WEST GLACIER — Lying in bed, Somer Treat could hear the whir of helicopter blades circling overhead.

The hum grew fainter as the aircraft moved farther out, beyond trees glistening with dew and the first glow of the rising sun. As it had all night, the noise intensified each time the helicopter doubled back to complete a search lap.

It didn't matter. Somer hadn't slept anyway.

Just before 6 a.m. she closed the door to the home she'd shared with her husband. Somer trotted down the drive with Bo, the couple's German shepherd, to begin her morning ritual. She hadn't missed a daily run in 8 1/2 years. Despite the circumstances of this crisp June morning in 2016, she wouldn't break her streak.

Not 24 hours earlier, Brad Treat had run into a grizzly bear while mountain biking on a forested trail near their home outside West Glacier. On the same path he and Somer ran each morning, he lost his life.

The sound of the helicopter above, still hunting the bear with infrared cameras in the dim morning light, drowned out everything but Brad's voice in her head. As long as she kept running, he was still here.

"When nothing feels normal in your life, you look for that one thing that is consistent," said Somer this week. "It made the next day feel like I could do it.

"It felt normal to keep running."

A year after that emotional morning, the 38-year-old native of the Flathead Valley is still running. Sunday she and more than 40 friends and family members will run together in the Missoula Marathon. They'll wear matching bibs sporting "FS44," representing Brad's U.S. Forest Service law enforcement badge number, and find comfort in his presence once more.


Running was at the center of Brad and Somer's days, the foundation around which everything else was built. Whether jogging or tackling marathons, they were by each other's side.

They worked vastly different hours, she in project management for a Whitefish-based building company and he in law enforcement, but there was always room for a quick 3 or 5 miles in the morning — even if it was at 2 a.m., before Brad had to catch a flight for work.

"That was one thing that was consistently ours," Somer said. "We'd get in an hour of time even if we didn't see each other the rest of the day."

Running was Brad's long before that. A standout athlete at Kalispell Flathead High School, his passion carried him to college on scholarship at Washington State. He met Somer just before he transferred to the University of Montana for graduate school in 1999 and joined the Griz track team.

Despite competing for just one year in Missoula, former teammate Jesse Zentz still remembers Brad's calming and disarming effect.

"I always felt at ease when Brad was on the course," said Zentz, 41, a member of this weekend's party who now lives in Helena. "I raced my best when Brad was alongside me because he had that calming influence."

The trait never abandoned Brad. The proof is in the vast network of sympathizers who reached out to Somer last summer — not just Brad's coworkers, but strangers to her and even people whom he had arrested while on duty.

"I got cards from people Brad arrested three times," Somer recalled.

As many as 2,500 mourners turned out for his service last July, which had to be held at Legends Stadium in Kalispell to accommodate the crowd.


On June 29, 2016, while Somer was at work in Whitefish, Brad set off on a ride around the 6-mile loop in the trail system adjacent to their property. He had traversed the trails there near Halfmoon Lake hundreds of times since the couple moved back to the Flathead in 2004, three years after their marriage.

While coming around a bend in a wooded section around 2 p.m., Brad surprised a grizzly wandering along the path. The bear took him off the bike, though a second rider escaped uninjured to find help.

Help arrived too late. Brad, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The incident occurred less than two weeks before the couple was to run the Missoula Marathon, a repeat destination for the runners. They first ran it together in 2008 and Somer had been back six times in the marathon's 10-year history at that point.

Though Portland was Somer's first marathon in 2004, the community aspect in Missoula and her and Brad's relationship to one of the race's founders, Anders Brooker, made it a favorite.

With her life in chaos and just two days removed from his celebration of life in Kalispell, she wanted to run in Missoula.

"It was therapy in a sense. It was something I knew I could do," she explained. "We were going to do this together."

The race course was a safe space. Unloading from a bus to reach the race's start near Frenchtown at 5 a.m, all the uncertainty and noise in her head died away. There was only quiet and calm.

"There's something about running. You can spend a lot of time thinking or you can not think at all," Somer said.

Brooker, an organizer and announcer at last year's event, spotted Somer through the crowd at the starting line. He did a double take, not trusting his first glance. She was no longer the grieving widow of a well-loved man. She was simply his old friend.

And she was smiling.

"It was this smiling, glowing face walking up to me and in the moment it didn't register for me," said Brooker, who grew up in Plains a few years behind Brad in school, idolizing him as a runner. "She was there standing in front of me and going out of her way to say hi.

"In an event that was (celebrating) its 10th year, that's the moment that touched me the most."

That day an idea was born.


Brad had a way about him. Without needing to be persuasive or severe, he could compel people to do things they didn't think possible.

When Somer began discussing her plans for the 2017 Missoula Marathon, others gravitated to the conversation. Friends, family and coworkers added their names to the registry to run in the departed's honor.

Some are experienced runners like the Treats — last year's Missoula Marathon would have been Brad's 25th marathon; this year's is Somer's 33rd — while many others are anything but.

"I've always wanted to run a marathon and now I have a pretty damn good reason to do it," explained Bob Field, 52, Brad's partner for 12 years in law enforcement at the Hungry Horse Ranger District.

"I have no choice but to finish really. I have to. I can't let him down, but I expect him to help me get through it."

You'll know the runners joining Somer because of their customized marathon bibs and T-shirts, created by the Montana Shirt Company. The FS44 logo will shine prominently on the racers, a fortuitous 44 in number across the half and full marathons as well.

FS44 is a symbol, though Brad's memory serves as its own legacy. Thoughts of him are a reminder to treat others with kindness no matter the circumstances and to push yourself to be better. His words have kept Somer running every day since her last miss on Christmas 2007 — that's 3,484 straight days including this marathon.

They've helped her continue moving forward, too.

When her heart feels too heavy she heads out for a run, knowing he'll be there to lighten her burden. He's been gone a year, but they have 26.2 miles to spend together Sunday.

"He would have been encouraging and expecting me to keep going," Somer said, the corner of her smile beginning to quiver. "Brad would be disappointed if I gave up."

AJ Mazzolini can be reached by email at ajmazzolini@missoulian.com or on Twitter @ajmazzolini.