Run For Your Life

“But I don’t run fast and my butt jiggles. I can’t run with them!” My next-door neighbor shrinks back from the door, hands on her cheeks, eyes big, when I suggest joining the Wind Drinkers club fun run.

I explain, “You don’t have to run fast or pretty or far. Whatever you do feels good. We’ve got runners from eight months old to eighty-something, and all physiques and abilities. Besides, the fun runs are partly an excuse to get together and socialize.” I assure her of the casualness of the club, and it’s true. Everyone from Ed Anacker, eighty-two-year-old father of the Bridger Ridge Run, to Scott Creel, USA 50K Trail Championship course record holder, and many of their children or grandchildren show up at the local running club fun runs.

Whatever your goals or desires with running, you have every chance of fulfilling them in the Gallatin Valley. Whether you want to keep in shape for your favorite sport, enjoy nature, exercise your dog, train for races, or step up your walking practice, the Bozeman area provides ample and varied opportunity.

Take a look at the Big Sky Wind Drinkers. This Bozeman-based club hosts fun runs every Wednesday evening from mid-May through September. Fifty-plus enthusiastic walkers, joggers, and runners—members and non-members alike—span a wide assortment of body types and athletic prowess at each of the different courses around town. A choice of distances—usually one, three, or six miles—affords everyone a chance to go as far or fast as desired. Fresh fruit, cold beverages and friendly conversation wait at the finish line. For the more ambitious athletes, a Monday night track workout challenges any takers who show up. For the finest in food and laughter, a monthly potluck attracts all family members. To top it off, a newsletter full of amusing or instructive columns and race dates entreats members each month. Call the hotline 585-0283 for upcoming events, or Mark Slater for track workout details at 586-8155. For women-only activities, check the Team WinS (Women in Sports) website at

Running in Bozeman is quickly gaining popularity. In 1979, when the first Sweet Pea Run (now Bozeman Classic) emerged, there wasn’t much of a crowd. Two hundred people signed up for the initial race, which probably included every runner in town. Last year the race topped 1200, with close to a thousand magnetized from Bozeman and the surrounding area alone. Now not a day passes without at least a few runners zipping past on Peet’s Hill or Kagy Boulevard. The Wind Drinker fun runs were lucky to draw 20 brave souls less than a decade ago, while last summer the most popular courses pulled in as many as 80 devotees.

The number of races has kept pace with the explosive growth of the Gallatin Valley. In the ‘80s there was the Bridger Ridge Run and the Sweet Pea Run, both in August, and that was about it. Now every peak summer month claims half a dozen races and the off-season months of April and May boast at least one local running event (see calendar). Take your pick of numerous street 5- and 10-kilometer distances, a handful of gravel road half- and full marathons, and a swelling number of trail adventures from three to 50 miles long.

Trail running has exploded along with mountain biking in the last few years. The Bridger Ridge Run, Bozeman’s ultimate 20-mile trail test over the tops of the Bridger Mountains, has expanded from 24 mountain madmen in its initial year 1985 to a capped high of 250 eager bravehearts last year. Nowadays, a loosely organized Saturday morning trail adventure meets at a different trailhead each week for up to four hours of epic trekking. Call Deb Balaz, 586-5282, for a full trail schedule. Beware the wild critters and wicked weather if braving the trails, and always grab a partner or at least tell someone where you are going. For an excellent listing of mountain trails, see\~thayes .

My neighbor chum is slightly more intrigued by my next enticement regarding trails. “You mean I could go at my own pace and turn back whenever I get tired? I wouldn’t have to run trails for the whole morning?” A small but detectable spark lights up her blue eyes as we discuss the organized trail runs.

“Yeah, we do an out-and-back,” I explain, “so you can turn around whenever you want. Last summer, we went up Spanish Creek to Mirror Lake and saw bighorn sheep and mountain goats. They were frolicking around like some backyard goats. It was really amazing. There are usually six or eight of us, so bears aren’t a problem, but I carry pepper spray just in case. We go every Saturday morning.” She listens wide-eyed and takes a baby step forward.

A small but strong contingent of ultra-runners, those who span more than the 26.2 miles of marathon distance, has recently gathered force. There is no lack of rigorous training routes for those aiming to complete 50 or more miles, and several dozen extremists take advantage of this opportunity. Our own hometown ultra contest is the Bridger 50K (31 miles), held in June before the snow is fully melted, starting at the Middle Cottonwood trailhead. A new event, the Devil’s Backbone, is slotted for mid-July and runs true to its name with a tough 50-mile course from Hyalite trailhead to Windy Pass cabin and back. Both races can be completed (on a good day) by an individual or as a two-person relay team.

Running courses are as varied as hiking trails and touring bike routes combined. As the area’s population soars, city joggers are safer using wider streets such as Kagy, Highland, South Third, campus, or sidewalks. Main Street to the Mountains trail arteries—Gallagator, Chris Boyd Trail, Highland Ridge Trail, East Gallatin Connector, Painted Hills Trails—are excellent close-in yet rural-feeling easy trails. Rocky Mountain Road, the northern extension of Springhill Road, is sparsely trafficked, always plowed, delightfully hilly, incredibly scenic, and a good springtime choice for longer runs. The Gallatin Valley Land Trust, 587-8404, has a wonderful guide to trails around town.

