6,000 runners congregate in Missoula for Sunday’s marathon, half-marathon

Missoula Marathon race director Tony Banovich met with reporters Friday to discuss the impact of the event on Missoula. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

The Missoula Marathon and Half-Marathon are Sunday, bringing in runners from across the world to participate in one of the nation’s top-rated races.

About 40 percent of the 6,000 participants hail from out of state, and the community is a big part of the draw, Missoula Marathon race director Tony Banovich said at a news conference on Friday.

Unlike larger cities that host marathons, Banovich said Missoula residents greet runners as they pass through their neighborhoods, setting up sprinklers, waving signs of encouragement, even offering snacks.

And then there is the legion of volunteers.

“We’ll have 700-plus volunteers, community people coming out and helping us because they love to be part of it, they love to be connected back to it,” Banovich said. “So I think through that, that is something we have that those big cities can’t provide.”

The 12th annual Missoula Marathon is hosted by Run Wild Missoula, a nonprofit that supports and promotes running and walking for people of all ages and abilities.

With more than 6,000 registered runners, Banovich expects the event will benefit Montana charities and the local economy.

“We appear that we’re approaching around $2 million of economic impact for the weekend,” he said.

Every hotel room booked in town, so the bed tax will circulate back to Destination Missoula, which helps promote the city. Foot traffic downtown will contribute to local businesses, while runners who travel here from other states and countries may decide to stay and spend their vacation in the Garden City.

Charities also benefit from marathon proceeds, with Run Wild Missoula donating about $40,000 to local charities like the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center and youth running programs.

“It’s an important part of why we believe that we’re here – to give those things back and to make sure that we help our community be vibrant,” Banovich said.

The weekend’s events include a marathon, half-marathon, the Missoula 5K and the Missoula Kids Marathon.

The race was named one of 10 Bucket List Marathons You Should Run In 2018 by Runner’s World and was ranked as the No. 1 Marathon in the U.S. in 2017 by The BibRave 100.

While runners from 14 countries will participate this year, employees of marathon title sponsor Consumer Direct Care Network will also take part. About 15 local companies will run in the 5K Corporate Challenge as part of an employee wellness challenge.

Consumer Direct Care Network employees Larrisa Richards and Brittany Savoy are Missoula Marathon veterans, and are excited to see other employees run as well.

“It gets everybody here also excited about being healthier, getting out, and meeting people. It’s not just a job here, it’s also about the employees and their health,” Richards said.

Richards has run the last four years, while Savoy is participating in her eighth year.

“I just love to get out there and know that I’ve done something healthy for myself and for my department even. We get all excited about it,” Richards said.

Both have family members who started participating because of their involvement, and to Banovich that’s an important reason why the marathon exists.

“My brother did start running the half [marathon] and now he’s aiming for a full, so it has inspired him and some family to start running,” Savoy said.

Due to increasingly long wildfire seasons and the threat of the marathon being canceled in years past, Run Wild Missoula has chosen to move the Missoula Marathon to the last Sunday in June starting in 2019.

“The perception is clearly that it’ll be much cooler in June, and so avoiding the smoke and [having] potentially cooler temperatures, that’s all good stuff,” Banovich said.

The Missoula community is excited to participate every year in different ways, Banovich said, and seeing the runners cross the finish line is what makes it a reality.

“We see that emotion come out at the finish line,” he said. “People who had this as their bucket list item, people running on behalf of somebody. They get there and it’s a huge deal to see it, and that’s what my entire year is geared toward – watching that happen at the finish line.”

The weekend started Friday night with the Missoula Marathon Beer Run.

On Saturday at 8 a.m., the 5K race will start and the Missoula Kids Marathon will begin at 10 a.m.

Sunday will be the marathon and half-marathon, starting at 6 a.m. in Frenchtown for marathoners and at Alpine Physical Therapy/PEAK Health & Wellness for half-marathoners. For all, the much-anticipated finish line is in front of the Wilma Building.