When Missoula's local running club decided to organize a marathon race in Missoula last summer, the club was more or less on its last legs.
Run Wild Missoula had about 50 members, and no one really knew how a marathon would go over in this town.
For certain, they knew it would take rigorous planning, a lot of advertising and a lot of hard work to make the event happen.
What no one had predicted, though, was the race would not only be embraced by the community, but also that it would re-energize Missoula's running community.
Because of the race and the marathon training programs sponsored by the club and the Runner's Edge, more people than ever - former runners and newcomers to the sport - came out of the woodwork and laced up for the race.
More than 1,100 people signed up for the marathon and the half marathon, and when it was all over, Run Wild Missoula's membership had grown threefold.
Today, the running club is 250 people strong, said Jennifer Boyer, marathon race director.
"The marathon was so successful, not only did we grow in membership because of it, but we were forced to restructure the running club because of it," Boyer said. "We had big decisions to make because suddenly we had money."
Now, the Missoula Marathon and the running club each has its own board of directors and separate bank accounts.
Plans are in full stride for next summer's race, which will be held on Sunday, July 13.
"This year we are gunning for 2,000 racers for the full and half marathon, and we are really going to promote walking in the half marathon - we are even talking about doing a special training class for people who want to do just the half marathon," Boyer said.
Both courses will remain much the same, with the half marathon starting at Blue Mountain Recreation Area, and the marathon starting in Frenchtown.
What might be new for the marathon is the addition of a relay team competition, where teams have each member run certain portions of the race.
"Relays are really awesome for people who don't want to or can't train for the whole distance," Boyer said. "It really opens up the door for a lot of people that for whatever reasons the full marathon is out of reach."
The race committee is also looking into moving the race finish from the Orange Street Bridge to the corner of Front and Ryman streets, or on the Higgins Avenue Bridge.
"Either way, we want the race finish to be closer to Caras Park," Boyer said.
The buzz is already building for the second annual running of the Missoula Marathon, Boyer said. And while there's much for the committee to do and decide before July rolls around, she's thrilled to know people are excited about the race.
She's even more thrilled that more and more Missoula residents are taking to the streets.
"It's an exciting time to be running," Boyer said. "We are really becoming a running community, and with the marathon, the word will spread even faster."
Training programs offered
Run Wild Missoula and the Runner's Edge will be holding marathon training programs beginning Jan. 12. For more information about the marathon and the training programs, log onto http://www.runwildmissoula.org
The second annual running of the Missoula Marathon is Sunday, July 13, 2008.