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Running in cool weather under intermittent cloudy skies, Mark Messmer and Jenny Wolfe are the 2017 Governor’s Cup marathon champions. It was the first GC title for each, and they both have a way to go to catch Heather Lieberg, who garnered her eighth Gov Cup crown during Saturday’s race.

Messmer, 24, covered the 26.2-mile distance from Marysville to the Lewis & Clark Public Library in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 45 seconds, while outrunning the field of 57 entrants. He finished ahead of fellow Missoulian and runner-up Jimmy Grant, 38, by slightly more than 2 minutes. Grant came in at 2:35:51.

“Oh man, I’m hurtin’,” said Messmer after crossing the finish line, as he bent over with a grimace on his face. “The last four miles were a killer; it felt like those hills never ended.

“Jimmy and I were neck-and-neck the first 14 miles, but when the wind got stronger, he fell behind and started drafting on me. I thought to myself, ‘That’s not happening,’ and I put on a surge at about 14 1/2 miles, which was a little earlier than I wanted to.”

Messmer’s time is the GC’s fastest marathon since Collin Fehr’s 2:33:41 in 2014.

“Other than a pretty strong head wind, it was beautiful weather overall, and that scenery coming down from Marysville is awesome,” related Messmer, who owns a PR of 2:31.

Lieberg, 37, captured the women’s 5K in 17:45, which was good enough for third overall (men and women), just 0.5 out of second place. The Helena native now owns three marathon championships, two half marathon and two 5K titles, and one 10K crown, in Governor’s Cup competitions.

Lieberg also possesses Gov Cup records in the marathon, half marathon and 10K.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be a record today, but it might have been if not for mile 2,” she said, referring to Nicole Hunt’s event mark of 17:11. “I’m just not mentally prepared for that second mile; it’s mostly uphill, and I guess I’m kinda of scared of falling apart later.

“But I was stronger at finish than last year -- at least I was able to kick at the end -- and my time is still in the (race’s) top 10.”

Actually her Saturday’s race ranks No. 7 in GC history, 11 seconds off her 2016 winning mark of 17:34, which stands No. 5.

Leah Esposito, a two-time national champion for Carroll College, placed second in 19:08.

“It’s a hard course, but I’m happy with my race, considering I’ve had two weeks off,” said Esposito, a Helena High alum. “I was doing good until the last mile.”

Wolfe, 40, posted a time of 3:16:30 to garner the women’s marathon in a field of 53 competitors.

“I’m a little sad about my time, but I had fun, and the course was beautiful,” said the Bozeman athlete, who owns a PR of 3:03. “Plus I’m enjoying watching a lot of people I know run.”

The top Helena finishers in the marathon were Matt Roberts, 33, fifth in the men's race in 2:48:21, and Darlene Jatkowski, 56, 20th in the women's’ 4:21:40, which placed her third in the seniors division.

“I reached my goal of top five and getting into the 2:40s,” said Roberts, who established a PR on Saturday. “The wind was out of the east, which is opposite of what we usually have. But the Birdseye roller coaster was like air conditioning, and it was a blessing compared to (the heat) I went through at Boston.”

Roberts, a Capital High grad who moved back to Helena not long ago after living in Missoula, Billings and Great Falls, described the special feeling of competing in your own backyard.

“I just can’t express how much it means to run this race in my hometown, to do well, with all the support of family and friends,” he said. “And what a treat when my uncle Dave (a 2:31 marathoner) called me on Tuesday and gave me the do’s and don’ts of this course.”

Helena’s Kyle Strode, 53, won the seniors in 3:08:15, while finishing seventh overall.

In the half marathon, Silas Talbot (Bozeman) won the men's in 1:14:43, with Keely West (Great Falls) claiming the women’s event at 1:23:01. The fastest Capital City finishers were third-place showings by Shilo Hernandez (1:17:32) and Betsy Miller (1:28:28).

Sam Read (Bozeman) captured the men's 10K in 33:45, while Helena’s Julie Ackerlund, 51, garnered the women’s event in 44:12.

Patrick Judge, 47, ran a 38:31 to cop the masters title and came in eighth overall. Judge, a four-time open champion and the 1999 marathon winner, was competing in his 38th consecutive Governor’s Cup. The Helena native actually lowered his 2016 time by over a minute.

Patrick’s late father, Gov. Tom Judge, was co-founder of the Governor’s Cup (with Clayton Linebarger) in 1974.

The men's 5K was captured by Ismael Arzola (Lemmon, South Dakota), with a 16:34 clocking. Peter Dan Sullivan won seniors at 18:40, fourth overall.

Curt Synness is on Twitter @curtsynnes_IR and can be reached at

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