BOP-Friendly Races

Missoula is lucky to have such a large and supportive Back of the Pack running community. I got a reminder of that recently during the Governor’s Cup Marathon in Helena.

I ended up stopping halfway through, partly because of a screaming knee. But probably an equal factor was my self-consciousness about the fact that the folks at the aid stations were stuck waiting for me long after the rest of the pack had passed. Lesson learned: Make sure a run is BOP-friendly before signing up for it.
But how to tell?

The trusty Internet is full of recommendations for marathons whose finish lines stay up long past the point when the elite runners zoom past. A few years ago, the New York Times ran a story insultingly (at least to this proud plodder) headlined “Plodders Have a Place, But Is It In a Marathon?” It noted that the Honolulu Marathon doesn’t take down its finish line until the last participant has passed, and that 44 percent of participants finish in more than 6 hours.

The Times also gave a nod to the wonderfully flat Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, D.C., which mandates a 14-minute-per-mile pace, and the New York City Marathon. There’s no cutoff time for the latter, but streets reopen after 8 hours.

Other sites deemed the Walt Disney World Marathon, which clocked runners past 8 hours; as well as the Portland (2012’s final runner finished in 12:20) and Philadelphia (final 2012 finisher, 8:25:10) marathons as particularly friendly to slower or first-time runners. (Beware the latter category – the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas is touted as great for first-timers, but this year is increasing the time limit to five hours.) And, we got a personal recommendation from Rolf Tandberg for the Foot Traffic Flat on Sauvie Island near Portland – with strawberry shortcake at the end! I’m all about running a marathon in Hawaii or Florida or especially my default hometown of Philly, but what about closer to home?

It’s a good idea to look at finish times for previous years’ races – and also to check to see how many people finished later, so you won’t find yourself repeating my solo experience. A quick survey shows BOPers at other Montana marathons, but not in the numbers that make the Missoula Marathon such a cozy experience. Still, last year’s Governor’s Cup Marathon in Billings and the Bozeman Marathon had healthy contingents of 5-hour plus runners, with Billings’ final finisher coming in at 8:06:57 and Bozeman’s at 7:10:29. The 2012 Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish saw fully half the women competitors (final 7:00:53.6) and about a third of the men (final 6:04:50.0) finish in more than 5 hours.

And I might not want to give up so fast on the Helena Governor’s Cup.  Although the vast majority of runners came in under 5 hours, a hardy handful – nine of the 65 runners, to be exact – finished between 5 and 6:49:38.22, verging comfortably into BOP territory. Let’s hope that next year, they’ll have lots more company.

Gwen Florio

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