City Love

I posted a few pictures yesterday on Facebook in an album titled “Missoula Marathon 2012.” That is what the event is called, but in addition to a full marathon there’s a half-marathon, a relay, a 5K, and a Kid’s run. A lot of my friends “liked” my album and the individual photos, and with each click I almost felt obligated to clarify: You know I “just” ran the half? Right?

But there’s something odd to me about the word “just.” Just is one of those words that has a wide range of meaning—everything from morally right to deserved to only.

In the case of my marathon it means “only” or “no more than” the half. Sort of like when people say “we’re just friends,” as if being more than friends would be better, when in fact sometimes it’s not. Or like when people say, “I’ll just have the bacon double cheeseburger, with fries, and might as well have onion rings,” then when asked if they want a drink say, “Okay, I’ll just have a diet coke.”

In a lot of cases “just” is quite a lot.

I ran the half-marathon in 2008, and in 2010 and 2011 my mother came out and we “just” walked it. After I ran the 2008 half-marathon I was with a friend who told his mother I’d just finished the half-marathon to which she replied: “What happened to the other half?” She was being funny, but for some reason it stuck with me. Is the other half necessary? Is it too much? Is it more than enough?

A lot of people run full marathons, sometimes multiple marathons in a year. Sometimes marathons on challenging terrain. Sometimes marathons with a live band at every mile. Sometimes marathon that hurt their bodies beyond repair.

Some people never run a full marathon; I am one of those people.

I’ve thought about it. I love running and its ability to reset me when my wiring goes haywire. I love that running requires so little and gives so much, and I will do it until my body tells me not too. I’ll do it when it’s too hot, too cold, too icy, too dark. That said, I’m not physically constructed “like a runner,” and definitely fall into the category of built for comfort and not for speed. I don’t think running a full marathon would serve me well, so I gratefully accept my ability to run just half.

Just half is a lot. It’s 13.1 miles, and in Missoula that is all on pavement. It starts at 6:00, which means a wake up time around 4:00. On July 8th the sun rose before 6:00 and there was light popping over the hills before that, but still…waking up that early is just not just. It feels downright inhumane to be awake at that hour wondering: have I eaten enough? Have I pooped? Have I hydrated? Have I completely lost my mind? {emphasis on that last one.}

But then you get downtown and start to feel the energy of the thousands of other runners taking school busses to the start. You’re glad you have a rack of ponytail holders on your wrist so you can give one to the woman who can’t believe she forgot. You see bodies that have trained and bodies that have not. You see runners, walkers, and hand-cyclers. You see wheelchairs. You see t-shirts announcing the runner is running in loving memory of someone. You think: maybe I haven’t lost it. You know: I can do this.

You hear the Star-Spangled Banner and you put your hand over your heart. You might tear up. You see the guys running in superhero underpants, the girls running in tutus. You smile. But the national anthem ends, the shot is fired, the fireworks go off, and so do you.

Afterward you’ll hear about the ten-year old who finished (just the half) and the woman who ran NOT just the half after sustaining a traumatic brain injury twelve years ago and had to learn to walk and then to run. You’re in awe.

I didn’t train for this event. I hadn’t run more than five miles since last fall and I was technically unprepared. The week before the marathon I googled “ running a half-marathon without training” but the results were inconclusive; I was going to have to find that answer within myself, and myself said, “YES!” Then it said, “maybe,” then it said, “yes” again. I caught myself on a yes and signed up less than twenty-four hours before the event. I made my decision they way I’ve made most of my decisions in life: would I rather try and fail then not try and not know?

trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes. trytrytry. yesyesyes.

There were times I was propelled along by the energy of the runners all around me, but most of the time I was in my own little world. I enjoyed toggling back and forth between running with thousands of others runners and going within, telling myself I was “just going on a nice Sunday run across town, listening to music, enjoying the views.” The body is powerful, but the mind even more so.

I made myself a killer playlist that had about eight days worth of songs on it. Some of the songs I’ve loved in my past didn’t deliver the way I’d hoped, and some songs that I’d added on a hunch got me turning my legs over in ways I didn’t expect. House of Pain “Jump Around.” Gwen Stefani “The Sweet Escape.” Tiffany “I think we’re Alone Now.” Kid Rock “Bawitdaba.” Sugarland “Stuck on You.” Barry White “Can’t Get Enough.” Sublime, “Santeria.”

