How rigorous is Missoula’s Pengelly Double Dip, a half-marathon where runners dance with the sky on the peaks of both University Mountain and Mount Sentinel?
Even the best runner in Saturday’s 10th annual Pengelly didn’t run the whole 13.1-mile route.
“I was kind of power walking on the real steep stuff,” admitted Jimmy Grant of Missoula, the overall winner by some seven minutes.
Former University of Montana runner Aleta Jokisch, the fastest woman, was speeding down from the first summit at the beacon on University Mountain when she slipped on a rock.
“A little scraped knee,” Jokisch shrugged, assessing the damage of her fall.
It’s a splendid name for a uniquely Missoula race.
The “double dip” part has nothing to do with ice cream or water or even the margarita-flavored power drink offered runners at the makeshift tiki station at the top. Instead it refers to the two precipitous drops to the saddle behind Mount Sentinel.
David Pengelly never ran in this race, though he climbed these trails a lot.
He died 10 years ago – June 13, 2003 – in a climbing accident on Mount Reynolds in the North Cascades of Washington. Pengelly was 52, a Missoula attorney, an accomplished climber and a champion of the outdoors, open spaces and of this particular mountain.
Most runners who took part in Saturday’s races didn’t know him, but anyone who spends time on Mount Sentinel knows his spirit.
Pengelly’s name was attached to the annual June race, which also includes a 5-mile Single Dip, when Missoula Youth Homes took it over in 2005 and established the current course.
“The first one (in 2004) wasn’t called Pengelly,” said race director Kevin Twidwell of Run Wild Missoula, which assumed management from Missoula Youth Homes a few years ago. “The Nature Conservancy had it and I ran in that first one, but I can’t remember what it was called. It was a totally different route, but it was this race.”
The summer of ’05 also saw a steep trail on Sentinel’s south end rechristened the Pengelly Ridge Trail.
Racers in neither the Double Dip nor Single Dip follow that trail. But Brian Fruit of Missoula followed it on a training run Saturday, and dropped by the start/finish line of the Pengelly at the tailgating area on the University of Montana campus.
Fruit said he paused near the top to touch a large rock with Pengelly’s name etched on it. It notes his birth and death dates, and with a breathtaking southern exposure, includes the late climber’s favorite saying: “Don’t take this for granite.”
If the race bearing his name is any indication, Pengelly could have added: Don’t take it too seriously.
Randy Colbert wasn’t the only race volunteer who arrived at the tiki bar aid station on top of University Mountain dressed in a pink grass skirt, a green lei and a coconut bra. Runners along the trail were offered not only the margarita-tinged nutrition drink but gummy bears and fire balls.
“I wanted to try the margarita but I thought in the interest of not throwing up I should probably avoid that,” said Bryce Burke, 23, of Missoula.
He too took a tumble on a steep downslope, but Burke was racing for a purpose: To get in shape for his wedding next week. He said his wife-to-be, Erika Donnelly of Denver, did the Insanity video workout to prepare, “so I had to at least get on that level. This is somewhat insanity.”
“I started about four weeks ago, which probably isn’t ideal but it worked,” said Burke after crossing the line in a respectable 2 hours, 24 minutes. “The longest I’ve ever run before is nine miles.”
He was accompanied down the home stretch by buddies Austin James and Joe Dillon, who carried a sign that announced to the world: “Getting Married Friday.”
The Double Dip is capped at 200 by U.S. Forest Service permit, because the course crosses sections belonging to that agency. It was a full field.
“A real good turnout,” noted Grant, whose winning time of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 39 seconds was a little more than three minutes off the course mark set two years ago by Kiefer Hahn. “Trail running has gotten so popular here that you see a lot more people showing up at these races.”
It was the first Pengelly for both Grant and Jokisch, but each has spent plenty of time running through these mountains. They were part of her training regimen when she ran for UM, said Jokisch, who graduated in biology last winter.
“I’ve done some version of that course several times, but never the full-on double dip,” said the St. Louis native, who finished in 2 hours, 8 minutes. Kelly Webster set the women’s record last year in just under 1:54.
Grant has won five consecutive 10-kilometer titles at the Missoula Riverbank Run and finished second in the past two Missoula Marathons. He said he normally runs trails to get ready for those kinds of road races, but this year he’s entered the 20-mile Bridger Ridge Run north of Bozeman in August. The Pengelly was a way to get acclimated to that kind of race.
“I made a New Year’s resolution to run up Mount Sentinel at least once a week, so I started in January doing that,” Grant said. “In the snow it’s a lot tougher, obviously.”
Most road races don’t allow time to stop and smell the roses, but the Pengelly is special in that way too. Runners came back in awe at the wildflowers on Mount Sentniel.
“They are gorgeous,” Jokisch said. “That was probably the steepest part too, so I was going the slowest there and had the most time to take them in. So that was a benefit.”