It may not have been hot enough Saturday morning to melt rubber, but don't tell that to Nicole Hunt's aching legs.
The 45-year-old mother of three was carried by wobbly extremities that finally gave out after 13.1 miles -- just as she crossed the finish line in record time at the Pengelly Double Dip trail half marathon.
"I knew I was really close and I was gutting it out the last flat here, the last 7 minutes, before I just collapsed at the finish line," Hunt said. "Your legs are tired from all that climbing and descending. I was burning; I felt like rubber."
Hunt, who lives near Warm Springs, finished the two-mountain trail race in 1 hour, 53 minutes, 52.48 seconds. She needed every ounce of kick during the final 1 1/2 miles on the Kim Williams Trail along the Clark Fork River, breaking the course record by just 5 seconds.
The Pengelly takes runners up the M trail above the University of Montana, then around Mount Sentinel to a saddle-like dip in the landscape where they climb to the beacon on top of University Mountain. Brave racers must then retrace their steps down to the saddle before ascending to Sentinel's peak, flying down the mountain again and making the last dash to the finish near the footbridge northwest of campus.
Kelly Webster set the women's record in 2012 in 1:53:57. The men's record came the year before from Kiefer Hahn in 1:34:36.
Henry Reich took the men's division this year in 1:38:32.70 with runner-up Seth Swanson close behind at 1:38:45.09.
Finishing second for the women was 13-year-old Ella DeGrandpre in 1:55:55.97.
The steep trail race is in its 12th year honoring the memory of Missoula outdoors enthusiast Dave Pengelly, who died in June of 2003 in a climbing accident in Washington's Cascade Range. Pengelly frequented the hiking trails of Mount Sentinel, whose rocky sections can make for a few treacherous passages, especially when ran.
"I'm a flats runner, so I like roads and flat trails," said Reich, a 27-year-old Minnesotan who started tackling hills after moving to Missoula in September. "The hills really compress the race, which is psychologically challenging. You can hear them and they can see you, but you can't see them."
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Like Hunt, Saturday marked the first Pengelly for Reich, though both have traversed Sentinel before. The race that sports a 2,700-foot elevation change has a much different feeling on race day though, Reich said.
"And I definitely think if Seth Swanson hadn't run the course beforehand, he would have won easily," Reich added with a chuckle. "He got 26 miles in today. He's a beast."
Swanson was one of about 16 runners who completed the course twice. It's the ultra exclusive Super Nova club, named so for the free ice cream sundae reward courtesy of nearby Big Dipper for those who manage the feat.
"It's great, you know, I had to go out for a long training run anyway so I got to go mix it up with a bunch of people who were fast, pushed the pace," said Swanson, a recent Missoula transplant from western Washington.
Swanson, a 35-year-old runner, is training for the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile slog that begins in Squaw Valley, California the final weekend of June.
Missoula's running community is already well acquainted with the Pengelly's runner-up on the women's side, but the rest of the Garden City is sure to know her name soon.
DeGrandpre conquered the YMCA Riverbank Run last month, taking first in the 10K race before casually crediting her strenuous training routine.
Mount Sentinel is a frequent destination.
"I don't normally run to the beacons, I just run to the top (of Sentinel), but I liked this," said DeGrandpre, soon to be a Hellgate High freshman. "It's kinda hard because there's a really steep part, but it's fun."
For those seeking a more leisurely (only by comparison) jaunt through the hills, the Pengelly also features the Single Dip, a 6.2-mile trek to the M and then south along Mount Sentinel and back down a fire road.
Justin Drucker won the 10K Single Dip in 39:12.36. Ashley Powell was the women's winner with a time of 49:51.67. Both are of Missoula.