On Saturday morning, roughly 1,000 runners will take to the streets of Whitefish for the 16th annual Whitefish Marathon, Half Marathon and 5k. This year’s event will host the Road Runners Club of America Montana State Championship marathon on a new course and feature a celebrity guest appearance and a post-race celebration held in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce’s FishFest.
“Last year we had a record number of participants, and we’re on pace to meet or even beat that,” said Art Krueger, director of the Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center, which puts on the marathon. “We’re always so excited for the race. It’s awesome how the community comes together for events like this.”
The Whitefish Marathon has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2004, when a group of runners set out to find a way to spend 26.2 miles circumnavigating Whitefish Lake on trails. They successfully mapped out a challenging, albeit scenic, course and the Two Bear Marathon came into existence.
For many years the Two Bear Marathon course changed every year, utilizing a mixture of trails and roads around Whitefish Lake, before Krueger opted to pursue a different format to increase the event’s fundraising ability. The event shifted to the spring and the races moved entirely to the roads, allowing the marathon to become a Boston Marathon qualifying course.
The continued growth of the new format has directly helped both the Wave’s Member Assistance program that allows community members who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to enroll at the facility on a sliding scale and its School to Pool program that teaches third graders how to swim as well as water-based lifesaving techniques. Krueger said last year’s even brought in more than $40,000, fully funding School to Pool and partially funding hundreds of Wave members.
The marathon course is getting another facelift this year, as several hundred feet of elevation have been eliminated from the back half of the race and runners will instead enjoy an additional loop near Whitefish Lake. There are no course changes for the half marathon or 5k races.
“The few miles of deviations in the marathon take out some of the hills in the race and it’ll be very exciting to see how that comes together for runners,” Kreuger said.
This is the second year the Whitefish Marathon has partnered with Hammer Nutrition as a presenting sponsor, and Hammer-sponsored ultrarunner Dean Karnazes will be joining the weekend’s festivities, as well as running the marathon. Karnazes, known by the moniker “Ultramarathon Man,” is a bestselling author who has run, among other things, 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and won the prestigious Badwater Ultramarathon.
2023 marks the third year in a row the Whitefish Marathon has surpassed 1,000 total registrations. Last year the full marathon saw 148 finishers, making it the third largest marathon in Montana behind Missoula and Bozeman. The half marathon had a record 359 finishers last year, again the third largest in the state.
The race starts and finishes at Depot Park and this year the post-race celebrations will be held in conjunction with downtown Whitefish’s Fish Fest, an event that will feature live music all day and promote local businesses.
“Our primary objective is to enhance the overall race experience for our participants regardless of their experience level,” Kreuger said in a press release. “This year we’re thrilled to introduce an upgraded course, host special guests, and feature the RRCA Championship race, all of which contribute to the heightened enthusiasm. We’re confident this year’s event will be unforgettable and will inspire participants to return to Whitefish year after year.”
With smoky conditions inundating the Flathead Valley this week, Kreuger said race officials are considering contingency plans in case air quality on Saturday unhealthy, but is hopeful that the smoke will dissipate with an upcoming storm system. A final determination will be made late Friday or early Saturday morning.
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