Runners will challenge themselves this weekend in a pair of ultra-marathons beginning in Pony that might be easier to complete on a horse.
More than 30 runners will go for 50 miles, while about 20 will attempt 100 miles through the Tobacco Root Mountains in The Mystery Ranch Ultra Challenge. The races will not only begin but also end in Pony, a small town of about 100 people about 55 miles east of Butte. Each race will include significant elevation gain, and over 10 miles of running above 8,000 feet.
Alex Papadopoulos, who worked with sponsor Mystery Ranch to organize the races, said it’s the first 100-mile marathon in Montana, and that runners are coming from 15 states and five countries, including Japan, Canada, New Zealand and England.
“We thought the market was prime for a race like this,” Papadopoulos told The Montana Standard this week. “There are a lot of good 50K marathons in Montana, but the extreme 100 was not there, so we said let’s figure it out and get it done.”
Mystery Ranch, owned and run by Dana Gleason and Renee Sippel-Baker, is based in Bozeman and makes high-end backpacks,
The 100-mile race begins at 6 a.m. Friday, while the 50-mile marathon starts at 6 a.m. Saturday. Both begin and end at the Old Pony Gym.
The runners will have 16 hours to complete the 50 miles, and 38 hours to complete the 100. The courses run largely through Forest Service land, mainly on single-track and ATV trails, along with some backcountry roads.
The race will take the runners through the scenery of the Tobacco Roots, and might result in encounters with wildlife. The courses will also take the runners through historic mining areas, including the Garnet Gold Mine.
Papadopoulos said Bozeman’s Zack Miller and Idaho’s Seth Swanson, both known in the running community, plan to compete.
The top male and female runner in the 100-mile race receives $1,000, while the top finishers in the 50-mile run will get $300 each.
Papadopoulos, 39, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, said the race has been in the works for at least year. He’s a runner, and said the 50-mile race was open to anyone, though to register for the 100-miler, a runner had to have completed a ultra-marathon in the past.
Twelve aid stations and four safety points are located on the courses, according to Papadopoulos.
The marathons were limited to 100 participants, and required a permit from the Forest Service. And even though he’s from Washington D.C., Papadopoulos said Bozeman’s Mystery Ranch wanted to inspire local participation.
“We’re trying to keep things grassroots,” he said.
Francis Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.