Back on Our Feet

Nothing can compare the the early-morning mass-start excitement of a road race

By Micah Drew

I was living in Idaho when the pandemic first took off, and I remember the thought that swept through the house when my roommates and I heard that the state was going into lockdown. 

“But what about going for a run?”

I was living with a group of post-collegiate runners at the time, and the prospect of being shut inside for potentially weeks at a time was nearly unfathomable. 

Of course, going on a run, with members of a single household, was well within the COVID-safe criteria we had been given by the governor of Idaho, and we held on to that semblance of normality even as the rest of the world slumped away from “normal.”

We ran together while I watched the high school sports season get canceled, and many of the senior athletes I coached didn’t get their final prep season. 

We ran together when track meets, marathons, Shamrock Shuffles and other fun runs were first delayed, and then canceled. 

When I moved back to Montana, mid-COVID, I wasted little time finding the local running community. As long as I could spend an hour or so of each day out on the trails or the bike path with a few friends, nothing seemed too out of whack. 

There were three running-related moments this spring that successively made me feel that the world was normal again. One of the biggest was when the 2021 track season got underway. After last year, when we announced during the ninth practice of the season that it was already over, getting to see an entire season unfold made for a joyous spring. 

Weeks of showing up to practice to coach a local high school team and watching dozens of high schoolers running, jumping and throwing their hearts out, because it was once again okay to do so, was refreshing. 

It turns out that there was one thing I missed even more than watching a track season unfold, however: actually stepping on the starting line myself. 

Since 2004, when I realized I didn’t have much in the way of hand-eye coordination, I never missed a racing season until 2020. 

In April, I got the opportunity to hop on the track at the Hellroaring Run Club Off the Couch Mile, a semi-annual event where runners gather to race four laps on a track, mostly for bragging rights and to offer runners the chance to spike up for the first time in decades, if not ever. 

That short race was a fun-filled affair that brought back all the nostalgia of racing camaraderie, a feeling that peaked four weeks later, at the Whitefish Marathon. 

In my opinion, road races are the pinnacle of the running community — anyone can participate, everyone ends up with a rad shirt and a finishers get a medal and (for the over 21s) a post-race beer. 

Showing up at Depot Park in May to see swarms of similarly excited people was the moment that the world finally seemed to be right side up to me.

Standing under a giant START/FINISH archway, hearing announcers hyping up the crowds and seeing hundreds of runners stretching, jogging in place and double knotting their shoes, warmed me far more than my warmup run had. 

Seeing races return felt good, but being in the midst of the mass-start excitement again was priceless.

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