Race Review Running Travel

Whitefish Half Marathon: Race Review

Whitefish is pretty, and the race is on the small side. But it was well organized and a worthwhile experience. The big selling point, though, is proximity to Glacier National Park. Oh, man. Is that place pretty.

While the world seems to be somewhat tenuously returning to “normal,” the pandemic has had a pretty significant impact on the racing world. A lot of races are still getting canceled or ones that used to exist don’t anymore. Which is a bummer.

Case in point, I was supposed to run the Bogus Half Marathon in Boise this May, but it got canceled. And at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I didn’t even get an email notifying me of the cancellation. Which does speak to their website’s vague explanation of “staffing issues” that prevented the race from proceeding. They clearly didn’t have their act together, but it would have been nice to find that out more than three weeks before the race! Come on, dudes.

All of which left me all trained up with not a lot of places to go. My friend Kate, who is running a full in every state, was supposed to run Boise with me. And since I’m in Portland and she’s in Chicago, we couldn’t find a race on three week’s notice that we could both make it to without spending an astronomical amount of money. So, we ran our Montana races solo. Whomp whomp. Kate found a race in eastern Montana that worked for her, and I found the Whitefish Half Marathon – which was driving distance from Portland, on the same weekend, and had the added benefit of Glacier National Park right nearby. Thanks, Montana.

Now… admittedly, for a lot of folks, an 11ish hour drive doesn’t count as “driving distance” away. But, for me it does. And I’ve recently been getting more and more enthusiastic about visiting National Parks. Plus, if the last two years have taught me anything, it’s to do things when I can. We never know what the next year (or few months) will bring. So! I loaded up the Prius and headed for Whitefish.

Apparently, this is a growing race. The organizers indicated that this year saw a “record number” of registrations for the half. I was, therefore, a bit surprised to discover on race morning that the record number was somewhere under 400. This is a pretty small race by my usual standards. But it was well run, and I had a positive experience overall – especially since there was a full marathon to go with it. That meant I was not a sad straggler chugging my way to the end by myself. No, instead I came in right behind the dude who got second place in the full. (Insert laughing and facepalm emojis here. Lol.) So, the race itself was pretty good.

The trip, however… was quite a bit more lonely than I’d expected. While I’m often gallivanting around on my own, and I’ve happily traveled solo for years, this one felt… a bit more desolate. Contributing factors were likely that I was supposed to be running with a friend instead of doing another race on my own; I was listening to some great audiobooks that explicitly focus on the importance of connection in our lives; and, well, my various attempts at dating of late have not yielded the desired outcome. And that’s a bummer. The truth is: I’d really rather take this kind of trip with someone. Even though it’s better to go alone than not at all, sometimes traveling alone is a downer. And this was one of those times. Ah, well.

I still had a relatively good experience with the Whitefish half marathon. Downtown Whitefish is super cute, the scenery is really pretty, and the weather was cooperative for a pretty good race. There are also these vast mountain ranges surrounding the area that rather defy meaningful photography. So, the drive in and out and around was a lovely part of the experience.

Pro-tip, however. Turns out Glacier is usually still snowed in until basically July. (I didn’t realize this until after booking the trip and assuming I’d be able to go see all the things). I did get to spend Sunday, the day after the race, exploring some of the park. But the bulk of it is still impassable from snow. Will most definitely be returning in warmer months to see more of it.

While the Zion and Jackson Hole half marathons come in as higher ranked on the gorgeous scenery scales for me, this race was still lovely. If I were to do it over again, I’d just run this one first and build up the splendor. (Note: there is a Vacation Races Glacier Half, which is probably absolutely stunning. But it’s tagged as a challenging course, and the description didn’t sell me on it: “a high-elevation paved road course with a 5 mile climb that finishes downhill.” Um, no thanks.)

Overall Assessment: Recommended, if not with a ton of enthusiasm. It’s a pretty okay race (if you can drive there).

Time of Year: end of May (5/21/2022)
Start Time: 8:00 am, starts from downtown Whitefish
Temperature: 41° at start, closer to 50° at the finish. Cloudy with full sun at the end. Wind: 9 mph
Size of Field: around 400 for the half
Elevation Gain: 370 ft (according to Garmin)

Pros:

  • Cute enough medal to make me happy.
  • Good organization – there were plenty of water stops and hydration.
  • Pretty, mostly loop course that wasn’t too hilly. (Though I was definitely feeling the 3000ft elevation coming from sea level).
  • Has a full marathon, which means I was not in jeopardy of being the last on the course. And there were still snacks after!
  • Later start meant for a relaxing morning and the ability to stay in more affordable accommodations 30 mins outside of town.
  • Parking was also super easy/chill. Was able to park like three short blocks from the start, no problem.
  • Close proximity to Glacier National Park – highly recommend giving yourself time to explore.

Cons:

  • Shirt isn’t great. A unisex technical tee is basically useless to me.
  • Roads aren’t closed to traffic, so you’re running with traffic, which isn’t ideal. Drivers were good about it, though, and it’s not like Whitefish and the surrounds are exactly bustling with heavy traffic.
  • Could have done with better snacks at the end (granola bars, chips, bananas). I always want there to be pizza and chocolate milk.
  • Wish the medal had been more colorful/been in keeping with website – it was white and green a couple years ago, and that’s what I’d been hoping for.
  • Would have been more excited about the scenery if I hadn’t just run Zion a couple months ago (that one is way prettier).
Whitefish Half Marathon Medal
Whitefish Half Marathon Medal

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