Q&A with Run Flathead's Brian Miller

The Herron Half features plenty to distract you from its nearly 2500' of climbing. 
For many of us here in the Treasure State, summer means getting out and exploring new terrain. The Flathead Valley is always a top draw and while there is no shortage of well-known places to run there, it also holds plenty of hidden gems that are worth checking out. One way to find such places is jump into a local trail race. That's what I did back in June when I signed up for the Herron Half, located at Herron Park near Kalispell. After the race I caught up with Race Director Brian Miller of Run Flathead, who agreed to fill us in on how he started organizing trail races and what we can expect from a new event he's planning to debut this fall. -JG

MTC: First, trail running appears to be a family affair for the Millers, with multiple generations of finishers in the recent Herron Half trail races. Can you tell us a little bit about your running background and how you got into the sport of trail running?

Brian: Though I ran cross country in high school at Missoula Hellgate in the early 80’s, I didn’t embrace running until around 2005 when I began searching for a more efficient form of conditioning and recreation that wouldn’t take me away from my young family for long periods. So, instead of doing a long hike in Glacier National Park, I would run the same route in the morning then be able to hang out with my family the rest of the day. As my two sons entered their teenage years, they joined me and have now fully committed to the running lifestyle.

My 85 year old mother, who is competing in her 8th-in-a-row Missoula Half Marathon, took up running in her 40’s and 50’s but is now content to walk the distance. Her training consists of weekly hikes with a Missoula-based Tuesday hiking group as well as training through the programs offered through Run Wild Missoula. She has been and continues to be my model of graceful aging.
The Millers on the homestretch of the the Missoula Marathon 
MTC: The Herron Half just completed its 7th running. What sparked the idea for the race? Can you offer a bit of history of how it has evolved into the three-distance event that it is today? 

Brian: When I embraced the running lifestyle, I saw the opportunity to connect with other runners through my profession as a physical therapist. Along with Jamie Lynn, a fellow runner and personal trainer (now Physical Therapy Assistant), I began teaching running clinics in the Flathead Valley to help runners become more efficient at their sport and to prevent injury. When thinking about ways to reach more runners and to offer support to an organization (Foy’s to Blacktail Trails) that has created and maintained some of our favorite trails in Herron Park, we decided to put on a ½ marathon and 10k in 2012 at Herron Park. It has since expanded to a 5K and kids’ race. Though Jamie has moved to Missoula and is no longer able to help, I now have the board of the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails Organization as well as many other generous volunteers helping me refine and grow the race.
The Herron Half
MTC: The Herron Half is an important fundraiser for the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails. Can you share some information about the organization, the trail system, and how the running community has been involved in this ever-expanding trail network? 

Brian: Foy’s to Blacktail Trails (FTBT) was started in 2001 by a group of people that had been using trails between Herron Park (only 120 acres at the time) and Forest Service land to the south. They realized permanent public access to this land was not guaranteed. In order to find a way to permanently keep access open, they formed FTBT as a 501c3 non-profit that could be used for fundraising and purchasing land prior to transfer to Flathead County management. From 2008 to 2014, FTBT purchased, in phases, 320 acres of private land adjacent to Herron Park that were at risk for sale and development. FTBT raised $2.25 million from individuals, businesses, foundations and agencies to purchase this land and transfer it to Flathead County as an addition to Herron Park.

Southwest of Herron Park, the newest section of the FTBT was completed in 2017. It passes through 8 miles of private land before connecting with USFS land. Six private landowners granted a 15 foot wide permanent trail easement to Flathead County for the construction of a trail that goes from Herron Park to the summit of Blacktail Mountain. This trail connects with the new Lakeside to Blacktail Trail that comes up from the community of Lakeside on Flathead Lake, creating a 20+ mile long single track trail through forests and along ridges in the greater Blacktail Mountain region.

MTC: If you were to recommend a long run route to our readers from outside the Flathead who've never been to Herron Park or the Foy’s to Blacktail trail, what would it be?

Brian: Go to the race website (http://www.runflathead.com/herron-half-10k-5k/) and print a map of the Herron Half courses, then pick a distance that suits your interest, time and training levels. You can also find a map for all of the Herron Park trails here: http://www.foystoblacktailtrails.org//wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FTBT-Map-2015.jpg. We hope to have a map of the new Foy’s to Blacktail Trail by the end of July, 2018, which will be posted here: http://www.foystoblacktailtrails.org/trails-maps/

MTC: I understand that you've got a new event in store for this trail system. Can you tell us some of the details about it and why we ought to save a spot on our calendar?

Brian: On September 23, 2018, my son, Reed, and I will put on the first annual Foy’s to Blacktail Trails Marathon. This race will start at the trailhead for the Lakeside to Blacktail trail, climb to the summit of Blacktail Mountain, complete a ~3 mile loop in the ski area, then connect back to the Foy’s to Blacktail Trail down to Herron Park. See the profile below to get a taste of the elevation:

We will have a map of the race available at the race’s new website, which is on the web page designer’s desk as I write. Check with the www.runflathead.com website for updates periodically this summer, though here is a draft view of the route YET TO BE FINALIZED:

MTC: Finally, besides the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails what is your favorite place to go on an adventure run in the Flathead?

Brian: The Whitefish Legacy Partners (https://www.whitefishlegacy.org/trailheads/) have put together a wonderful trail network in the north end of the valley for trail runners, hikers, and mountain bikers. You could spend days running trails in this network, and you can also pick one of a series of race distances in their annual race in October. The Swan Range, including the Jewel Basin, also have many wonderful trails to run and hike. We truly are blessed in the Flathead Valley!


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