MISSOULA — Mark Messmer's first go at the Missoula Marathon didn't go as planned.
Technically, he didn't go at all. Messmer entered to run in the event back when he was a freshman in college, but had to pull out last minute due to an illness.
Since then, the Missoula Sentinel and University of Montana alumnus has been near the top of the finisher's list with three top-5 finishes in the half marathon and two top-4 finishes in the full marathon.
But Messmer's first taste of hometown victory came on Sunday when he crossed the finish line over the Higgins Avenue bridge with a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 54 seconds.
"It's definitely pretty special to hear everybody. That bridge erupts when the first person comes across the line. For that to be me this year was really special," Messmer said. "Running through the tape was awesome."
Messmer's win is his second victory this summer. The Spartan won the half marathon at the Governor's Cup back in June and broke the course record.
"Last year it was a little tough to do the full in Helena and then come back exactly a month later and do this," Messmer said. "So I decided to do the half (in Helena) and I thought it was the right decision. I felt good for the half and obviously good enough to get the win here today. It's been a good few weeks."
Polson native Jason Delaney finished in second and Kurt Michels of Tucson, Arizona, placed third.
On the women's side, Great Falls' Keely Baker (née West) edged out Missoula's Trisha Drobeck for the win. Billings' Chelsea Dana finished third.
Great Falls’ Keely Baker (née West) is your women’s #MissoulaMarathon champion. Baker finished with an unofficial time of 2:51:47. That’s the fourth fastest time in marathon history and the fastest time by a person who isn’t Trisha Drobeck. pic.twitter.com/uXGJSbPS8L— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) July 15, 2018
Baker, who ran as Keely West last year before getting married in August, clocked in at 2:51:46. That's the fourth fastest time in Missoula Marathon history and is the best time recorded on the course by someone other than Drobeck.
Drobeck returned to the full marathon this year after running the half marathon last year just three months after having her first child. Her time of 2:53:28 is the sixth fastest in course history as well.
"I knew in the months leading up to it that she would be my competition going into it," Baker said of Drobeck.
With Epi-Pen in hand, Bigfork native and University of Colorado All-American Makena Morley fought off her allergies to cruise to win the women's half marathon for the third year in a row with a time of 1:15:50.
Morley's time narrowly eclipsed Heather Lieberg's 2015 record of 1:15:54.
The times were so close, in fact, that race officials couldn't officially announce Morley as the new course record holder until after results had been verified.
"It'd be so awesome," Morley said of potentially breaking the record before her time was official. "I saw the clock and I kinda dry heaved a little bit, but it's OK, I kept in. I was like, 'Don't throw up.'"
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The only non-Montanan to win an event Sunday morning was Lakewood, Colorado, resident Fernando Cabada. Cabada clocked in a time of 1:07:51 for the first place plaque.
Cabada placed 13th at this year's rendition of the London Marathon and ran in the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials. His personal best, which he ran in 2014 in Houston, is a 1:02:00.
"I got a B+ today," Cabada said. "It was great."
Cabada, 36, had never raced in Montana before, let alone Missoula, but he was impressed with the course and hopes to return.
"It's a good course. It's a fair course. I hope I can be back," Cabada said. "Time is running out for me. I have three, four more years as a pro. Maybe I'll come back as an old timer. I had a good time. I hope I can come back.
Lakeside native and former Kalispell Flathead standout Zach Perrin took second place and Bozeman's Carson Vickroy placed third.
University of Montana President Seth Bodnar finished the marathon with a smile on his face, but on the inside, his ankle was screaming.
"Well, I finished. That's the most important part. I had a little bit of an ankle injury on about mile eight, so I really had to slow down and just get across," Bodnar said. "It was a really nice race. It was really well done. It's nice to see the community come out in force to support everybody running. It's a great example of Missoula."
The Missoula Marathon was the third official marathon for Bodnar, who took office in January. He joked to the Missoulian back in February that he didn't want to guess how many 20-plus-mile ruck marches he did while in the Army.
Bodnar, a father of three with a hectic work schedule, said didn't log nearly the mileage he wanted to during his training, but he made the most with what he had.
"I didn't live up to my expectations," Bodnar said, "but the race and the event certainly did."
Cynthia Arnold of Polson crushed a Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon won by a woman pushing a triple stroller. Arnold's time of 1:29:08 blew the old record of 1:47.32.4 of the water.
Roughly 100 prep athletes took part in Sunday's festivities, including future Lady Griz basketball player and track and field athlete Kylie Frohlich. Frohlich finished her first half marathon in under two hours.
Former Bozeman Hawk Leonard McComas placed 11th overall and second for the 15-19 age group. Former Great Falls runner and future Bobcat Teagan Olson finished just behind McComas.
A large Missoula Hellgate contingent took part in the half marathon too with Isaac Schmidt, a future Montana State Bobcat, placing 16th in the half marathon. Fellow Knight Ella DeGrandpre, Class AA's runner up in the 3,200-meter run, placed second for the 15-19 age group.