By the time Missoula Marathon participants cross the finish line on Sunday, it’s going to be a scorcher.
According to the National Weather Service, the heat advisory blanketing northwest Montana will expire at 9 p.m. on Saturday, but high temperatures are still on the table. The forecast for Sunday includes -- as of Friday night -- a 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms before noon with the high at 94 degrees.
Even with the weather forecast being what it is, it doesn’t come close to topping the hottest Missoula Marathon on record. That came during the inaugural event in 2007 when the temperature reached 100 degrees.
“One of the things we really like to stress is we don’t want people to panic,” said Tony Banovich, the third-year director of the race. “It’s going to be warm, but most years in Missoula, at some point in the day, it gets fairly warm during Marathon day.”
The race start time isn’t being pushed earlier, but rather, an earlier cut-off will be enforced. Typically the race course is open for 7.5 hours, but due to the heat, the course will be open for 6.5 hours -- until 12:30 p.m.
That’s because the forecast for the morning low is predicted to be as much as 10 degrees warmer than usual, meaning that temperatures during the day will warm up faster than typical.
Banovich acknowledges the change affects many race participants -- primarily the walkers -- but he says the event has tried to alleviate some of those concerns by providing deferred registration. So if someone signed up for the marathon this year and is concerned about finishing or doesn’t want to participate due to the heat, they can move their registration to next year’s event.
“The real unfortunate issue here is we know that many of those people (walkers) would take 6.5 hours or more to finish their race,” Banovich said. “We feel badly about that as runners and walkers ourselves. This has an impact on those people that are going to be out there for that additional hour. We do not take it lightly.”
Banovich said several people were included in making the decision to shorten the race time and take other precautions, including the Marathon’s medical team and the National Weather Service.
Another one of those precautions is if the wet bulb globe temperature tops 87 degrees before 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, the race directors will consider stopping the race early. Banovich said the medical director will be checking the wet bulb globe temperature every hour to ensure it’s safe to run.
Wet bulb globe temperature isn’t strictly air temperature though, as it takes in several factors, including humidity, wind speeds and cloud cover. Since Missoula typically features dry heat with minimal humidity, Banovich isn’t overly concerned about the wet bulb globe temperature reaching that threshold.
“We don’t have that problem as much in Missoula because of our drier climate, but that is the best practice in the industry as a guideline,” Banovich said.
Banovich also encourages Frenchtown and Missoula residents who have lawns along the route to turn on their sprinklers during the race to help keep runners cool.
The full marathon -- a 26.2-mile haul -- starts at 6 a.m. in Frenchtown at the TrailWest Bank, and has more than 1,000 participants of all abilities. The race -- a Boston Marathon qualifier -- skirts down Mullan Road for 9.4 miles, cuts across the Clark Fork on Kona Ranch Road and follows the river to weave its way toward downtown to the finish over the Higgins Avenue bridge.
Geofrey Terer of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is back to defend his 2016 title, and is coming off a marathon win in Estes Park, Colorado, three weeks ago.
Terer said he will do his best to focus on running his own race, rather than worrying about others in the field.
“He’s going to be pushed,” Tim Mosbacher said. “There’s a Missoula kid that I think will really be pushing him -- Mark Messmer.”
Messmer led the pack and dictated the pace for much of the 2016 Missoula Marathon, but couldn’t hold on near the end and finished fourth.
“I think the race between Mark and Geofrey this year is going to be an excellent race,” Mosbacher said. “But there’s also Jason Delaney. … You can never count him out.”
Delaney won the event back in 2013 and has the third-fastest time in Missoula Marathon history.
On the women’s side of the competition, the title is open for the taking as four-time champion -- Missoula’s own Trisha Drobeck -- will not be competing in the full marathon this year.
Two former runners-up in Sarah Hallas of Cotati, California, and Bryanna Petrie of Spokane, Washington, are expected to battle it out with Missoula’s Sarah Bard, a participant in the 2016 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials.
“If she runs hard, she’s definitely the favorite to win,” Mosbacher said of Bard.
The shorter -- yet still grueling -- 13.1-mile event begins at Alpine Physical Therapy and follows Blue Mountain Road until joining the full marathon route 2.6 miles in at River Pines Road.
The abbreviated race is available to 4,000 participants.
The men’s half marathon features Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia, who holds multiple world records and the course record in the master’s marathon. He’s also famed for running a marathon on seven continents on seven consecutive days.
“Last year was first year and I loved it,” Wardian said of running the Missoula race.
He loved last year’s Missoula’s event so much so that he’s running it less than a week ahead of the Hardrock 100 ultra-marathon in Silverton, Colorado, on Friday.
The men’s half also has several other returners, including last year’s third place finisher in Guy Alton, 2015’s third place finisher in Daniel Jackson and 2016’s fourth place finisher in Erik Tieg.
The women’s half is fixing to be a star-studded race as the reigning champion, Bigfork's Makena Morley, is back to defend her title but she’s going to be pushed, as Tori Tyler, a participant in the 2016 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials, has a time mere seconds slower than Morley’s entry time.
Boulder, Colorado, native Sarah Hutchings’ entry time is also within 30 seconds of Morley and Tyler’s.
Trisha Drobeck is making an appearance in the half marathon as well for the first time since 2008, three months after having her first child.
There are still openings in the half and full marathons, though not the 5K, and interested participants can register until Saturday at 4 p.m. at Caras Park.