On Saturday, June 30, I ran my first half marathon. I chose the Mountain to Meadow race because it wasn’t on asphalt and the course looked lovely—starting and finishing at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center but winding through forests of spruce and pine, with views of the Bitterroot Mountains and a promise of camas blooming in Packer’s Meadow. Plus, total participants for both the half marathon and the 5K were capped at 400, which I appreciated, having an aversion to crowds and not knowing how I would handle running with so many folks.
Race day was crystal clear from the start. Driving along Route 12, the early morning sun twinkled off of everything—river, car and treetop. The race started at 7:30 pacific time; an added bonus—making it not such an early start from Missoula. As advertised, a member of the Lewis and Clark Brigade fired off a musket and the race began. Very early on, the 5K participants split off to the left and the half-marathoners began their steady ascent of the course.
The first half of the course consisted of two climbs; the first a long steady climb along a winding two-track, followed by a significant descent in which several runners passed me. The second climb occurred shortly after the descent at about mile 5 or 6. This was a bit steeper and more exposed. It got hot, quickly. My only goal was to run the entire course and my steady pace paid off as I passed those who had passed me. They were walking the hill and cordially cheering me on. Relief stations were peppered into the course after the first couple of miles and young enthusiastic kids offered water and Gatorade—which I welcomed even more, as the hill continued on.
After ascending, it was almost literally downhill from there. The gravelly two-track continued to wind its way through the forest, an occasional bend in the road offering cooler temperatures from the creek running through culverts and down into the gullies below. The pungent smell of deer or elk wafted my way here and there and I shared short friendly exchanges with other runners along the way.
This race lacked intensity, which could easily have been a combination of my place in the middle of the pack, my own lack of competitiveness and the fact that it is touted as a fun event among people who typically live to have fun. The most intense moment was when the bellows of hound dogs startled me as a trio of them steadied themselves on a platform atop the truck that drove them past to God knows where.
As the sun climbed higher and the course continued, the sweat poured down my back and I started to look for the chalk numbers that ticked off the miles. I also started to wonder where the camas was. Penstemon and other wildflowers lined the roadside, but I was anxious for some significant color. I was finding it harder to escape the demands my body was making on my mind.
Eventually, with 2-3 miles left, the forest peeled away and meadows of purple camas, accented by the occasional flicker of white and yellow, opened off to the left. I resisted the urge to flop down in the blanket of color and take a nap. I amused myself, as I had throughout the run, with absurd images of me doing things like hiding in the grass and rustling around when other runners passed close by.
After the meadows, I slogged through the last mile with no illusions that I had a well of extra energy to draw from for the finish. But, that was okay. The point was to finish and give myself a gauge to run other races by. Finish I did, with a smattering of people applauding me as I crossed the line and a whole bunch of oranges awaiting my belly.
It was a great place to try on my marathon shoes. The scenery was worth any hike or run. Now is the perfect time to go up there and with Packer’s Meadow just a couple miles from the visitor center, you don’t have to run a half-marathon to revel in the beauty of the camas.