HELENA — After winning the women’s half marathon Saturday at the 39th annual Governor’s Cup, Heather Lieberg took to the 5K course with her 6-year-old son Jackson.
It seems there’s no distance the 32-year-old Lieberg won’t tackle.
Sporting bright, neon green shoes, the swift Helenan finished the course in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 29 seconds, smashing the previous course record for women and placing second overall behind winner Collin Fehr of Missoula, whose time of 1:13:11 was also a new mark. It was Lieberg’s first race since running the Boston Marathon in April, where she finished in just over three hours, was the first Montana female to cross the finish line and placed 30th among all women in the field despite treacherous temperatures that reached 90 degrees.
Saturday’s weather proved much more ideal for running for the more than 2,300 finishers, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees and the sun shining. A light wind occasionally gusted, but few competitors complained.
“I’m excited. I haven’t done a half marathon in forever; I usually do marathons,” said Lieberg, who last year became the first-ever female overall winner at the Governor’s Cup Marathon in Billings, posting a women’s course record of 2:52:42. “So I wasn’t sure how to approach this distance but it turned out OK. It was hard ... I’ve ran it a couple times, but each time it gets to me worse and worse.”
Lieberg, who turns 33 next week, had no definite plans for the rest of the year’s race schedule but said the Portland Marathon in October and the Las Vegas “Strip at Night” marathon in December are both possibilities.
The 24-year-old Fehr had never run in the Governor’s Cup prior to this year, and just recently took up the sport a few years ago.
“I used to be a tennis player, but I hurt my shoulder so I started running just to stay in shape,” said Fehr, calling himself a late bloomer. “I ended up being pretty good at it.”
Fehr started his collegiate career as a basketball player for Montana Tech, then ran for the University of Montana cross country and track team from 2009-2011 but was hampered by injuries for much of his college career. Now, the Corvallis High grad is healthy and staying in top form by competing in road races. He said the Governor’s Cup half marathon was a tuneup for the Missoula Marathon, 27 days from now.
“It was a good challenge, though, because of the hills; the hills were tough,” said Fehr, who led from start to finish in the 13.1-mile race. “It’s tough mentally to keep going. But it’s a great course. Even in the hills you get a bit of Helena, overlooking the valley and everything. It’s awesome.”
Half an hour later, Fehr was at the finish line to greet his fiance when she came across. His bride-to-be, Katrina Drennen, won the women’s 10K in 39:15 — her first event since capping her illustrious career at Montana two weeks ago. The 23-year-old Drennen said she always loved running road races with her dad when she was in high school in Washington, but put those on the back burner to focus on college competition. In her career at UM, Drennen was a national qualifier in both cross country and track, a 3,000-meter Big Sky Conference champion and twice was on title-winning relay teams, just to name a few of her accomplishments. It was also Drennen’s first Governor’s Cup.
“I just decided I needed something else to shoot for, and what better way to take advantage of the condition that you’re in than to do road races in the summer?” said Drennen, quick to point out that she wasn’t paying attention to her time. “Being out of the collegiate realm now, it’s nice to not have to improve on your time every race.”
Drennen and Fehr will tie the knot August 4. Running is what brought the two together — they actually met at the Missoula Marathon a few years ago.
Jacob Bradosky was the big winner Saturday, sweeping the 10K and 5K overall titles. The 25-year-old from Great Falls pulled away after the first mile and won the 10K in 33:40, a minute-and-a-half before Independent Record sports editor Jesse Zentz, a month removed from winning the Don’t Fence Me In 12K, crossed the finish line in second place for the second straight year. Helena’s Aubrey Curtis was third, and Pat Judge — running in his 33rd straight Governor’s Cup — finished fourth. Like Bradosky, Zentz and Curtis also doubled up with the 5K. The Vigilante Runners finished that race in seventh and ninth, respectively.
“I wasn’t out for a fast time, I just wanted to win it,” said Bradosky, who ran the 5K in 16:09 — 20 seconds slower than his winning time last year. “I’m trying to get in shape again, and coming off of Boston I thought it would be a good workout.”
Bradosky ran in his fifth Boston Marathon in April but did not finish. The heat was just too much.
“It was a frustrating race,” he said. “Needless to say, I ended up dropping out around mile 16.”
Since then he has run in the Montana Ice Breaker in Great Falls, where he won the 3-mile and was second in the 5-mile race. He is the first person to win the 10K and 5K in the same year since Helena’s Thomas Jodoin accomplished the feat in 2010.
Winning the women’s 5K was a familiar face. Nicole Hunt of Deer Lodge, who has run in the Governor’s Cup “almost every year since 1992,” finished 10th overall in 19:08. The result was even more remarkable considering Hunt just gave birth to twins seven months ago. Asked how it felt moments after finishing, the 42-year-old replied “fabulous.”
“I just love racing so much I had to compete,” said Hunt, who greatly missed running when doctors ordered her to modified bed rest for five months of her pregnancy. The layoff, she said, was “horrible.”
“I went from running two hours one weekend to being put on bed rest the next,” she said.
Despite having the wind in her face for most of the race, Hunt had built an impressive lead over the rest of the women’s field by the time she reached the corner of 6th St. and Cruse Avenue.
Hunt, who holds the women’s 5K record, is no stranger to the podium here. She won the race back-to-back years, in 2009 and 2010.
Despite his hectic schedule, Attorney General Steve Bullock took a break from running for Governor to run in the Governor’s Cup. He compared campaigning to racing — “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” — between competing in the half marathon and running with his kids in the 5K.
“Life’s been a little busy lately so I couldn’t train as much as I wanted to,” Bullock said with a smile. “But it’s a beautiful course.”
In addition to Lieberg, Zentz and Curtis, Helena’s Ashley Basten and Sarah Urban rounded out the local contingent placing in the top three for their gender. Basten and Urban were second and third, respectively, in the women’s 10K. A pair from Townsend found themselves on the podium for the half marathon: Aaron Little, 24, placed second in the half marathon in 1:21:32; and 17-year-old Chiara Warner was third among women in the half marathon. She finished in 1:25:01, about four minutes after Missoula’s Trisha Drobeck took second.
“I was actually really surprised by my time,” said Warner, who shaved more than 6 minutes off her runner-up time from a year ago. She said her goal was to place in the top 3, but knew it would be tough in a crowded women’s field deeper than past years.
“I really just do the Governor’s Cup for fun, though,” Warner said.