After weeks of unhealthy air quality, which forced many people inside and discouraged outdoor athletic endeavors, Northwest Montana caught a break and saw blue skies and green dots on air-quality monitors over the weekend.
The respite from the smoke was perfectly timed for the inaugural Montana Distance Festival, a low-key, high-quality track meet held at Libby High School on Aug. 21.
“The conditions were really good for racing,” said Flathead High School graduate Zach Perrin, who now runs professionally for Asics.
Perrin was among a handful of professional runners who took part in the meet, which also featured local high school and collegiate runners as well as community members.
Montana State University runner Duncan Hamilton, a Bozeman High School graduate and state champion in the 1,600-meter run who recently competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, devised the event as an attempt to break the Montana soil records in several events.
The inaugural event ended up featuring just two distances, a 5,000-meter and one-mile run.
The fastest time ever run on Montana soil in the mile is 3:59.76, by Patrick Casey, a runner for the Bobcats in 2011, while the women’s record is 4:44.33 set back in 1996. In the 5,000 meters, the records targeted were 13:56.13 for men and 16:32.30 for women, both records set more than 39 years ago.
Perrin, along with his two brothers Jake and Ben, ran the 5,000 along with Hamilton.
Hamilton won the race, coming up just shy of the record in 13:57.42. Zach Perrin was two seconds back, also dipping under the 14-minute barrier.
On the women’s side, however, Bigfork native Makena Morley shattered the existing record, clocking a time of 15:46.14. Morley, also a professional runner for Asics, finished fourth in the Falmouth Road Race in Boston a week earlier against a world-class field of competitors.
In the mile run, Isaac Updike, a New York-based runner with deep family ties to the Flathead Valley, broke the tape in 4:02.17, which is the fastest time recorded outdoors in Montana (Casey’s 3:59 was run indoors in Bozeman).
Updike also competed in the Olympic Trials in the steeplechase with Hamilton, where he finished fifth, just missing the U.S. Olympic team. The Nike athlete posted on Instagram about the Libby event, adding that it was extra fun getting to race on the same track his mom ran on in high school.
For Perrin, it was his first race back on the track since graduating from the University of Colorado three years ago, and the location made the race extra special.
Perrin still holds the fastest 1600-meter (the metric equivalent to the mile) time run by a high school athlete in Montana, 4:09.24, which he set on the Libby track during a dual meet in 2013.
“It was always everybody’s favorite race of the year, so going back to Libby and running a track race for the first time since college was pretty special for me,” Perrin said. “I think the meet ended up being above everybody’s expectations. Duncan did an amazing job putting on the meet and I can’t wait to see this race grow over the next few years.”
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