Wildfire concerns prompt change for 2019 Missoula Marathon

Posted at 2:43 PM, Jun 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 16:43:25-04

MISSOULA – Runners will hit the pavement a little sooner next summer after Missoula marathon organizers opted to hold the event a couple of weeks earlier.

Why the change? Wildfires.

The Run Wild Board of Directors and the Missoula Marathon Race Committee decided to move the 2019 event to Sunday June 30. That’s a little earlier than the traditional race day in Mid-July.

But over the past years, wildfires in the region pumped so much smoke into the Missoula Valley that it put the runners’ health at risk and made for a miserable run. So after consulting everyone from Destination Missoula to Missoula Parks and Recreation to make sure there wasn’t a conflict, the board decided to schedule the Marathon the last weekend in June.

"The issue of wildfire smoke and fire season, it just seems to start earlier and earlier every year and last year the Lolo Peak fire started right around, I think, the week after the marathon so we realized we kind of dodged a bullet there," said Race Director Tony Banovich. "So we thought, well, it would be a shame to have all these people coming to town and then have to send them away because we had wildfire smoke and it was hazardous to health."

“We’re concerned about the trend we’ve seen with earlier and earlier starts to the fire season in the northwest United States. Our location makes us susceptible to wildfire smoke from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, northern Idaho and western Montana. While the configuration of our valley leads to incredible mountain views, it also can result in wildfire smoke being trapped in the valley. As we’ve seen over the last several years, the air quality can degrade to the point of causing outdoor events to be canceled.”

The Missoula Marathon typically has over 6,500 registered participants, with over 2,500 of those coming from outside of Montana. The event was named the Best Marathon in 2010 by the readers of Runner’s World, the #1 Ranked Marathon in the U.S. by The BibRave 100 in 2017 and was listed by Runner’s World as the #1 Bucket List Marathon for 2018. 

Banovich says they plan to try the new schedule for a couple of years and see how it goes.

The dates for this year’s Missoula Marathon are still on for July 13 through the 15th with the half and full marathons on Sunday July 15.