. In addition to the marathon, other running events include a kids marathon, half marathon and 5k. It’s a very well organized small race. Registration is also affordable, but is capped at 1,500.
Author Bio: Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com. Beth Anderson, who now works for Aleva Fitness in Portland, but attended University of MT and trained for Ultra Marathons while living Missoula also contributed.