MISSOULA — About 15 minutes after the boys' leg of the Missoula Coaches Cross Country Invitational finished up Thursday, a runner emerged from a massive contingent dressed in red and gold. He was seeking advice from his coach, Anders Brooker.
"I threw up after the race. ... How do I make sure that doesn't happen again?" the Missoula Hellgate racer asked.
In a sport where that's sometimes the end result after running hard for 5 kilometers (roughly 3.1 miles) another question could be posed to Brooker. How do the Knights — who had 98 kids alone cross the finish line at the Big Sky Horse Park — get kids out to run?
"It continues to build on itself. The varsity and the JV kids really take inspiration and excitement in getting a lot of numbers out," Brooker said. "... At this point it's selling itself somehow."
Even on a day one spectator described as "somehow windy but still smoky and hot," Hellgate turned out in droves.
From that sea of red emerged two that stood out Thursday, Hellgate's Isaac Schmidt and Ella DeGrandpre.
Schmidt was strong out of the gates, leading from the course's second left turn 200 yards in. He put on the jets atop the race track's hill, roughly midway, while a hefty crowd cheered the senior on.
At the finish line, Schmidt, who clocked in at 16 minutes, 1.48 seconds, stood alone for 24 seconds before his teammate Ian Curtis crossed.
"Isaac, some of the workouts he's had, puts him up against some of the best boys we've ever had — and we've had some good boys come through," coach Brooker said of his Schmidt. "I think — and I don't think he'll mind me saying this — he's going to be in the mix for a state championship."
Schmidt and Curtis were followed by another Knight, Lukas Horejsi, then came host team Missoula Big Sky's Sean Stineford in fourth. Missoula Sentinel's Calvin Quindry and Otto MacDonald, brother of Montana State recruit Molly MacDonald, placed fifth and sixth, respectively.
For the Spartans, who are racing without Marshall Beatty — now at West Point — running with a pack is part of a new race-day strategy.
"... You'll see us more grouped up as a team," Sentinel coach Diego Hammett said. "We don't have a Marshall, so we're going to have to work together as a team, so that's what I'm looking forward to."
It's a strategy that certainly worked for Hellgate. DeGrandpre won the girls' event, winning the race at 19 minutes, 29.53 seconds. She and two other racers pulled away around mile 2, she said, and DeGrandpre ultimately won in comfortable fashion.
"It's so nice to get support from your teammates, it makes the race go a lot easier," DeGrandpre said. "It's fun to have people that go the same speed as you."
Five of the next six racers to cross the finish line were DeGrandpre's teammates, including Ellee Becker in second place.
Big Sky's Makenna Edwards was the lone contrasting color in the Top 7, coming across the timing line in third place. Hellgate's Wren Cilimburg finished just behind the Eagle runner in fourth, but literally on Edwards' back was some writing in fluorescent green marker.
It read: "I run for Abe."
The inscription was there to memorialize an Eagle teammate, Arthur "Abe" Lowder, who passed away two winters ago after sustaining injuries in a car crash while driving back from youth group with his sister.
"He was always really a part of the team, he was that guy that pumped everybody up, and he always wore crazy socks — he had pizza slice ones, ones with dollar signs," said Big Sky senior captain Aubrey Smith after the race.
And he liked bright green — hence the color choice.
"They want to honor Abe every time we have this meet. His favorite color was lime green, but because of uniform rules, we can't wear a lot." Big Sky coach Jo Ruby said. "... It's just a way they want to honor his memory."
The memory is something that Big Sky racers ran with at the Missoula Coaches meet, an illustration of how a sport so strenuous can also be therapeutic.
Providing yet another reason to run.