For the more determined hill and thrill seekers, any of the National Forest trails in the Bridger Mountains or Hyalite area are fabulous avenues to adventure. The Bozeman Ranger District of the Gallatin National Forest, 522-2520, has explicit maps of mountain trails. The Beartrap area, west of Four Corners on the banks of the Madison River, melts early and works well for spring trail runs, but watch for ticks and snakes. The Beartooths hold heavy snow usually until July, but the Bridgers thaw as early as June. The “M” to Baldy, facing south, loses its ice before the rest of the Bridgers. Spanish Creek Road leading up to Spanish Creek campground, plowed and scenic, is a good bet in early season. The Yellowstone River Trail, along the river from Gardiner to Tower Junction in Yellowstone National Park, melts early as well.

Arriving at Bridger Bowl in mid-April for the traditional Wind Drinker “Back From Bridger Run,” the first major spring running event in Bozeman, I notice my neighbor gal lining up at the start with a couple of similar-looking friends. She has lost the jiggle and looks ready for the jog.

“Hey, you’re looking lean! You must be getting out these days,” I say with an admiring smile.

“Yeah, I started really running,” she responds, a triumphant grin spreading across her face. “You were right. I lost a few pounds and I feel good.”

She and many others like her have learned to appreciate the relentless demands and shared pleasures of running in the beautiful Bozeman area. Like the Wind Drinkers say, “Fitness cannot be bought, borrowed, or bestowed. Like honor, it must be earned.”

Celia Bertoia owns a race timing business and runs trails every chance she gets. Celia was the race director of the Bozeman Classic from 2001-2003.

Sidebar: The Big Sky Wind Drinkers

Thirty-one years ago, as local runners Frank Newman (still active in the club at age 72), and Andy Blank (currently living in Texas) munched lunch in a Red Lodge café after the grueling Beartooth Run, they toyed with the idea of starting a Bozeman running club. With napkin and pen in hand, the rough outline of a mission statement took shape. Shelley Hoyt, their waitress, served as witness. The name, they hoped, would induce visions of wild horses running freely under the open skies of Montana. The Big Sky Wind Drinkers running club was born, although an actual newsletter and name didn’t materialize until later.

The “napkin charter” read as such: “Be it known that on 30 June 1973 Frank Newman and Andy Blank in Red Lodge, Montana, organized the yet-to-be-named club in the interest of promoting physical fitness through running/jogging and competition. Although physical fitness is the aim, it is recognized that individuals differ in their prowess and adroitness as runners. Therefore, it is not important how fast one runs but that one runs.”

Weekly fun runs and seasonal newsletters kept the group moving forward from its initial membership of 38. Before long Ed Anacker, a former 100-miler, mapped out the Bridger Ridge Run, originally slotted to cover the 30 miles from Flathead Pass to the M, but then wisely cut back to a “mere” 20 miles from Fairy Lake to the M. This scenic ridgetop race has become the premier mountain endurance challenge for locals. The club is also responsible for the Sweet Pea Run (now Bozeman Classic), the largest road race in the area.

Boasting a current membership of nearly 300, there is a core group of perhaps 50 diehards. The Big Sky Wind Drinkers is relatively large for its population base, compared to much larger cities with less active and smaller running clubs. The annual membership dues of $10 cover mailing expenses of the now-monthly newsletter. Members are also privy to discounts at local sports stores and other area businesses. Fun run results are posted in the newspaper every week. Race profits and sponsorship moneys provide the funds for scholarships aimed at high school athletes, treats at fun runs, and prizes for consistent participation in fun runs.

The multi-generational appeal of the club is its enduring trump card. University and high school runners as well as younger and older folks find camaraderie here. It is a family affair, a singles club, and a sports group all in one. In fact, my own recent marriage had its romantic start at an innocent fun run...

For more information or a sample newsletter, send an SASE to BSWD, PO Box 1766, Bozeman, MT 59771. Call the Hotline for upcoming events, 585-0283 or visit


NOTE: Always double check for changes as some dates were tentative at press time. Unless otherwise noted, locations are in Bozeman. Visit for updates.

17Back-From-Bridger Run3, 7, 10, 13, or 18 miles 585-0283
17Circle K Run5K994-2191
24Roskie Run5K994-2173

29Frank Newman Spring Relaymarathon, half, relay585-0283

12 Junior Olympics track events587-7698
12Run for Wellness, Livingston5K222-8282
19Bridger Trail 10-Mile10 mile trail585-0283
26Jim Bridger 50K 50K trail556-1496
26Beartooth Run, Red Lodge4 or 8 mile

9-11Headwaters Relay, Three Forks 264-mile team relay539-0368
10 Drop & Trot5K w/ push-ups 586-7689
17 Devil’s Backbone50 mile mtn run556-1496
17Relay for Life24 hour track run586-5543
18Sweet Grass Festival, Big Timber5K, 10K932-5131

71st Sec Bank Bozeman Classic 5K, 10K, kid’s run585-0283
14Bridger Ridge Run20 mile trail586-8192
14Madison River Run, Ennis5K, 10K682-4388

4Pine Needle Stampede, W Yellowstone11K trail646-7744
4John Colter Run, Headwaters State Pk7 mile trail & river587-1220
11Old Settler’s Run, Clyde Park1 or 3 mile582-0047
11Pony Trot, Pony 5K, 10K trail685-3609
26Lewis & Clark Marathon marathon, ½, relay, 5K556-9736

11Homecoming Run, MSU5K994-7875
11Red Ribbon Run1 mile, 5K522-6020
18Octoberfest Run5K w/ obstacles 586-1737