I love watching this inspirational video for this race.
Location: East Glacier Village, Montana
Start Time: 6:00 AM
The Glacier Half Marathon was by far the most beautiful, challenging, and yet inspirational race I’ve ever run. This half marathon is part of a Vacation Race series of road races where you can vacation (camp) and run a race the same weekend in the same area. All of these races take place in or around National Parks where you can enjoy the race experience as well as take in the added bonus of absolutely stunning views. Ever since I started exploring different locations for road races I wanted to run a national park race and I can definitely say that this was a great one to start off with! If you have ever thought about running one of these races, I’d say just do it because it was an experience of a lifetime. Let’s see how it all went down starting with the expo.
The Glacier Half Marathon Expo was held outdoors at the Red Eagle Campground, which is a convenient and fun area to spend during your Vacation Race weekend. The expo was not very large (consisting of only a dozen or so tents) but it had an incredible presentation led by Chief Earl Oldperson, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Both the race and expo were held on the Blackfeet Reservation, the ancestral homeland of the Blackfeet Tribe. The presentation involved an oral history and story telling of the Blackfeet tribe as well as ceremonial dancing. This was an extraordinary event that everyone became a part of.
After the presentation I hopped in line to pick up my race bib. Plan to get there early if you are picking up your’s up because the line is very long. This expo was a “bag free” event so you had to collect all of your items and place them into your own bag/backpack. There was a small demonstration on how to use your hydropouch (if you requested one when registering) for the race. Since this race is a “cup free” race, this was their solution for an ecofriendly way to get your water on the go, more about that later. We picked up some other goodies, including Goodr sunglasses (our personal favorite) as they were one of the sponsors of the race as well as a cool poster that listed off every single person that registered for the race. There were a few places you could grab something to munch on as well as a s’mores station where you could heat up your own marshmallows. This expo was great because it was different from any other expo we’ve been to.
Since this was a destination race for us, we had to pack smart. The forecast called for cloudy/overcast skies with a 60% chance of rain. On top of that, the morning of the race was starting in the mid to low 40’s and finish around in the low 50’s. I chose to go with my Asics moisture wicking shorts, as well as a moisture wicking long sleeve and t-shirt as my base/midlayer, and finally my Patagonia Houdini jacket, which is my go-to jacket. We also had purchased ponchos for the start of the race to ensure a dry start. You can check out what else I normally pack for travel races in my Pack it up, Pack it in post.
Since the race started at 6AM, all runners needed to be at the starting line prior to that. The only catch is that there was no parking near the starting line, nor any drop off points (or at least there was one 1/4 mile away or so). All runners were to take shuttles (School Bus) to the start.We had to be at the parking lot no later than 5AM because that was when the last shuttle departed. We arrived just in time for the shuttles.
The morning was shaping up to be better than we had expected because it wasn’t raining. It had rained a significant amount overnight making the trek up to the start a little dirty. As soon as we got to the starting area (about a 10 minute drive) we made a quick stop at the porta potty, just to get everything out prior to the race which is very important for any run. We packed our dry/clean clothes into trash bags prior to leaving our car since we knew that the bag check area would be yet another lineup due to the weather conditions.
After we dropped off our bags, we walked through the muddy terrain to get to the starting line. This area seemed to be a bit of a mess because that area was undergoing some construction. There were also no corrals for runners to line up in, which seemed a bit odd. As the sun was beginning to rise, there were a few announcements made, then the National Anthem followed by a Blackfeet honor song and Victory Song,
And just like that, we were off and running! One of the largest elements of the Glacier Half Marathon other than the spectacular view are the hills and this course didn’t disappoint. The first 5 miles you are greeted with a steady uphill battle on Looking Glass Hill. Not only is the elevation adjustment tough for your breathing, but the slow and steady incline makes this a tough start for anyone. The race started at an elevation of 5000 ft and increased to 5980 ft. The winding roads broke up the long straight roads giving you a better view as to how far you’ve gone and how far you had to go as you slowly ascended the incline.
The first hydration station awaited us after mile 3 where you could fill up on water or their version of Gatorade called Gnarly. In an effort to keep the race eco-friendly, the fluid stations didn’t provide cups. You had to use the hydropouch you received from the expo or your own container. It was nice not seeing a river of cups sitting on the roadway, but that area did appear to be congested because it was all self-serve.
When you finally reached the top, you were met with incredible views of Glacier National Park and the prairies below. It was a sense of accomplishment for our team just making it to the top of the hill, so we stopped for a second to enjoy the view. After a brief pause we continued and we were filled with joy as we started to descend Looking Glass Hill. The moment seemed too good to be true because at that point the skies were starting to get a little bit darker. Around mile 6 we felt a couple of raindrops then it slowly turned into a heavier rain. Something felt a little off as we were getting hit with a “stinging rain” and we realized it was hail. It only lasted for about five or ten minutes, but it was bizarre. The rain finally stopped and we continued down the hill.
The downhill for sure helped most of the runners recuperate from the first five miles, but at the 10 mile mark, the next challenge awaited. At first we knew that there was yet another hill waiting for us at mile 10, but we didn’t realize how steep it was. This course wanted you to not forget why it was so challenging. The incline didn’t look so bad at first, but that’s always how they appear. As you started your ascent the worse it became, but as long as you pumped your arms and kept moving, it wasn’t as bad. The incline wasn’t long, but it sure felt like it. After making it over the crest of the hill, it was smooth sailing. This was it, the final mile! The course had left the pavement and continued onto a grass field which led to some dirt trails. The finish line was in sight and you could hear the fans cheering. The rain had picked up again and it was coming down a little harder than before. This course had beaten us in the first act and had continued to challenge us, but we had made it through. Crossing the finish line never seemed so emotional. After grabbing our medals and picking up or snack box we hunted down our items from the gear check. This area could have been a little more organized, or perhaps could have utilized a tent due to the rain. All of the trash bags of dry, clean clothes were laying in the wet grass uncovered. This wasn’t a deal breaker though as the trash bags did hold up.
This race was filled with spectacular scenery, intense inclines, and some rain which made for an amazing experience all around. I’m so glad I had the chance to run this course as it was the experience of a life time. I would recommend this race to anyone who wanted to run a challenging yet rewarding course as it’s absolutely amazing!