The Montana Cup: Getting Back to Our Cross-Country Roots

"The Montana Cup cross-country meet offers an exploration of Montana’s magnificent open spaces. It is not a road race, nor is it an ultra-endurance trail run; it's a team event, which brings together runners from all of Montana’s cities for competition, racing across country, for the glory of claiming a 'traveling trophy'"
Lead Pack of the 2010 MT Cup

On Saturday, November 1, Missoula hosts the 23rd annual Montana Cup. It's an event that's uniquely Montana. Sure, all-comers cross-country races happen everywhere. But the Montana Cup sets itself apart by being a team competition that divides our massive state into seven distinct regions identified by their biggest city. A different region hosts the race every year, so home field advantage comes in seven-year cycles. The terrain varies from golf-course fast, to horse pasture slow. Some years, it's much more of a trail race than the typical cross country event we know in the U.S. You could call it CC Extreme, a term I've hung on to from my high school days. Back then it meant mixing things up in practice by leaping steeplechase-style over park benches or throwing ourselves off bridges into ponds. There are no park benches in MT Cup, but hay bales, irrigation ditches, and other "obstacles" somehow find their way into course design.

For many of us, cross-county provided the gateway to trail running. Those August morning practices where we racked up our summer miles made an impression. Cross-country kids run through parks, down trails, and some are even lucky enough to run up and down mountains. We did hill repeats up a "mountain" affectionately known as K2. I grew up in the Upper Midwest so our K2 is hardly a mountain in the Montana sense of the term, but after four of five repeats it might as well have been. More than anything, cross-country made running fun and for many of us it planted the seeds for the running adventures we've continued through life. In fact, the founders of Montana Trail Crew (myself, Jeremy Wolf, Jed Rogers, Chris Kollar, and Jason Schlarb) all ran high school cross-country..

The Montana Cup is a chance to bring together old friends and old rivals. Here UM's David Morris and Ray Hunt lead the climb up the flanks of Mt. Sentinel in this 1989 CC Meet. Morris, a freshman at the time, won that day. MT Cup got its start a couple years later on this very course. The men in this photo will line up for a rematch at 2014 Montana Cup --25 years later--this Saturday. 
I came a bit late to the game. Despite joining the track team in seventh grade, I stuck with soccer as my fall sport until the summer after freshman track when my older brother and his CC friends, desperate for a solid 7th man, persuaded me to join their ranks. I suspect that my team, the Red Knights, was a lot like cross-country teams everywhere. A pack of quirky goofballs running through city parks and trails, shouting bizarre inside jokes (mostly targeted at our mild-mannered coach), and chanting, always chanting. When chanting subsided, Beavis and Butthead giggles echoed throughout the pack. That first year was 1993, so unlike the manpri-clad runners of today, we trained through the late fall in long johns under our Umbro shorts. The early 1990s also meant that "grunge" influenced high school harriers. Short sleeve shirts covered long sleeve shirts and red bandannas kept our floppy hair at bay. I share these group dynamics because the team is at the heart of what cross-country is all about. Running is an individual sport, but the team element is as strong in cross-country as any team sport I've ever been a part of. We were the Red Knights, but we called ourselves CC Brothers. At MT Cup running becomes a team sport again, albeit for just one day,
Team Missoula prepping for battle at 2012 MT Cup

Andy Jones-Wilkins, Irunfar's weekly columnist, summed up the CC experience well when he mused last year on "The Beauty and Elegance of Cross County." He described a meet he attended where "all the usual cross-country amenities" were on display: "goofy warm-up cheers just prior to the start, anxious first-time parents waiting for their kids to emerge from the woods, staggering salt-depleted kids stumbling off the trail into the hay bales after starting out too fast, spectacular collapses across the finish line and, of course, the inevitable snot-flying, puke-inducing endings when the heart rate finally falls below 200 and eyesight returns."

Kalispell's Makena Morley leads Missoula's Meg Brooker and Trisha Drobeck at the 2012 MT Cup
Feeling left out for having missed this coming of age moment as a runner? Fret not, you can run the MT Cup. Join packs of grown men and women doing the exact same things as those CC kids AJW described. All are welcome. And next time you take a run along a city trail and spot a pack of cross country kids headed your way (boys teams being easily identifiable by their lack of shirts in 30-degree temperatures) don't forget to smile, those are future mountain runners coming your way.

