Because I run so many races, I’m often asked to name some favorites. This is very difficult for me to do because I like different races for different reasons. Lately, I’ve been naming Chicago Marathon as my favorite urban race (I blogged about it here). And for scenic races, I’ve named Madison Marathon in Montana as a favorite. I ran Madison in 2013 when I was blogging less, so I never did write a race report. It’s time to do that.
I learned about Madison Marathon from my friend Jody. She was planning to double it with the MAD Marathon in Idaho Falls. I needed both of those states, so I looked into them. I was immediately awed by the beautiful scenery for Madison Marathon, which is set up high in the Gravelly Range outside Ennis, Montana. The description of the course was truthful; it would be difficult, but very rewarding. There was an early start and a generous time limit, which was necessary for me if I was going to run a hilly marathon with an elevation peak near 9,500 feet. I decided I was up to the challenge and began making plans with Jody. Later on, Melinda joined our party.
The plan was to fly between Washington Dulles and Denver for our long leg, and then shorter regional flights from Denver. Jody and I would land in Idaho Falls, Idaho on Thursday night and fly home from Bozeman, Montana on Monday evening. We would rent a car one-way in between. We planned to include some sightseeing at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in nearby Wyoming. Travel was going to be a treat as Jody had status with United Airlines and was able to upgrade both of us to First Class. The trip to Idaho was uneventful, as I recall. On Friday, we enjoyed a drive through the mountains and some light hiking at Grand Teton before getting back to Idaho Falls to pick up our race packets and meet up with Melinda.
|The tetons are in the background - absolutely gorgeous!|
|On our hike in Grand Teton|
|Had to take a boat across Jenny Lake on our way to the hike|
The MAD Marathon was a small race and started in the mountains on Saturday morning. The scenery for the first few miles was nice, and the course was hilly. I was running by myself pretty much from the beginning. My plantar fasciitis was in full swing and I do recall it being painful. But I was determined to finish every race. Not only did I need these two states, but I was working on earning Marathon Maniacs Titanium status.
|Maniacs before 2013 MAD Marathon in Idaho Falls|
|We had some river views|
|Seen early on the course…and I think I'll go the other way...|
|Difficult to see, but there is an arc of a rainbow in the center of the pic|
|Can ya tell how hilly it was?|
Eventually, the course became less interesting. There were some parts through farmland and then parts through neighborhoods. The final few miles were through town, but not through any very interesting parts. One highlight was that we got to see the falls that give Idaho Falls its name.
|Not the best view of the falls after the sky became more overcast|
I was among the last of the finishers. The altitude was difficult for me, and so was my plantar fasciitis. Some Marathon Maniac and 50 States Marathon Club friends were there to cheer me in. I had finished Idaho! With this being almost two years ago, I have forgotten some of the specifics of this race, but I do recall it being well organized. There may be bigger or more scenic marathons to run in Idaho, but this one’s not a bad choice…as long as you’re prepared for altitude and hills.
|A few of us finishers after MAD: me, Jody, Bill, Glen|
|This awesome fountain was on the way back to our hotel in Idaho Falls|
|Idaho finish pic with Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo|
There wasn’t much time to waste, as we had to get our things together and drive to Montana for Madison Marathon’s packet pick-up. Melinda rented a car and drove separately, as she would not be visiting Yellowstone and flying out of Bozeman with Jody and me. It was a beautiful drive to Ennis, and we got there in plenty of time to pick up our packets and socialize a little with some of the folks who were attending the pasta dinner. Jody and I opted to dine elsewhere and enjoyed some local beers at dinner.
The next morning, Melinda and I were up at the crack of dawn. We chose to take the early start and we had to catch transportation up the mountain. Several others opted for the early start, and we had the mountain to ourselves for a couple hours before we started to see regular start marathoners and half marathoners.
|2013 Madison Marathon early staters, a few of whom were Maniacs|
|Almost immediately, we had an awesome view of Black Butte|
There was little fanfare at the starting line. There was no arch, no timing mat, just an anticlimactic “GO!” (or maybe the sound of a bullhorn) and then we were off, starting uphill immediately. Oh, boy, I thought. If this is how it’s going to be, I’m going to have a tough day. It would have been a challenge to run on a flat course at that altitude, let alone on the very hilly course we were going to run. Madison Marathon bills itself as the highest road marathon. And I think they’re probably right. We were not on trails; we were on roads. But those roads were not the smooth asphalt most of us are used to. There were sections that were gravel or dirt, and sections that were paved, but even the paved sections had some uneven and pot-holed portions. It was necessary to watch my footing in many spots. And I didn’t want to watch my footing. I wanted to look up and around me at all times. The scenery was incredibly beautiful! And so were the aromas. Really! I recall the scent of wild sage in many spots along the course, and this added to my experience.
