DILLON — As runners crossed the finish line of the inaugural Beaverhead Marathon and Half Marathon in Saturday in Dillon, two runners from Missoula were by their car, getting into warmer clothes after working through a windy 13 miles.
“Gotta get the sweaty stuff off,” Scott Craigle said, throwing on some extra layers.
He was joined by friend and fellow Missoulian, 37-year-old Michael LaForest, who had just won the half marathon race in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 49 seconds.
“It was kind of his idea and he actually signed me up for it,” LaForest said, referring to his friend. “He didn’t even really tell me, and he was like you can go or not.”
He decided to go, of course. Neither LaForest nor Craigle are strangers to distance running, traveling long distances for distance running, or traveling long distances for something greater.
The two are veterans, both having spent time overseas. Craigle, 61, recalls the first time he met LaForest. It was at a race, naturally, and it was the younger runner’s warm-up routine that caught his attention.
“I see this guy just warming up, for just a 5k,” Craigle said, running in place to mimic LaForest’s intensity. “And I go, I bet that dude’s a veteran. I can relate to that dude.”
They started to see each other at races, and their camaraderie over shared experience gave way to a friendship.
Today, the two runners travel all over running races. LaForest is training for the Missoula full marathon, though Craigle says he sticks to the halves.
But they run for more than just personal records or a dopamine boost. They both volunteer with veterans groups, and they see getting outdoors in any capacity as something cathartic.
“For a lot of vets who are dealing with PTSD issues, doing something physical kind of takes that negative energy, and gets it channeled in a positive direction,” Craigle said. “I’ve found for vets, you don’t have to run — whether you’re walking, swimming or whatever — it kind of makes it so vets can talk to each other."
Montana has among the highest population of veterans in the United States per capita. And while they both admit there aren’t many veterans as into distance running as they are, they’re doing what they can to get Montana veterans involved and engaged in, well, anything.
Craigle came across the finish line on Saturday some time after LaForest, though LaForest had doubled back during his cool down to meet up with his friend and finish the race together.
It's a unique friendship, Craigle said, in that there's an age gap, but there's a bond between the two. There's the running component, and their time in the service. For them, having someone to talk to with a similar background is key.
And getting outdoors, getting active, allows for veterans to loosen up and just talk.
So with their friendship being something of a microcosm of their goal of getting vets outdoors, engaged and together — they next head to Colorado Springs in August. Craigle, who just returned from Colorado Spring for a mountain biking program before Saturday's race, said the two will be there for a leadership program through the Wounded Warriors Project, a nonprofit with the intention of funding programs for vets.
After that, they'll have the ability to return to Missoula and advocate for projects close to home.
Craigle has ideas, like incorporating the Missoula Marathon in some capacity, but he doesn't want to get ahead of himself on the specifics.
For him, just giving fellow veterans opportunities for friendship, like the one he enjoys with LaForest, is the plan.