Runners enjoy the best of Big Sky Country


55-year-old Doug Jacobson of Pullman, Wash. closes in on Clover Meadows campground and the finish line of the 2011 Madison Marathon on Sunday in the Gravelly Mountains south of Ennis. Jacobson has run sub-three hour marathons in fived different decades. Photo by Ben Coulter

The Gravelly Mountains hosted the fourth annual Madison Marathon on Sunday, where runners took to the road for a race unlike any other in America – and possibly the world.

The official website for the race promotes the event as the highest elevation road marathon in America, but that didn’t stop 200 entrants from gathering at Clover Meadows campground early Sunday morning to give their best effort. Athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes were shuttled from the campground 13.1 miles to the starting line at Black Butte Mountain, where the race began at approximately 9:30.

As the runners slowly began to trickle into the half way point, it was clear that some were more affected by the high alpine conditions than others. While 18-year-old Samuel Wietlispach, of Joliet, Ill., reached the campground ahead of the pack, finishing second in the half marathon with a time of 1:33:50, he admitted to the difficulties of running at elevation.

“I’m glad I didn’t do the full marathon,” Wietlispach said after finishing the race. Going from the lowlands to the highlands is kind of interesting. The air is definitely thinner and the hills on this course make it really challenging.”

Other athletes, like Danielle Dykstra of Bozeman, were less affected by the altitude.

“I think if you run just even in Bozeman you’re fine,” Loomis said. “What most people notice are the hills. But I love hills.”

Mile marker 13 displays the approximate elevation from the side of the Gravelly Range Road near the finish of the 2011 Madison Marathon. A sign with an inspirational quote was taped to each marker along the course. Photo by Ben Coulter

Sue Jacobson traveled from Pullman, Wash. to watch her husband Doug compete in the half marathon. As she walked a short way up the course to watch the runners close in on the finish, she reflected on the venue.

“Its drop dead gorgeous,” Jacobson said. “Its road like this all the way, and there’s no traffic. The views are beautiful the whole time.”

This year’s full marathon champions were Eric Huff of Sheridan and Debbie Gibson of Helena. New course records for the half marathon were set by men’s champion Thomas Joidin of Helena, with a time of 1:26:28, and women’s champion Megan Ross of Franklin, Mass., with a time of 1:39:17. The Jack Creekers, a group of local runners from Ennis and Big Sky, won the team competition with a time of 4:04:45.

Race director Sam Korsmoe was busy calling out times as runners crossed the finish line at Clover Meadows campground. With more than twice the number of competitors as last years race, Korsmoe had his hands full.

“I didn’t sleep very well for about two weeks, because of all the logistics,” he said.

But the race came off without a hitch thanks to a large support staff and perfect weather that made for ideal racing conditions.

“The reason it went well is because of the volunteers from Madison County,” Korsmoe said.

There were no casualties during the race, and the only injuries were aching joints and a few sore backs. Korsmoe said one athlete commented online that he had “never been so happy to puke after a race.”

When asked about his overall impressions of this year’s race, Korsmoe replied, “On a scale of one to ten, this was definitely a nine.”

Why not a perfect score? As one runner chugged along near the half way point, he commented on the clouds of biting insects. “I thought we had bugs back in Maine, but these horseflies look like hummingbirds!”

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