HELENA — Mike Kaiser successfully defended his Mount Helena Run title on Saturday, winning the 42nd running of the event. Kaiser came from behind in the 39-man field to beat Matt Roberts with a clocking of 40:01, for his third successive Mount Helena victory.
Debbie Gibson captured the women's race in 49:45, ahead of 20 other athletes.
The 5.6-mile course begins and ends on the Walking Mall, with an elevation gain of 1,340 feet to the top of Mount Helena.
Kaiser’s time was about in the middle of his other two titles -- 40:41 in 2015, and last year’s 39:15 -- and was 34 seconds ahead of Roberts’ 40:35.
The Top 7 finishers were all Capital City runners, with Joel Harris (42:12) placing third, followed by 2014 champ Alex Street (42:27), record-holder and Masters winner Patrick Judge (45:40), Josh Gilstrap (45:46) and Joe Roberts (46:21) finishing seventh.
“It was pretty cool up there, with a couple of snowy and slushy spots, but not too bad,” said Kaiser, 35, referring to the Saturday morning temperatures in the high 30s and snow-covered mountain. “I’m happy with my run, considering how busy the summer was with all the fires.”
Kaiser is a firefighter with the Forest Service, and had very little time to train this summer -- not even a practice run on the course before the race.
“Matt killed it on the way up; he was a good 20, 30 seconds ahead of me. I caught him coming down (appropriately) at the ‘H’” he recounted.
Roberts, 33, described how a feeling of “I got this bad boy” when he had the big lead at the top, gradually dissipated on the journey back down.
“I didn’t hear any footsteps at the top, but then on the way down when it got slippery, I eased up a little not wanting to fall,” he said. “Well, first I heard the pitter-patter of footsteps getting louder, and then when I heard breathing closing in, I thought to myself, 'That’s Kaiser.'”
Roberts related how when his friend went by, “I (jokingly) said ‘Gosh darn you, Kaiser.’”
Both runners had bloody scratches on their left shoulder, from a low-hanging branch over the trail.
“I’m not as agile as I used to be,” said Kaiser, explaining why he couldn’t avoid the contact.
Judge, 47, was running in his first Mount Helena Run in 13 years.
“I’ve been focusing on the Montana Cup, which takes place just several weeks after this, and I’ve been playing it safe since Mount Helena is so treacherous,” said Judge, whose 1995 record of 36:10 has lasted now for 22 years. “But I wanted to take part due to the historical aspect of the Burgesses being here.”
The running marked the 101st anniversary of the original 1916 race, which was won by local teenager Ben Burgess. Several descendants of Burgess were on or near the starting line to commemorate Ben’s victory, including his grandsons Mark -- who ran in the first revival race in 1975 -- and Craig Burgess, who traveled all the way from California.
Gibson, 52, garnered her first crown on her fourth attempt, in 49:45.
“I had a good run; it was beautiful,” said Gibson, who owns multiple long-distance trail run titles. “A little slippery on the way down, but otherwise great for the most part.”
Rounding out the Top 5 were runner-up Jessica Romain in 55:40, ahead of Emily Thiessen (56:17), Christy Cunningham (56:37) and Alex Smietanka (58:30) in fifth.
“I’m still alive, but unlike 1975, when I came back down through Pioneer Park I didn’t kick this time,” quipped Mark Burgess, 60, afterwards. “Usually my calves blow out, but my training allowed me to run and walk the event without pain. And I’m even more impressed with my grandfather’s accomplishment now, since we ran switchbacks, he just went straight up and down.
“This is just a very well-organized race. All the volunteers to do such a great job.”
Two others who also competed in the reenactment race 42 years ago ran on Saturday: 11-time champion Jeff Thomas, and Tim Cail, who has participated in all 42 Mount Helenas.
“My only goal was to run, and it was a thrill to have the Burgesses choose the Mount Helena as a family reunion and bring the race’s heritage back home,” said Thomas, 57, who is suffering from bursitis in his knee.
Cail, 67, noted that despite the mountain “getting steeper,” he his time was “better than last year, and that makes me feel good.”