MISSOULA — It isn't exactly the normal time for the race, but with concerns over COVID-19 still in some organizers' minds, a race is a race even if it is held later than usual.
The Bitterroot Runoff 5 & 10-mile trail runs are set for Saturday morning on single and double track private trails along the foothills just outside of Lolo. The race is typically held in April during the runoff season, but was moved to July due to concerns at the time about the pandemic — concerns which forced some races like the Missoula Marathon to be virtual only.
It is also a special one of sorts for race organizer Adam Peterman. He joined The Runner's Edge in January 2020, just before the pandemic-caused shutdowns hit much of the United States.
He went into his new job expecting to organize in-person races, but instead became accustomed to virtual races that swept the racing world for a good part of the past year.
"It's awesome for me," he said. " ...There were definitely times in 2020 when I was like 'Man, this isn't what I expected, writing emails and being a virtual race director.' ... It's nice that we are actually having races now, you see people in person and have that interaction. I'm just stoked to be a real, in-person race director."
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Saturday's race will be Peterman's second in-person race he has led, the first being the Sentinel Hill Climb last April. The 2020 addition of the Bitterroot Runoff was held in October of that year, in-person but restricted to a much smaller group with strict rules to avoid potential exposure to the virus.
At the Bitterroot Runoff, Peterman said about 300 to 400 runners are expected to run in intervals in the five and 10-mile races, which start with the shorter race at 7:30 a.m. and the longer starting at about 8:30 a.m.
Registration was slow at first, but Peterman said it picked up after April leading into the summer months.
"I think people are really excited to be back out there again and be able to race," he said. "It's almost a return to normal — there is not a lot that is different now. ... (Saturday) we will have a 10-minute window that the runners can start during. They can start at any time during that window to spread out, but I've noticed that as we have gone farther and farther away from COVID, people are just starting with the gun now."
For the 10-mile race, runners will pass by the same aid station at miles 2 and 6.5. Runners in the five-mile race will have one aid station at mile 2. There will also be food and drink at the finish area.
As for the courses, there is some elevation gain running through the hills. Runners face 2,025 feet of climbing in the 10-mile and about 1,000 over the five-mile race. Nothing too bad, but still a hilly run. The ground is smooth, devoid of rocks for the most part Peterman said.
The 10-mile route follows the double and single track trail, climbing for two miles up to the first aid station through open ponderosa pine forest. After the aid station, the grade lessens before runners join up with the Viking trail, which leads to the high point of the course at mile marker four. From the high point, the route descends back to the aid station (mile 6.5), allowing runners a second chance for water and food before the final push to the finish.
The five-mile course climbs the first 2.5 miles on both double and single-track trail, reaching an aid station at mile marker two. After the aid station, runners will take a right hand turn and begin the descent back to the finishing area. The course winds down the Owl Alley single track section before popping out of the trees and into the finishing meadow.
For a full map of the course, go here.