Trail Adventure Insights with Martin Miller

Martin Miller, race director of Don't Fence Me In Trail Race. PC Dave Hagen

Helena’s Don’t Fence Me In (DFMI) trail race, which kicks off MTC's Treasure State Trail Series, was established by Prickly Pear Land Trust 17 years ago and quickly grew to one of Montana’s premier trail races.  In 2016 DFMI’s 30k, 12k and 5k attracted over 650 runners.  In this month’s Trail Adventure Insights meet Martin Miller, race director of the event since its inception. Martin began running Ultras in 1990.  He has completed over 90 ultramarathons from 28 miles (Quad Dipsea) to 100s (including clockwise and counter-clockwise Hardrock 100 finishes).

When and why was the Prickly Pear DFMI trail race established?
My relationship with Prickly Pear Land Trust started with involvement in the genesis of the Don’t Fence Me In trail running event. PPLT has done, and continues to do, a huge amount of work to establish the trail system here in the Helena area. From negotiating access to cooperating with government agencies at all levels, including trail design and maintenance, PPLT has grown a first rate trail system. As one committee member said, “We really have won the lottery here.”
The event was originally held in 2000 as a 10 km/5 km. It was the result of a brain spasm by
at-the-time PPLT board member Kris Larson. She approached me with questions about potential course routes.

Part of the thinking about the event was to use it as a fundraiser, but it included an aspect of
showing off and celebrating the trail system. As such, when it comes to course design, I’ve
always been open to incorporating new trails and changing it up so other parts of the trail system get included. That said, I really like the 12 km course and have no plans to change it. The 12 km was added, I believe, in ’06, and the 30 km in ’08. Part of the impetus for the changes was that it had become a larger event, and PPLT wanted it to start in town for more visibility and community involvement.
Tom Hayes running up Mt Ascension. PC Janice Miller

What is unique about DFMI 12k and 30k trail race?
I think the breadth of support from the entire trail user community is pretty unique. Casual hikers and serious mountain bikers all come out in support. The mountain biker course monitors blowing on vuvuzuelas last year made for a pretty unusual run! You can hear those things a long ways off!

Another interesting aspect has been the diversity of runners who come out and run. A group of runners from Girls Thrive (ages approximately 11-13) ran the 5 km after contributing to the volunteer effort by spray painting arrows on the pavement portions of the courses the day before. Bob Hayes has called me to go thru his internal debate whether to run the 12 km or the 30 km… and opting for the 12 km so he could get back to Missoula in time to go contra dancing! Don’t Fence Me In has been the early stepping stone in the stellar ultrarunning careers of Rob Krar and Jim Walmsley. In Walmsley’s case, the DFMI 12 km was his first ever trail race!
Megan Roche winner of 2016 DFMI 30k

How has the race benefited land conservation?
I think over and beyond the fund raising aspect, the courses do a good job of showing off the trail system. In the past, casual users were loving Mt. Helena to death. It’s a city park and has some great trails. I would go for a run there and see large numbers of folks on the trails. Then I’d go for a run on Mt Ascension or the Rodney Ridge area and see hardly anyone. The trail usage is spread over the whole system much more evenly now.

Also worth considering: The race, which has close to 800 participants, gets people outside on public land. By getting them to appreciate what is available to them, we hope that it also inspires them to take action to protect it, whether it’s through donation, volunteering, talking to legislators or simply sharing with others what they love about open spaces.
Speedy masters runners Debbie Gibson and Michele Bazzenella PC: Janice Miller

How can runners help preserve the wild lands of Montana?
There are lots of opportunities for volunteer work and advocacy. There are lots of ways to volunteer – trail work days, race committees, leading hikes/trail runs, generally getting more people involved with caring for wild lands. The opportunities for advocacy include open lands day at the Capitol, and writing letters to the editor.

What is the vision of Prickly Pear trail race and the land trust?
PPLT’s vision is to connect land and people. We hope that by hosting a race that brings so many trail lovers together to explore and experience the South Hills Trails, that we are inspiring and encouraging folks to protect what they love.
Missoula's speedy ultra distance runner Milton Zhinin-Barreto

In your opinion should more races partner with land conservation organizations and if so why?
Land conservation organizations work to protect the very places that so many runners spend their time training and racing. It’s a win-win partnership.

Thank you for all the work you and Prickly Pear Land Trust do for a meaningful and valuable cause. I am grateful for the opportunity of racing Don't Fence Me In. Running on beautiful trails while supporting a worthy cause is important to me and all runners alike.


Nicole Murray features Montana trail runners and other inspiring individuals in her monthly blog posts called Trail Adventure Insights. She loves running in the mountains, traveling, adventure, exploring wild places and the simple things in life such as campfire stargazing. Nicole has been coaching runners and helping them turn their dreams into reality since 2001.


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