|The mile markers all had the elevation and an inspirational quote|
|Those little white spots on the mountain are snow…yes, in July|
|We ran on roads like this for most of the race; in the first half, no shade because we were above the treeline|
|More snow on the course; going up a big climb at this point|
|Monument ridge is the highest point on the course at over 9,500 feet|
We ran up and down steep hills. Or, I should say, I walked up them and ran down them. I walked a lot. On day two of a tough double, I was in worse shape than I was in Idaho, and my foot was in pain. But it felt so special to be there, to do that race. We ran the beginning part of the race above the treeline, and much of the course had no shade. The temperature wasn’t too bad, but the sun was dangerous nonetheless. Occasionally there would be a brief rain shower, and then the sun would come out again. This race had several self-serve water stations in addition to the staffed aid stations. Most of those also had some form of food. Of course, I carried my own energy drink and gels like I normally do, and I would advise others to do the same for this race, even if they are used to running without fluids or fuel. I would also advise others to run with a smartphone or camera to take some photos of the scenery.
The first half of the race was point-to-point with the halfway mark at the half marathon finish area at Clover Meadows. There were a few half marathon finishers and some spectators there, but I had to run past them to the out-and-back section that would be the second half of the race. Mentally, it’s always tough to see the finish line and know that I’m not finished. Not only was I not finished, but I still had 13 miles to go.
|Clover Meadows was the halfway point and, after a long out & back, the finish area, but here I still had 13 miles to go|
|Cow crossing! We were told we might see sheep and sheep dogs, bears, elk, and other wildlife; but all I saw were cows.|
|Ran into Melinda on the long out & back in the second half|
|The course was beautiful the entire way; there's a reason why they call it Big Sky Country|
|We did have a small section of course that went through some trees; a nice relief after the first half with no shade|
The last 13 miles were tough. There were more hills, and there was more sun, and the roads were in worse shape than in the first half. And because it was an out-and-back, I would experience that section of the course twice. But, because it was an out-and-back, I would get to see other runners in passing. I saw Cowboy Jeff, and Melinda, and later Jody and others. And then, I was alone again. My foot hurt, and I wanted to be done. I was not enjoying the second half of the course nearly as much. Finally…I was done.
Finishing near the back of the pack, there weren’t a lot of people behind me. I was the last of the early starters, so everyone behind me was a full marathoner who took the regular start. I had to wait for Jody, so I made myself comfortable, chatted with some of the other finishers, such as Chuck, and helped myself to a beer. I loved the low-key feel of the finish area. It was kind of like camping, but with people running under a finish arch. Finally, Jody came in.
|I finished Montana!|
|Enjoying a post-race beer with Cowboy Jeff and Jody|
The car was waiting for us at the finish line because Jody had parked there to catch the shuttle to the regular start. We got in the car, drove back to the hotel and got cleaned up. My plantar fasciitis was bad, and Melinda let me borrow her portable ultrasound machine to see if that would help. It inspired me to buy my own.
|Jody and I got a few pics on our way back to town after Madison|
|There was no time to check out Willie's Distillery…maybe next time|
The next morning we said goodbye to Melinda before Jody and I made our way to Yellowstone. It was my first time there, and I enjoyed seeing Old Faithful and some of the other attractions. I marveled at the scale of the park. It would take days, if not weeks, to truly experience it all. We had hours, but we made the most of them.
|Magenta checks out the Paintpots|
|Spectators getting ready for Old Faithful|
|And thar she blows!|
On the drive to Bozeman to catch our flight, Jody received a call. Our flight out of Bozeman was delayed, and that put our connection in Denver at risk. United re-booked Jody on standby for a later flight, but there was a chance I might have gotten stuck in in Denver overnight. At Bozeman airport, there was nothing we could do but wait, so we had more local beer at the airport bar. We got on our flight to Denver, and knew we probably wouldn’t make the connection. But…it pays to have the top status level with United. Thanks to Jody being Jody, there was a man in a golf cart waiting for us at our arrival gate, and he zoomed through the Denver airport to our connecting gate. They had already boarded and given our First Class seats to other passengers. But when they knew we were coming, they made the other passengers move back to Economy! I swear that we made that flight only because of Jody’s United status. It pays to know people, apparently. We were home free.
I often reflect upon this race weekend, but mainly on my time on the Madison Marathon course. It was such a well done event, and so beautiful. I recommend it to anyone wanting a scenic mountain marathon, or who wants to run in Montana. But I would not do it again. What I would do is return to run the half marathon only. Or, I would consider running the new race that is put on by the same folks. The Madison Marathon is now day one of a double marathon weekend on the same mountain. Day two is a new all-downhill marathon called Big Sky Marathon. I could see coming back here with Scot. He would probably choose to run both marathons. I would run less, but enjoy a little more time relaxing in this scenic area.