As the runners in the 29th annual Seeley Lake Snow Joke Half Marathon start their race late Saturday morning, the line of bobbing heads stretches out slowly over the 13-mile course. Their 804 feet kick a continuous path through the Clearwater forest like a giant elastic human centipede with psychedelic fur. More than 400 runners dressed in skin-tight leggings, bright neon colors, fanny packs, water bottles and strangely mismatched leopard print running apparel brave snow, ice, mud, engine exhaust, and peculiar looks.
Kristina Smith rounds the first major corner in bright green and purple as a stuffed-Tigger doll clings to her back. Standing tall at her side, her 105-pound Great Dane, Ellie, sets the pace.
“I usually take at least two water bottles for her,” Smith says, smiling. “Today she’s really excited about the run, so I have a hard time keeping up with her.” Barely heavier than her pet, Smith says Ellie usually doesn’t tire until she’s run 20 miles.
The pack heads south along Seeley Lake’s western edge and the sounds of revving engines pierce the silence as snowmobilers criss-cross the runners’ path. The sledders cut diagonally across the road and speed into empty, snow-covered clearings like dolphins weaving alongside a fishing boat.
The eye-of-the-tiger moment comes as a six-foot-tall, nerdy-looking racer crests a long hill miles into the course. He descends the hill in full stride and the sun brightens his starched-white dress shirt as his dark necktie blows gracefully in the wind.
At the finish line runners trickle-in. Frequent cheers and obsessive watch-checking ensue, along with the occasional post-sprint puke. Runners pace slowly in long steps, gasping for air, placing their hands above their heads or on their hips.
After one hour, thirty-four minutes, and thirty-two seconds, Kristina and “Smelly Ellie” Smith come striding across the finish line with ear-spanning grins.
A barely-winded Ellie joins the awards ceremony to take first out of 18 dogs that ran the lesser-known Soup Bone canine half-marathon. The Great Dane leaves with a yummy prize and some adventure racing cred to boot.