The Road to Boston

By Beacon Staff

Of the 54 Montanans competing in the Boston Marathon April 18, four are from the Flathead Valley. And though their ages, experience and background vary widely, they share a love for running, and a long-held desire to compete in the most storied marathon in America.

Earning a spot wasn’t easy. Unlike other marathons, the qualifying times for Boston are strict and difficult. A male runner in the 45-49 age group, for example, must have run a prior marathon – 26.2 miles – in 3 hours and 30 minutes or less. (The women’s time for that age group is four hours.) The younger the runner, the tighter the time.

And though there are more difficult courses, the Boston Marathon holds a special place of esteem in the world of long-distance running. For one thing, it’s the oldest: This year’s marathon will be the 115th, in a tradition dating back to 1897, when 15 men made up the starting field. The first woman to run the full Boston Marathon was Roberta Gibb, in 1966, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

This year, more than 27,000 runners are signed up to compete. Here are the four from the Flathead.

GIL JORDAN

Age: 65

Home: Coram

Occupation: Executive Director, Museum at Central School

Gil Jordan has had his eye on Boston since he ran his first marathon in Helena in 1993.

“I don’t get excited about very many things anymore, but the Boston Marathon is just absolutely the mecca of the sport,” he said, during an interview in his office, the walls of which are adorned with medals, photos and ribbons from his running career.

Running in Portland in 2009, Jordan finally came in under the qualifying time with 15 seconds to spare.

“It took me almost 19 years and 34 marathons to fully qualify,” Jordan said. “I had to get old enough to where the time was slow enough that I could run it.”

“By staying in decent shape over the years, I’ve finally been able to do it,” he added.

Describing himself as, “a student of marathons,” Jordan has run enough to know how to prepare for a long-distance run, and he has been training hard for Boston. He plans to have run approximately 700 miles in the 18 weeks leading up to the marathon, and he has not run less than 40 miles per week since the beginning of January. As the weather has warmed, he has been pounding the pavement along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 2 between Coram and West Glacier. The reason, he said, is “out of respect for this race.”

Jordan aims to derive deep satisfaction from running the Boston Marathon and experience it fully, to not simply endure it: “So I can literally soak it in and enjoy the ambience,” he said. “I don’t want to be dying and miss all that.”

Around 30 marathon medals hang on the wall in Gil Jordan’s office at The Museum at Central School above a Boston Qualifier sticker and a Steve Prefontaine quote reading, “Don’t think too much. Run spontaneously, like an animal.”

Jordan’s anticipation of the Boston Marathon is palpable when discussing it, and neither his reasons for competing nor his commitment to running are complicated.

“I run to feel good and to be fit, because I like the way it feels to be fit,” Jordan said. “And I like even better the way it feels to be in marathon shape.”

“I fully intend to be running marathons when I’m 90 years old,” he added.

KENT LAUDON

Age: 47

Home: Kalispell

Occupation: Wolf Biologist, Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Though he has run several marathons, Kent Laudon is primarily a trail runner, and the bulk of his training so far has been on snowshoes. As a result, he is very much looking forward to the Boston Marathon.

“I cannot wait to feel a solid surface under my feet again,” Laudon said, adding that he doubts the thousands of other competitors gathering in Boston regularly encounter wolves, lions and bears during training. “What would they think if they knew what kind of conditions I trained in?”

Laudon’s first marathon was the Two Bear in Whitefish three years ago. He didn’t train very hard for it, and on a hilly course, managed to finish in under four hours.

“What if I really trained and I ran something flatter, how close could I really get to Boston?” he recalled thinking. “It seems like it’s every long-distance runner’s dream, maybe, to run Boston.”

Several months later, Laudon ran the Seattle Marathon in 3:18.

Laudon acknowledged he should probably have logged more miles so far, though it’s not an unusual approach for him.

“I’m really going in undertrained, but it seems like it’s kind of always the case,” he said. His job, however, occasionally lends itself to workouts: Some days, he runs from one wolf monitoring station to the next along gated fire roads.

Laudon is shooting for a sub-3:30 time, and is betting that Boston’s altitude helps.

“I’m hoping at sea level I get a little bit of a bump,” he said.

JILL CLARK

Age: 44

Home: Kalispell

Occupation: Server, Scotty’s Bar

Jill Clark had to run the Missoula Marathon in under 3 hours and 50 minutes to qualify for Boston. Her time was 3:49:53. But that wasn’t the most nerve-wracking experience preparing for Boston; it was the online registration.

The running community was shocked when registration for this year’s Boston Marathon reached capacity in a matter of hours. The previous year, it took weeks to fill, and everyone interviewed for this story said they barely managed to log in and sign up.

“I was absolutely panicked,” Clark said, but she managed to get her race number, marking the culmination of three years of training, often in rain and snow. Though she has always been a runner, Clark laced up her running shoes three years ago and dove back into the sport with the goal of qualifying for Boston.

“It’s Boston. It’s a legendary race,” Clark said. “It’s the big daddy.”

But she is well prepared, and said she felt strong after a 21-mile day last week, despite getting over Achilles tendonitis. On a recent visit to New England, she drove the course with her husband, and knows what to expect. But in Massachusetts in April, the weather could vary wildly, and Clark is hoping the running conditions mirror Montana.

“It’s a lot of people, and a lot of things could happen,” Clark said. “I want it to be cool; I don’t want to run in the heat.”

Clark is also motivated by her goal to raise $5,000 for the American Cancer Society through her run. She has raised $3,700 so far, and invites anyone to help by visiting the website http://determination.acsevents.org and entering her name to support an athlete.

RICHARD BRILES

Age: 56

Home: Between Creston and Bigfork

Occupation: Internal Medicine Physician

Richard Briles has already run the Boston Marathon once, and it didn’t go well.

Though he has been running long-distance for less than five years, Briles put the Boston Marathon on his “Bucket List,” and when he ran it last year, it was his second marathon. But as an emergency room doctor, his sleep schedule was thrown off the week before the race, he over-trained and arrived in Boston from a redeye flight feeling like he was coming down with something.

“I could barely carry my suitcases I was so weak,” he recalled.

To compensate, he ate a large meal that didn’t sit right, and on race day found himself feeling exactly how you don’t want to feel staring at 26.2 miles of New England pavement. In the parlance of endurance athletes, Briles “bonked” halfway through, though he managed to finish.

“It really was an eye-opener last year that on the big stage, everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Briles said. “I learned that I’m not bulletproof and this time I’m doing it right.”

Though he still doesn’t consider himself an experienced runner, Briles learned from last year’s errors.

“This year, going back a second time, it’s definitely going to be helpful,” he said. “It was a big learning experience.”

And Briles wants to finish in under 3:30, which he said, “isn’t earth-shattering, but isn’t bad for a guy my age.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.