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MISSOULA — Whether he was running the Missoula Marathon's full distance, half distance, handing out water at aid stations or just taking in the view from the finish line, Bob Hayes did it all with a beaming smile across his face.

But Hayes, the beloved senior ultrarunner who embodied the spirit of Missoula, will be absent from the crowd this weekend. He passed away at the age of 91 in May. 

"It's a void," Georgia Cobbs, Hayes' running partner, said. "There's no one who can fill it because no one else can be like Bob. You have to find some other icon or you have to run for yourself, or run to be like Bob was."

Anders Brooker — the founder of Runners Edge, head cross country coach at Missoula Hellgate and otherwise a major contributor to the Missoula running community — agreed. 

"It's going to be weird not having him at the Missoula Marathon," Brooker said. "And it's even bigger than that. There's a hole right now in the Missoula running community affecting people of all different ages. There are young kids that would go out to races and be infatuated by this old guy out there running.

"The whole running community is going to miss him. But Bob, he lived a long, great life and inspired a lot of people. And I think, more than anything, it's something to celebrate."

MARATHON MEMORIES

Hayes last ran in the Missoula half-marathon in 2016, placing 849th out of 893 at the age of 89. He crossed the finish line with a time of 3 hours, 31 minutes, 59.44 seconds.

No one older is believed to have completed either the full or half marathon distance in the 11-year history of the Missoula Marathon, race director Tony Banovich said. 

"I can't think of anybody over 90 that's been here," Banovich said. 

Hayes also holds the time record in both the full and half marathons for male octogenarians. 

Tom Hayes, one of Bob's three children, said that his father didn't dwell on his age.

"Whether he would say it or not, he wanted to be remembered as a person that kept on going and really did," Tom said. "... You could guess how many times he heard, 'You inspire me.' He'd say, 'Oh come on. I'm just out doing it. When people say you inspire them, that means you're getting old.'

"He didn't talk about how old he was, ever. He wouldn't say, 'I'm getting older,' or 'I'm getting slower.' If people talked about his age, he just didn't respond to it. He didn't want to talk about age."

Tom hopes that people remember his father for getting out and being active.

"We need to stay active one way or another," Tom said. "Maybe not run marathons, but we need to stay active the entire time we're aging and not say, 'Oops. It's time to sit on the couch.'"

Hayes' continued legacy isn't just about how he finished races. It's about how he affected people at those races, too. 

Margarita Time

Cobbs' first go at the Missoula Marathon's half marathon in 2013 didn't go according to plan.

She fell around two miles in and needed to ice her leg wound at every other aid station. Bob Hayes, Cobbs' running partner, kept giving her Hammer Gel to keep her energized and hydrated. 

Despite the injury, Cobbs finished arm-in-arm with Hayes. Cobbs then made a beeline for the nurse's tent to get checked out. 

"Bob follows me in, trying to give me what I thought was more Hammer Gel," Cobbs remembered. "I said, 'I don't need any more Hammer Gel.'"

It wasn't Hammer Gel. It was a frozen margarita that he carried in his fanny pack during the race. 

"'What? It's 9 o'clock in the morning,'" Cobbs remembered saying. "I took a sip. Wow, was it ever good."

Finish Line Excitement

Banovich doesn't have a specific, individual memory that stands out to him involving Hayes, but rather his general attitude.

Especially Hayes' demeanor when he'd approach the finish line. 

"He just had this big smile that he always wore across that finish line," Banovich said. "He was so exuberant when he came across. He was so excited. You could tell he really enjoyed interacting with people along the finish line. 

"Just watching him at 86, 87, 88, 89, having that exuberance and that excitement of still being out there and being active, that big smile that he'd have coming across the line."

Hayes' finishes were also something Brooker, who announces the Missoula Marathon and other local races, remembered as well. 

"Whenever you would say, 'Here comes Bob Hayes,' he would start hooting and hollering about 50 yards out from the finish line to get everybody excited," Brooker said with a laugh. 

THE SHOW GOES ON

Nearly 6,000 people will converge on the streets of Missoula for the 5K, half and full marathon this weekend.

And many of those who knew Hayes will remember him in their own way. 

"If I'm at the finish line at the Missoula Marathon this year, I'll think about the time that Bob Hayes would normally come in," Brooker said. "Missing that, everybody loved it.

"... I get excited thinking about the life he lived and the impact he made. I'm not sad because I know he had such a big impact on so many people. The only thing that makes me sad is that I hope he knew that. You hope he knew the impact he had on everybody."

Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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