Around Thanksgiving, when most people are thinking about self-indulgence and intense laziness, Matthew Smeltzer is thinking about running.
As Turkey Day neared last fall, Smeltzer was lamenting that the only Thanksgiving race for runners in the Flathead was in Polson. Smeltzer lives in Whitefish, and a nearly 140-mile roundtrip drive for a 5-kilometer race is difficult to justify.
Then Smeltzer looked at his calendar more closely and saw that Thanksgiving wasn’t the only day in need of an organized race. By the beginning of this year, Smeltzer had created Run Whitefish, a nonprofit running club that holds weekly group runs and races.
“I talked to a buddy who wanted a trail race series in the area,” Smeltzer said. “Then I thought a club would be good to build a foundation and have people come together and network for the races.”
Smeltzer organizes two group runs each week, which are open to anybody. On Tuesdays, runners meet at 6 a.m. outside of the Wave in Whitefish and on Saturdays they meet at the downtown Montana Coffee Traders at 8 a.m.
The group runs are generally small affairs, with a half-dozen or so people. Sometimes, as one would expect with a 6 a.m. starting time, Smeltzer is all by himself. The runs are social gatherings, with a noncompetitive feel that’s inviting for all abilities, Smeltzer said. On occasions, they’re followed by a cup of coffee or a mountain bike ride.
“These are all people I wouldn’t have known if not for publicizing these events,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer is trying to get the word out about his weekly races. Called the “Rotary Race,” in recognition of the local Rotary’s donations to Run Whitefish, the weekly race is held every Thursday at 6 p.m. at Whitefish’s Canoe Park until August, when it moves to Memorial Park.
Results are posted in local publications and prizes are awarded. The prizes are donated by local businesses, such as Hammer Nutrition and the Toggery. Participants in the weekly races must be members of Run Whitefish. Annual membership costs $10 for an individual or $20 for a family. Club membership is approaching 50, Smeltzer said.
Members range from accomplished runners like Vonda Garcia, who won the 10-kilometer race at the Whitefish Lake Run on June 26, to runners who are just getting started.
“It’s all walks of life for sure,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer has also organized two other well-attended races: the WAG race on May 16 to benefit the dog park in Whitefish and the Fish Trails race on June 6 to benefit the city’s “Fish Trails” system. The races drew hundreds of participants and raised $800 for the WAG dog park and $250 for Fish Trails.
“The bigger goal of the club is to be giving money back to community,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer hopes to contribute through more races like the Fish Trails and WAG events, and also through his competitive timing equipment, which uses chip technology for highly accurate results that can be posted online instantaneously.
He charges fees for races to use the equipment and hopes that money can build up enough for Run Whitefish to begin contributing money to local student-athletes for scholarships and financial aid for participating in national meets.
Run Whitefish is a nonprofit organization through the Road Runners Club of America. Donations are tax-deductible. For more information about the club and its races, go to www.runwhitefish.org or call Smeltzer at 406-212-2842.