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Missoula’s population has swelled by thousands in recent days, as runners from around the world arrive for the 2018 Missoula Marathon.

These new arrivals — about 3,000 each from Montana and out-of-state — were streaming through Caras Park Saturday morning at the Marathon Expo. Some were picking up the bibs they’ll wear in Sunday’s half and full races. Other competitors had already run in Friday night’s Beer Run, and Saturday’s Missoula 5K and the Missoula Kids Marathon.

Race Director Tony Banovich, surveying the action, said that “things are going great.”

For Banovich, the executive director of Run Wild Missoula, planning each marathon takes up most of the year. So far, he said, all was going smoothly. “The weather is spectacular, it’s been a great, great day so far.”

Under the pavilion in Caras Park, some race participants were getting their numbered bibs, t-shirts and gear bags from volunteers, while others were perusing booths set up by local businesses and organizations.

Brandon Dryden, a maintenance engineer from Molalla, Oregon, had flown in with his wife, Jennifer, to run the half marathon.

“We do a lot of destination races” around the West, he said. This trip, his first visit to Montana, would enable him to visit his brother-in-law in Ovando. Also, “we heard that this is the number-one destination race. That was a big factor.”

In its twelve years of existence, the Missoula Marathon has set itself apart. Runner’s World named it the top marathon in the country in 2009. This past December, marathon reviewing website BibRave listed Missoula as the nation’s top marathon — ahead of both Boston and Chicago. Runner’s World also included it among “10 Bucket List Marathons You Should Run in 2018,” alongside ones held in such locales as Paris, Sydney and the Great Wall of China.

Dryden liked what he saw at the expo. “It’s great,” he said. Compared to the other places he’d been and races he’d run, “I like how there’s not a lot of people here.”

Kim Krizek had also come a long way — from Cedar Falls, Iowa — for the race. An effort to run one marathon every month of 2018 has taken her to races throughout the Midwest and Southwest. Missoula’s, she said, had the best weather so far.

The Missoula Marathon’s widespread appeal is part of what makes it an asset for the city, explained Clint Burson, director of government affairs at the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a huge influx of [people] coming in from outside the area, which is great,” he said, adding that restaurants and hotels are some of the main beneficiaries.

But for many of the businesses at Saturday's expo, the stake in this race is personal. Megan Fisher, a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer, was part of a team from Alpine Physical Therapy helping runners prepare for the big day.

A two-time Paralympic cyclist who won gold and silver in the London 2012 Games, and silver and bronze in the Rio 2016 Games, Fisher’s planning to run the half marathon tomorrow.

“For years, I’ve seen the marathon go by as I’m going out on my training rides,” she said. But her recent retirement from the national team has given her time to take part in one of Missoula’s signature summer events.

Running the race, she said, is “a huge opportunity. I’m really grateful for it.”

For more information, visit missoulamarathon.org.

Colter Peterson contributed reporting to this story.

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