Of all the 400-some marathons run each year in this country, only one gets bragging rights to the mantle of "No. 1 Best Overall in America."
This year, the honor, which is handed out by Runner's World magazine, goes to the Missoula Marathon.
News of the prestigious ranking was personally delivered by running guru Bart Yasso at a news conference on Tuesday night at the DoubleTree Hotel.
The room full of race volunteers and sponsors came to the event not knowing why the meeting had been called by Jennifer Straughan, the Missoula Marathon race director.
When Yasso, the magazine's "chief running officer," broke the suspense, the crowd erupted into exuberant cheers and applause.
"It's unbelievable," said Anders Brooker, owner of Runner's Edge, a specialty running shop in downtown Missoula that co-hosts Missoula Marathon training groups each spring.
"Runner's World magazine is the pinnacle of news in this sport, they are the most recognized publication in the world," Brooker said. "To be honored like this - and after only three years of having this race - is pretty awesome.
"That Bart Yasso came here to tell us the news speaks to how awesome it really is."
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Yasso explained when the January issue of Runner's World magazine hits the stands this week, more than 2.8 million readers will have Missoula on their minds.
The Garden City's 26.2-mile race leads the standings of a long and impressive list of other marathons, including the granddaddy of them all, the Boston Marathon, which ranked No. 5, the London Marathon, No. 10, the Disney Marathon, No. 33 and the New York City Marathon, No. 23.
Rankings were based by Runner's World readers who responded to an online survey that was posted on the magazine's Web site for a full calendar year.
Reader comments and rankings were gathered, and from that information, the list was created.
"What makes a great marathon - it's not the organization or the corporation or person that puts it on," Yasso said. "It's owned by the community. It's a community event, and you have a great community."
When rubber hits the road, these rankings are ultimately determined by the quality of experience marathon runners have at races, Yasso said.
For instance, as famous as the Boston Marathon is, there are so many runners, participants must board a bus at 4:30 a.m. to get to the race start, which begins at 10 a.m. That, he said, isn't a great experience.
In Missoula "you are at the epicenter of beauty" Yasso said. "You got a great running store, great running trails and a great community."
Aglow with joy, Straughan echoed Yasso's sentiments.
The No. 1 ranking is something all of Missoula shares, she said.
"Runners really appreciate and recognize the amount of attention and care they get at our race - they tell us that," Straughan said. "This award is something every single person in Missoula should be proud of because it takes a community to put on a marathon."
Straughan said she expects the award will prompt an increase in the number of race participants in coming years - even the one coming up, the city's fourth annual on Sunday, July 11.
"Now we are going to have to contemplate growth and make sure we are prepared for bigger numbers," she said. "We want the experience to remain the same and we want to continue to deliver a super personal experience, one that people get to experience the uniqueness of this community.
"We want that to always be the case."
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.