Runners assemble

Runners assemble just before the start of the 2012 Missoula Marathon in Frenchtown. 

It isn’t every day 4,000 people participate in the same race.

However, that very unlikelihood will become reality Sunday at 6 a.m., when the seventh annual Missoula Marathon commences.

In addition to Sunday’s full and half marathons, nearly 800 runners will lace up their sneakers at 8 a.m. Saturday for the Missoula 5K.

“We could have gotten more people, but we put a registration cap on the half and full marathon runs,” race director Anders Brooker said. “We just wanted to be able to manage the growth well. Hopefully the race will continue to grow that cap.”

Within the 4,000 runners, 48 U.S. states and eight different countries will be represented at Sunday’s event.

“It’s an international marathon,” Brooker said. “It’s amazing how people from all over the country come here for this.

“Most years, all 50 (states) have been represented, but the registration cap kind of affected that this year, because some people just missed out. I’m not entirely sure which ones won’t be represented this time, but it’s a couple small states on the east coast.”

The full marathon, which spans 26.2 miles and starts in Frenchtown, features 1,500 runners while the half marathon, a 13.1-mile jaunt starting at the Peak Athletic Club near Blue Mountain, includes 3,500 racers.

Both the full and half marathons finish up in downtown Missoula just in front of the Wilma Theatre on Higgins.

Brooker said the routes include various features unique to the area while maintaining the correct race lengths.

“You have to obviously find the right distance,” he said, “but you want to encompass all of Missoula, especially for folks from out of town. You want to make it scenic, but you also want to have fans around cheering, so it’s nice to have some residential sections.

“We had a lot of options, but this course is what made the most sense from a transportation standpoint to a beauty standpoint.”

Aiding Brooker in determining the layout of both courses each year are a group of volunteers who help out on a year-round basis.

“We have a volunteer committee of 30-40 folks that work all year long, meeting once a month,” the third-year race director said. “Then we have smaller work groups outside of those. They work really hard to make this thing happen and that’s the reason it has such a good reputation.”

The number of volunteers Sunday will increase to almost 950 come Sunday, which includes those helping mark off the course, those handing out water to the runners, those keeping track of individual times and more.

“It’s pretty cool for a town the size of Missoula to be able to get that many folks together,” Brooker said. “People that come here from out of town, they’re always excited and surprised by the amount of volunteers that we get.”

In addition to the multitudes of volunteers, Brooker said the event would not be possible without its sponsors.

This year’s Missoula Marathon is funded by 26 different sponsors, including its first-ever title sponsor.

“This year, Kendall Subaru is our title sponsor,” Brooker said. “The Missoula Marathon has never had a title sponsor before, so it’s pretty exciting that Kendall stepped up and made a three-year committment as our title sponsor. They’ve been really good to work with.

“Beyond that, we have a lot of other great sponsors. It’s amazing, the support from the business community that we get.”

Brooker said last year’s event brought in $1.2 million for the city of Missoula, and he expects this year’s mark to be closer to $1.5 million.

While the marathon has an impact on Missoula’s economy, Brooker kept his focus on the healthy impact it makes on the local community.

“It’s now an event in town, where even if you don’t run that much or aren’t that active, people want to find a way to be a part of the Missoula Marathon,” he said. “So that’s pretty exciting.

“It’s been a huge motivator to get people off the couch and get healthy. It’s just fun to see, in the last seven years, people who never thought they would run or walk a distance like that, and they’ve gotten excited about it. That’s probably the neatest part about it.”

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