If you're looking for high end competition MT Cup has that too. It's traditionally the deepest race in all of Montana, an event where track stars meet mountain runners, young vs. old. The $12 entry fee won't translate to prize money, but it does have the potential to earn you some serious bragging rights and besides, the bus ride home is much sweeter with the hardware--the MT Cup it is indeed a cup. You can drink out of it. But you got to win it first and it won't be easy. Here's a rundown on some of the top talent lining up this year, broken down by city (Entrants as of 10/28, no race day registration):

Billings (Black Singlets):

Alan King... "The King of MT Cup" 7-time All-Montana Team (top 7 finisher), 3-time MT Cup Champ. 1:07 half marathoner.

Matthew Winter... Former MT High School AA CC Champ and UM Griz, 2-time All-Montana Team, 2008 MT Cup Champ.

Cesar Mireles... All-American at Rocky Mountain College, 2011 MT Cup Champ, 2-time All Montana Team.

Alan King of Billings on his way to one of his many impressive MT Cup performances in 2010
 Missoula (Maroon)

Diane Cummins (Master)... 1:58 800 meters, Canadian Olympian, MT Cup debut.

Jenny Newton (Master)... 2012 All Montana Team, 9th at 2011 and 2013 MT Cup,

Rye Palen (Master)... 3-time All Montana Team.

Carly Holman... 2012 All Montana Team, 1:23 half marathon.

Elizabeth Paddock... 2-time All Montana Team, 2013 Missoula Marathon Champ.

Jimmy Grant... 4-time All Montana Team.

Mike Foote... 3-time All Montana Team. Representing Hellgate High School and The North Face.

Seth Swanson... MT Cup debut, cross-country debut? 2nd at 2014 Western States 100, 2014  Cascade Crest 100 Champ.

Mark Handelman... 2013 Sentinel Hill Climb Champ, 2:33 at 2014 Boston Marathon, 2011 All Montana Team, 9th in 2013.

Zachariah Miller... MT Cup debut, 2nd at 2013 Big Horn 100, 2-time Bridger Ridge Run runner-up, 5th and 6th place finishes at Western States 100.

Michael Fisher... 2-time All Montana Team, UM Griz, 1:09 half marathon.

Tim Caramore... 2014 Riverbank Run 10K Champ, 4:27 at 2014 Missoula Mile.

Helena (Blue)

Jesse Zentz... 2:36 at 2014 Chicago Marathon, UM Griz and Big Sky Conference mile champ.

David Morris (Master)... 2:09:32 former American record holder in the marathon, UM Griz, NCAA champion at indoor 3000.

Patrick Judge (Master)... 5-time All Montana Team.

Kalispell (White)

Jason Delaney... All Montana Team 2013, 2:19 marathon, 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent Champ,

Calamity Seeley (Master)... All Montana Team 1993, pro triathlete.

Jim Rucker... All Montana Team 2012, 1:07 half marathon,

Cynthia Arnold... 2014 Sentinel Hill Climb Champ, 2nd at 2011 Pikes Peak Ascent, former USATF Trail Marathon Champ.

Butte (Green)

Nicole Hunt (Master)... 16-time All Montana Team, 6-time Montana Cup Champ, former U.S. Mountain Running Team member, and Mt. Washington Road Race Champ.

Ray Hunt (Master)... 11-time All Montana Team, 1998 Montana Cup Champ.

Bozeman (Gold)

Scott Creel (Master)... 10-time Bridger Ridge Run Champ, 2002 MT Cup Champ, 4-time All Montana Team.

Seth Garbett... MSU  Bobcat running unattached, 1:07 half marathon.

Dewey Peacock... 2006 All Montana Team

Great Falls (Red)

Jim Walmsley... Dominant in Montana in 2014 with wins in all types of terrain, distances, and conditions. 4 Mountain West Conference track titles, 8:41 steeple.


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