Keeping Pace with Summer in the Flathead Valley

By KELLYN BROWN for the Flathead Beacon

The other day at the gym my teacher forewarned the class in front of him that the next exercise made a previous student puke from exhaustion. So goes the slog to get and maintain the physique to keep up with many of my colleagues, specifically my friend and second-in-command in the newsroom Myers Reece.

Reece took up running about a year ago and (who knew?) he ended up being fast. Not Morley fast – the Bigfork family that regularly dominates their age groups at races. Or Zach Perrin fast – the Flathead High School senior and reigning Gatorade Montana Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Or Matt Shryock fast – the former Whitefish High School student who ran an absurd 30:32 over 10 kilometers at last month’s Boogie to the Bank race in Columbia Falls (that’s a pace of 4:55 per mile).

But for a recreational runner, Reece is exceptionally fast. And I’ve made it my goal to track him down, which isn’t working out at all. In the three 10Ks combined we’ve run together this summer, I’ve seen my colleague for a total 30 seconds at the starting line. So I train, hoping to get faster without puking.

In Montana, the summer involves more than trying to keep up with the terrain by covering as much of it as possible in a few short months. It also challenges you to keep up with the incredibly ambitious people here, including many who are reaching their annual physical peaks in July and August.

The world-class athletes aren’t limited to running. They bike, climb and swim and can be seen driving down the road – often in Subarus – with all sorts of equipment strapped to their roofs. They post Facebook photos of their insane adventures, catching enormous fish one day, hanging off cliffs the next and walking among grizzly bears by the end of the week. It’s enough to make you feel guilty and attempt to blaze your own new trails. But then summer begins slipping away.

When I ask someone how their summer is going, a familiar response is: “It’s too fast. I feel like I haven’t done anything.” Of course, doing nothing to them includes several trips to Glacier National Park, rafting down the Middle Fork and skydiving in Marion. That’s simply not enough.

We continue cramming all we can into every spare moment, covering several miles while simultaneously being lapped. A friend of mine – a journalist who works at another newspaper – spends his leisure time in the summer running ultra-marathons. He travels the region on the weekends so he can run through the woods and over mountains for 50 miles – enough to make one sheepish discussing the perils of training for a 10K.

There are worse problems to have than trying to see and do everything Montana’s summers have to offer, which includes far more than outdoor recreation. There are also countless festivals celebrating everything from kayakers to Cajun music and the real key is to be able to attend these parties while not allowing them to hamper the next day’s physical-demanding activity.

It’s a balancing act living in the “last best place,” especially in its northwest corner, with a population that attacks its rivers and mountains with abandon. Now another summer is slowly winding down and we’ve been blessed with weeks of clear days and relatively few fires. The valley has been packed, with seemingly everyone wanting to share our backyards, if only for a weekend.

Many of them leave at once stunned and exhausted after seeing just a fraction of the area. I try to explain to them that there is simply no way to keep pace with Montana, or the people here, especially in the summer.

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Kellyn Brown is a University of Montana graduate who has spent the last several years covering crime, government and social issues as a writer and editor in the Rocky Mountain region. He is the editor in chief at the FlatheadBeacon.