At 85 years young, Myrtle Miller had a bounce in her step as she crossed the finish line of the Missoula Half Marathon on Sunday with her daughter, Heidi Duncan, and granddaughter Mara Duncan.
For the first time since Miller started running competitively more than 50 years ago, all three generations of her family strode across Higgins Bridge together, cowbells and cheers giving them energy for the final few yards. Miller ran her first marathon at age 51 and is still a staple participant in Run Wild Missoula’s walking community, inspiring all those who hope to stay active and healthy as they age.
“I’m going to keep going till I drop,” Miller laughed after the race, hugging her family.
Her son, Brian Miller, and grandson, Kyle Miller, ran the full marathon, so she had four family members with whom to celebrate.
Her daughter Heidi is a busy physician in Billings, but Miller finally convinced her to walk the half this year, together with Mara.
“I have never done the half before with my mom,” Heidi Duncan said. “It’s ridiculous. I’ve never been over to cheer her on at the finish line, mostly because we’ve been on other trips. But last year I decided for sure I’d be there at the finish line. Then I thought about it a little more, and decided we should walk with her. She’s amazing.”
Miller credited her daughter with pushing her this year, giving her a time of 3:37:51, a good half-hour before she anticipated crossing when she spoke with the Missoulian on Friday.
“She really helped me,” Miller said. Miller trains four to five days a week, averaging about 15 miles as she trains.
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Miller is a retired registered nurse, and she also pushes her husband Eugene, a retired teacher, to stay fit and participate in races as well. In fact, her whole family looks up to her as a role model for staying off the couch.
Mara Duncan, fresh off a two-week photography expedition with National Geographic in Yellowstone National Park, was tired but smiling ear-to-ear as she hugged her grandmother on Sunday morning.
“She has really been looking forward to this,” Heidi Duncan said of her daughter. The family is just following in the footsteps of Miller, who has been walking the half-marathon for eight years. She starts her training in the early spring.
“We put a lot of time into this,” Miller said. “When Heidi told me ‘Mom, I want to come do the half-marathon with you,' I told her she didn’t have time to train,” Miller recalled. “I said, ‘Heidi, you have to train’. So she set up a schedule, and we texted back and forth. They just really wanted to do it.”
More than 6,000 people registered in the Missoula Marathon’s weekend events, including representatives from all 50 states and 14 countries. Sunday was nearly cloudless and hot, but Miller and her family were in good spirits as they gathered for a group hug amid the commotion.
“You have to make time for the important things,” Heidi Duncan explained.
For Miller, staying active is only part of the reason why she dedicates so much time and effort to the sport. It’s also about the kinds of memories she made on Sunday.
“I do it for physical fitness, but it’s about the camaraderie,” she said.