Runner's Edge Trail Running

Mark Handelman and Mike Foote at the 2013 Sentinel Hill Climb - Credit: Vo Von Sehlen/The Runner's Edge
Over the past six months, Montana Trail Crew has featured stories about some of the best trail races around. We've highlighted events taking place in the desert and along the ocean's coast. But few can argue with the fact that some of the most spectacular terrain anywhere is right here under the Big Sky. That's where Runners Edge comes in. The store hearkens back to the days of the specialty running store as a clubhouse of sorts from where great running adventures get their start. This old-school vibe can no doubt be attributed to the fact the the store's basement houses Run Wild Missoula--the city's 1600 member running club--but it also comes from Runners Edge's unique line-up of trail races.

The Runners Edge started putting on trail running events just a few years ago, but the races already have a great reputation. If you're a runner in Montana, it's pretty obvious why: Runners Edge owner Anders Brooker is everywhere. High school track meet? He's there coaching. Local fundraiser fun run? He's greeting you at the finish line. The biggest and most successful marathon in the Northern Rockies? He's the race director. In short, Brooker and The Runners Edge know a lot about running. But if that isn't enough, enter Mike Foote. The North Face athlete and Runners Edge race director lives in a yurt and logs repeats up and down Mount Sentinel before breakfast. The man knows trails and the key elements that go into designing a top notch trail race. During the thousands of miles he runs each year he's out there scouting venues and scheming up trail races.

Indeed, the events built on The Runners Edge formula take place in the spectacular mountains and open spaces that abound in Montana. Case in point: 11 miles to Paradise. I spotted an opening in my racing schedule last spring and jumped at the chance to toe the line of this Runners Edge classic-in-the-making. I made a quick stop at the store where Foote got me registered himself. A month later I toed the line ready to see what "Paradise" was all about. Foote said a few words and gave quite a few of his trademark grins (the guy is always smiling) before sending us charging through the forest paralleling the Lower Clark Fork in all its spring run-off glory.

11 Miles of fun! The author staying dry at 11 Miles to Paradise - Credit: Vo von Sehlen/The Runner's Edge
Foote, Brooker, and The Runners Edge crew were in their element: shouting logistics on a portable speaker set up, horse-packing in a full buffet of Hammer Nutrition fuels, and putting the finishing touches on a celebratory after party. The thing is, 11 Miles to Paradise is misnomer--but in a good way. It's a little bit less than 11 miles. But so what, the "Paradise" part is, in fact, real. The race takes place in Paradise, Montana, and it's sufficiently spectacular to deserve the name. The exclamation point at the end of this great event is a BBQ that takes place at Quinn's Hot Springs. Nothing like hopping in a mineral pool with a hundred other sweaty runners, right? The whole event felt like a family reunion with the type of extended family you wish you had.
Quinns - Credit: Vo von Sehlen/The Runner's Edge
11 Miles to Paradise is signature Runners Edge. According to Foote, "We have always worked hard in designing a course which has a good flow to it and is equal parts challenging, inspiring and aesthetic." Post race atmosphere is a major consideration too. "Most of our events," Foote explains, "have a full meal, music and often times beer or wine, instead of some day old cut up bagels and bananas." He also points to the little details that help make RE events what they are: "We scrutinize many aspects of our events, from the info on our webpage, to the registration process, to the number of toilets, to the course markings, to the awards ceremony. And of course getting the results posted the same day of the event!"

Besides 11 Miles to Paradise--taking place on May 18--Foote recently filled me in on the rest of Runners Edge's 2014 trail line up:
Marshall Mountain 5K/10K Trail Runs, [August TBA]:  This race takes advantage of the trails built out at Marshall Mountain and, although it is a shorter distance, there are still some punchy and grunt worthy climbs and descents.  We will have live music, a BBQ and beer again this year.
The Rut 12K / 50K / VK, [September 12-13]: I don't event know where to begin with The Rut. Rugged and technical ultra marathon. International elite competition. The amazing venue of Big Sky Resort.  This is the event not to miss as a runner, or spectator, in 2014. Period.
Blue Mountain 30K, [October 5]:  This is a great low key Missoula race with an awesome (and challenging) loop course along the single track trails of Missoula’s Blue Mountain Recreation Area. 
Sentinel Hill Climb, [October TBA]: This baby is a Missoula classic and is a fundraiser for the U of M Triathlon Team. It draws a great community of people and is a simple suffer fest up the M trail and beyond to the summit of Mt. Sentinel.
But if experiencing one-of-a-kind trail races is not enough, consider supporting Runners Edge for their stewardship efforts of behalf of the Montana running community. They support trail work and contribute to organizations that protect open space. Foote encourages runners to do our part too by supporting Five Valleys Land Trust. He also suggests that runners familiarizing themselves with local land management agencies, including the USFS Missoula Ranger District, to learn about upcoming National Forest trail work projects (Recreation Specialist Al Hilshey can be reached at and local open space projects available through Missoula Parks and Recreation Department (Morgan Valliant at
Marshall Mountain Trail Runs - Credit: Vo von Sehlen/The Runner's Edge
In short, The Runners Edge is all about many of the very same things Montana Trail Crew is all about: running and racing in amazing places, growing our community, and advocating on behalf of the lands we love. The team at Runners Edge are fans of big mountains and elite competition too, so I did my best to get the inside scoop on how things are shaping up with this year's Rut 50K, an event that's serving as the 2014 Skyrunner Championships (and one I'm hoping to compete in this year). What I found out is that the level of talent in this year's race is nothing short of amazing. Among those we can expect to see racing are Emilie Forsberg, Stephanie Howe, Sage Canaday, and Killian Jornet. For fellow Montanans out there, we still have time--but not much time--to secure our spot in this amazing event.


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