Wow, there really isn’t a lot of shame left in my game…

Because I went into the event “untrained” I told myself I could walk some if I needed to, but it turned out that if I ran at my own pace I didn’t need to. It took me two-and-a-half hours to finish, with my miles averaging out at 11:40. I almost felt guilty because at the end I had some juice to spare, but I stopped myself: why is it necessary to push ourselves to exhaustion or injury? Why can’t we just enjoy ourselves?

The Missoula Marathon has been rated among the best in the US, and was ranked #1 by Runner’s World in 2010. That’s great. It’s great for our community and for the runners who get to experience the improvements every year even as the event continues to grow. If the Missoula Marathon has growing pains they are not apparent; every year the efficiency improves but the hometown feel remains.

Formal and informal surveys alike continually name one thing as the factor that makes the Missoula Marathon so incredible. Everyone agrees that the scenery is lovely and the climate is dry and comfortable, but it’s the people that really make it special.

The marathon volunteers give us water, sort our bags, and cheer us on. My bus driver told every single person who got off to “have a good run.” Then there’s the man playing his grand piano on his lawn across from the Bitterroot River just after 6:00am. There’s the guy with the record player. There are the dozens of people who set up sprinklers in front of their houses, some rigged high on ladders so you can run through a shower. There are the people drinking coffee wrapped in blankets sitting on tailgates, the kids in pajamas, the mothers in robes. The dogs. There are the kids handing out otter pops (I got pink!) and the coolers of ice with signs to “help yourself.” There is so much cheering, so much support, so much city love.

I don’t live in Missoula for the skiing, the fishing, or the mountain biking: I live here (and love it) because of the people. Missoula people are so awesome. My close friends, my extended friends, the barista at the coffee shop, the stranger who changed my tire, the three-year old (also a “stranger”) who gave Lucky a tennis ball at the Big Dipper last night. I’ll say it again: Missoula people are so awesome.

Yeah, I guess it’s just the people.

Thanks, again, Missoula.



  1. Craig says:

    Sweet Jaime…a very sweet post about the city you love. I had similar feelings last Saturday after the Market, and the love I was feeling from out guests. They feel it too…yes, the scenery is beautiful, the weather comfortable…but our guest come back because of the people.

    1. jaimestathis says:

      Thanks, Craig! We are so lucky!

  2. wonderful read 🙂

    1. jaimestathis says:

      Thanks, Christy!

  3. hemingwayrun says:

    Nice blog entry! I’ve entered my first half marathon in Sept so looking for inspiration…! Congrats!

    1. jaimestathis says:

      Thank you! Where are you running in September? Remember above all to have fun!

  4. Frank said he saw you cranking it out on the course. Awesome! Way to finish! I love that you put yourself out there, just for the sake of trying. What a courageous choice! Love ya. Shelby

    1. jaimestathis says:

      Thanks, Shelby! It was so much fun!

  5. Kate says:

    Yay! Jaime! I’m not surprised, if anyone were going to make an impulsive decision to run a half marathon, it would be you 🙂 xoxo

  6. derekberry says:

    So true about the bacon cheeseburgers. I also dislike it when people say they’re “just” going to the beach on vacation like that is not a big deal.

  7. iRuniBreathe says:

    What a great way to sum up the energy of a run. Congrats on your finish and remember that it’s never “just” anything. It’s ALL of the half-marathon you ran!
    Take care!

  8. What an awesome post. I also ran ‘just’ the half 🙂
    A fellow Missoulian put up a sign that I saw about mile 6. It said simply “today is the day you dig deep.” I repeated it in my head all through the run, every time my energy was waning, when I wanted to slow down.
    It helped me almost as much as the next sign that I saw that said, “Run faster, I’m ready for a cocktail!” haha. Thanks for summing up the experience, and your love for Missoula, in such an eloquent way.

    1. jaimestathis says:

      I saw the “dig deep” sign too! I love how we help each other in ways that are sometimes impossible to know and measure….Thanks for reading!

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