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Upon crossing the finish line third in the 30K race at the 11th annual Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run on Saturday, Kiefer Hahn gave winner Jared Scott a congratulatory handshake.

“You took off, man, I couldn’t hang with that,” the Helena native said to Scott, who then replied with a smile, “I was just hungry for the hills.”

The event, which serves as a yearly fundraiser for the nonprofit Prickly Pear Land Trust, attracted more runners from around the country than in past years. Four out of the top 10 30K finishers were from out of state, compared to one of the top 20 in 2010. A big reason for that was the inclusion of the 30K race in La Sportiva’s Mountain Cup Series, the first year it’s been added to the slate of 10 trail races nationwide.

Scott, a 28-year-old from Grand Canyon, Ariz., said he planned to run every race in the Mountain Cup Series. It’s a points race, with the overall series winner earning $5,000. Scott hoped to win the money so he could travel to Europe, and his Don’t Fence Me In first-place finish got him 20 points closer to his goal.

“It’s awesome,” Scott said of Helena’s trail run, which has become more popular with each passing year. “This is more like what I’m used to — big climbs, high altitude. This last hill is pretty gnarly.”

Despite it being his first time on the course, Scott led from start to finish, crossing in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 57 seconds. He began his running career 15 years ago, getting his start on the high school track team and eventually earning a scholarship to the University of Colorado, where he was a member of a national championship-winning cross-country team.

Scott’s speed more than impressed Hahn, who won the Don’t Fence Me In 30K in 2009 before missing last year’s race due to illness.

“I felt like I ran really well, but those two guys showed up and added a whole new element to this race,” Hahn said of Scott and runner-up finisher Matt Byrne of Scranton, Pa. “This is the real deal now.”

Hahn said he loves the extra competition and thinks that adding the race to the La Sportiva series was a great idea — not just because of the challenge it presents, but because of the additional money that goes to Prickly Pear to preserve and protect open space in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties.

“When I grew up in Helena, these hills were loaded with trash and motorized vehicles,” said Hahn, now a Missoula resident. “Now this area is just absolutely pristine.”

It was an ideal day for runners, with cool temperatures and overcast skies for the 460 finishers. Nikki Kimball, a nationally known trail runner who lives in Livingston, was thrilled that she came to compete. Just a week earlier, the 39-year-old completed a 50-mile race.

“It was beautiful, just perfect,” she said. “Perfect temperature, perfect running.”

Kimball was the third woman to cross the finish line in the 30K, but was happy with her time.

“Last weekend I had a really bad race so I just wanted to get back out and get my confidence up,” said Kimball, an ultra-marathon runner for the past 13 years. “Today was perfect for that.”

Colorado’s Megan Kimmel placed first in the women’s 30K in her first-ever trip to Helena. She said she hopes to come back and do the race again next year.

“It was tons of fun, a lot of ups, downs, fast, slow,” she said, adding that she participated because it was part of the series. “I had a couple feet on the rest of the women pretty much from the get-go.”

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A couple of familiar faces won the 12K and 5K, with Thomas Jodoin copping the 12K title just moments after fellow Helena Vigilante Runner Pat Judge finished the 5K. Both were repeat champions, having won their respective races in the 2010 event as well.

“The goal is always for the 12K runners to beat the 5K runners and I didn’t quite do that,” said Jodoin, who has been battling ongoing injuries. The 30-year-old only started running again about four weeks ago, as he’s been plagued by a torn hamstring and torn calf muscle in opposite legs.

That didn’t stop Jodoin from finishing in 49:20, a shade slower than last year’s time. Jodoin said that was likely because the course was different, this time going around Archery Range before going down switchbacks to Davis Gulch. From start to finish, there was an elevation gain of 1,400 feet.

“I felt strong through the end,” Jodoin said.

Judge ran slightly faster than he did last May, finishing the 5K in 16:17. A well-known local runner, Judge said he opts for the shortest of the three races when it comes to trails.

“On trails my feet are a little fragile,” he said. “My hat’s off to the 30K and 12K competitors.”

Race director Joanne Martonik estimated that around $30,000 dollars had been raised for the Prickly Pear Land Trust, though she would not know the exact amount of donations until Monday.

“This race is for such a great cause,” Judge said.

And, judging by the number of smiles and people who vowed to return, it’s bound to be around for years to come.

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