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Runners boarded buses in the early morning darkness on Sunday, heading to Frenchtown and the starting line of the ninth annual Missoula Marathon.

Ernie Houck paced the parking lot where the runners were dropped off, waiting for the announcement to line up for the full 26.2-mile marathon. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native was running his eighth marathon, his first in Montana. He said he had always wanted a reason to come to the state, and when he looked around online for a race, found the Missoula Marathon.

“I’m actually staying for two weeks in Missoula to see the sights," Houck said. "That’s how I like to do this – run marathons to travel."

Nearby, Missoula resident Megan Barthelmess was ready to get started with her second Missoula Marathon. She said she has been a runner for years, but didn’t decide to do a marathon until a month before the race last year.

“A lot of it for me was I knew it was something I wanted to do and accomplish,” Barthelmess said.

This time around, she was able to spread out her training a little bit more.

Jessica Adams took her place in the starting grid wearing a sign on her back with the photos and names of six combat veterans who committed suicide this year. Adams, originally from Rockville, Maryland, was running for the organization 22 Too Many, a reference to the number of U.S. veterans who die from suicide every day.

“I’m out here to spread awareness about the effects of PTSD,” she said.

With a blast from the cannon, the runners were off.

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For the past four years, the Missoula lodge of the Sons of Norway has staffed an aid station at the 8 1/2-mile mark. This year, they brought everything the runners would need: water, sports drinks and cowbells.

The group emphasizes giving back to the community and volunteering, said Dan Rude, a counselor with the local lodge who previously served as the international president of the organization.

Maryan Alderson said the location of their aid station near the beginning of the race means volunteers have to be up early, but also finish sooner.

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“My husband volunteered last year, but this is my first year I’m available as well,” she said.

At the Maclay Bridge, about 16 miles into the marathon, Chip Ayers waited for his wife Jean Makie to cross. The couple live just outside Washington, D.C., and Ayers said Makie is on course to finish a marathon in all 50 states.

“This is number 49; all she has left is Hawaii,” he said.

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At the finish line, men’s winner Collin Fehr, who broke the half marathon record at the Governor’s Cup in Helena last month, said he came to the race on Sunday looking to win.

“I didn’t know if it was going to be possible,” Fehr said. “It was slow from the start and I was cramping the last nine miles.”

Jason Delaney of Polson rolled in just a minute behind Fehr’s 2-hour, 37-minute run, and Trisha Drobeck of Missoula crossed the finish line less than 10 minutes later to reset the women’s race record.

“I took it slow on purpose out of the gate. I really wanted to have the same first half as the second half,” Drobeck said. “I had that course record in my mind.”

At the finish line for the half marathon, Loretta Lauinger of Lawrence, Kansas, stood with her medal around her neck.

“That’s the first time I’ve run more than 10 miles,” she said.

Lauinger had entered the race with her niece, who lives in Denver, and her 22-year-old son.

Shane Garling, a member of the Air National Guard, came to town from Portland to run his fourth Missoula Marathon.

“I truly do love this course," Garling said. "The temperatures are perfect, and the fans are great." 

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