Missoula Celebrates “Runner Friendly Community” Designation

By EVA DUNN-FROEBIG

Most of us in who consider ourselves runners—or even observe runners and running events— in Missoula already know that we are a runner friendly community.  Last week those feelings were validated when the Road Runners Club of America awarded Missoula with a Runner Friendly Community designation.

This new program shines a spotlight on communities that have the infrastructure, government and local support for running. Missoula is one of just a handful of communities in the United States with the five-year Runner Friendly Community designation.

So what makes Missoula runner friendly? We are lucky to have a variety of organizations, businesses, government and individuals who are passionate about the sport of running and walking in Missoula. Run Wild Missoula (RWM) has over 1,200 dues paying members (an affordable $25/year for an individual and $35/year for a family). For a community with a population of about 60,000 people, that is quite a number! RWM members volunteer for a RWM event at least once a year and many contribute more time as a training class leaders, race directors or by serving on a committee or the board of directors.

Dozens of RWM members meet twice a week for a speed workout on Tuesday evenings at Dornblaser coached by former Olympian Courtney Babcock and a group run on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. from the Runner’s Edge. Over 600 people take RWM training classes each year, including over 400 people in a Missoula Marathon training class for walkers, runners and those using the Galloway method (run/walk). RWM also offers at least one free seminar and social event each month for members to get to know each other and become more educated on a running or walking topic. In recent years, Bart Yasso, Jeff Galloway and Micah True (“Caballo Blanco” from Born to Run) have visited Missoula and attracted upwards of 750 people in the audience. These seminars and speakers have encouraged and motivated beginner runners and walkers to start moving and many of them have continued to be involved in the running community by participating in training classes, races and byvolunteering.

RWM organizes 14 races each year with participation ranging from over 100 to 4,600 in last year’s Missoula Marathon (after receiving the Best Overall Marathon Award from Runner’s World magazine readers). The number of participants in the 2010 Missoula Marathon is impressive considering there are limited flights into Missoula and it is a relatively remote place. Missoula’s race calendar includes many other races throughout the year. From the March to October there is a race almost every weekend in Missoula and on some weekends there are several races. Many of these races are organized by non-profit organizations or by individual wanting to donate race proceeds to a charity. RWM supports these events by promoting them to club members and by loaning out race equipment free of charge.

Runners Edge, our local running store, provides meeting space for group runs and other events. Several businesses such as the Runner’s Edge, physical therapists, massage therapists, spas and restaurants also offer discounts to RWM members. The Runners Edge treats all runners and walkers like athletes, sponsors local races, and donates staff time to volunteer at races. Other businesses support races with sponsorship dollars and in-kind services to help off-set the cost of putting on races. Businesses recognize the positive impact running has had on our community. During the Missoula Marathon training class, hundreds of runners come downtown, many of whom spend money at coffee shops and restaurants after the runs. A study found that the 2010 Missoula Marathon event alone pumped $1.3 million in tourism dollars into our economy.

Missoula Parks and Recreation provides and maintains safe trails for running and walking. During the warmer months one can see dozens of runners on the Riverfront Trail, which connects to other trail networks that extend several miles with few road crossings. RWM worked in partnership with Parks and Recreation to provide mile markers on some of the trails. The main trail includes public facilities and water fountains. For those interested in trail running, there is a network of trails that go on and on in the City of Missoula’s Open Space and on Forest Service land.

Missoula is lucky enough to have several youth running programs. In addition to school cross-country and track programs, Missoula Youth Track is an affordable program for 6-14 year olds held during the month of May. Mountain West Youth Track and Field Club, a year-round program for boys and girls ages 12-18, provides athletes with experienced coaching to help them develop their skills in the sport of track and field. The Missoula Kids Marathon and other races with kid-friendly distances encourage the younger generation to stay fit.

The local media continually cover the running community whether it’s about a race, training program, how-to tips on running safely and through the seasons, a charitable running/walking cause or an individual who has made tremendous changes in his or her life through running or walking.

The list of why Missoulais runner friendly community could go on! Check out the YouTube video (below) about why Missoula’s running community deserves this recent designation. Congratulations Missoula!

And ff you haven’t already, be sure to check out the blog by Missoula’s own, Mike Foote and he describes his 11th place finish in the 108-mile  Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll also like reading these:  Missoula Marathon 2011 – Bragging Rights to #5, Missoula Running Buddies, and When do you run? Be sure to leave comments in the Facebook Comment box below, and click the +1 button too–it’ll bring Missoula Marathon runners luck!

Click here to see the Run It  / Walk ItArchive.

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 runningcommunity.