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Jimmy Grant runs the trail along the Clark Fork River on Thursday pushing his daughters, Addy, left, and Amelia in front of him. Grant has finished second three times in the Missoula Marathon but figures, “I’m going to be really lucky to get second – or even fourth, with the level of talent that they have this year.”

Jimmy Grant has won a handful of YMCA Riverbank Runs and is a third of his way through running in every one of Montana’s wilderness areas.

One of the few things he’s still chasing is victory in the Missoula Marathon.

Grant has been close. He finished fourth in the inaugural race in 2007. In 2009 he was second. In 2010 he won the half-marathon, then went back to the marathon and finished second again in 2011 and 2012.

“Then I took last year off,” said the transplanted Minnesotan. “Now I’m back again. And I’m going to be really lucky to get second – or even fourth, with the level of talent that they have this year.”

Yet Grant is a major player in an ever-deepening field for Run Wild Missoula’s signature event. He’s had a long running career interrupted by college, though when he came to the University of Montana it was with a goal of running cross country.

“But I just wasn’t that motivated, I guess,” he said. “I liked the mountains too much. I spent a lot of time up at Snowbowl.”

Grant, who just turned 36, also spent those years playing hockey for UM’s club team. In fact hockey was the major pursuit when he was growing up, though he joined his road-racing dad on runs.

“I followed suit more or less to stay in shape for hockey,” he said.

When Grant was on UM’s team – his last year was 1998 – the Fighting Griz would drive to Helena to find ice time. These days, he’ll cover the distance between Missoula and the state capital in four ultra-marathons.

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Grant’s running career took off well after he graduated from UM with a history degree. He spent five years working for the National Park Service in Wyoming and then headed off to graduate school at Providence College in Rhode Island.

With fewer mountains to ski, he began running again.

“In 2006 I ran my first marathon, in Burlington, Vermont,” he said. “It was kind of one of those things – my father being a marathoner, I figured I’d eventually run one. I finally had enough time to dedicate to it.”

It didn’t go swimmingly, though his time of 3 hours, 4 minutes was impressive – especially when you factor in how much of the course he walked.

“Not so good,” he said. “I didn’t train very specifically. It was pretty rough the last six miles, but I qualified for the Boston Marathon. So I had to keep going.”

He ran Boston in 2007 and then – and it’s hard not to think this is cool – he found a job back in Missoula.

“It was always on the radar,” said Grant, who met his wife Lori at UM. “I thought it was unlikely, but I also thought if I had the opportunity to come back it’d be a great place to live. And it has been.”

From his office at Historical Research Associates, Grant can see where the finish line will be for the Missoula Marathon. In 2007 he was interviewing for a job and was a little banged-up from Boston. He hadn’t gotten back up to distance after Boston but he couldn’t pass up Missoula’s race.

“It was the first marathon,” Grant said. “I thought I’d better jump in.”

He ran with the eventual winner, Kiefer Hahn, for 19 or so miles.

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Trail runs have drawn Grant in these days. He skipped the Riverbank Run in May to take on the 30-kilometer Don’t Fence Me In trail run outside Helena. He finished fifth, “in about the time I’d hoped for.”

This ended a run of five straight Riverbank 10K titles. Grant figured he was going to get beat at some point, and these longer trail runs – The Rut 50K (31 miles) at Big Sky is his next race, on Sept. 13 – are “kind of in my sweet spot,” he said.

Along the way, and in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act that was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Grant is trying to run in every one of Montana’s 15 (or 16, since there are two for the Mission Mountains) designated wilderness areas. He’s done five such races.

Grant calls it his “Wilderness Running Project.”

Road races still have their draw, and a field that includes defending champion Jason Delaney – he has the record time for the course – awaits Sunday.

“I’m excited about the competition,” Grant said. “It’s going to be neat to just be a part of it.”

He’ll head for the Lee Metcalf Wilderness over Labor Day for a run, and then on to the the Rut 50K on Sept. 13, and then the race after that. And the next.

Eventually it’ll be May and Grant might be running in Missoula again.

“Of course I’ll have to come back and run that Riverbank Run,” he said. “It’s just good to take a year off now and then.”

Reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at (406) 523-5247 or at fneighbor@missoulian.com.