HELENA — After Missoula’s Patrick Murphy won the men's 30K race at the Prickly Pear Land Trust’s 18th annual Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run, his 4-year-old son Frankie came sprinting after his dad.
When Frankie caught up with Murphy across the finish line at Pioneer Heritage Park for a big hug, he told his father, “Mommy didn’t beat you.”
To which Patrick’s dad, who was standing nearby, chimed in, “Yeah, you could’ve let her win, since it’s Mother’s Day,” as his smiling wife Addie joined the group.
Murphy posted a time of 2 hours, 23 minutes, 25 seconds, for his victory. The race started at Anchor Park, wound through 18 miles of PPLT’s South Hills trails system, and finished south of the Lewis & Clark Library.
Kristina Trygstad-Saari of Bozeman captured the women's 30K in 2:46:58.
The 30K field of 215 competitors was the largest in race history, as was the DFMI overall total, including the 12K and 5K races of 997 entrants, breaking the old record by more than 200 runners.
“I ran this a couple years ago, it was a little rougher then, and I was always wanted to come back; these are beautiful trails,” said Murphy, 36, who finished ahead of Helena's John Fitzgerald and Matt Roberts, respectively.
Murphy said he got out near the front early, and took over the lead from Fitzgerald at about the Rodney Ridge Trail.
When asked what he considered the highlight of his career, Murphy stated “just being out here” for so many years.
“The ‘Open Space’ people are such a great community,” Murphy said. “It’s not so much the competition, but more about being among like-minded people; celebrating the outdoors, and Prickly Pear Land Trust always does such a great job.”
Fitzgerald, 30, was four minutes back at 2:27:18, one minute ahead of Roberts at 2:28:54.
“I’m pretty happy with my race, I’ve been training for the 100-mile Western States in late June, so might explain why I’m a little tired at a faster pace,” Fitzgerald said. “I was running second, and Matt caught me at Hogsback Ridge (on Mt. Helena), but I got him on the way down.”
Roberts, 34, said he beat his last year’s time, and had second-place on Saturday “for about 10 seconds” at the top of Hogsback, approximately two miles from the finish line.
“But then John was fearless coming down, and after he went by I decided third-place wasn’t too bad,” Roberts said, “considering I’ve rolled my ankle several times before coming down that stretch.”
Fitzgerald described his training consists of running the South Hills six-seven times a week.
“Hogsback is definitely my favorite trail, but it’s pretty risky coming down,” he said.
Chad Carr (Bozeman), 42, was the masters winner and placed ninth in the men's division.
On the women's side, Trygstad-Saari, who finished 15th overall, was returning to the DFMI after a bad experience two years ago.
“I came back for a little revenge, and planned on running conservatively,” said Trygstad-Saari, who is a two-time Mt. Helena Run champion (2001, 2009), and former record-holder in that race. “The first seven miles were a lot of fun, but I got a little too excited and went too fast going down.”
Trygstad-Saari, 33, attended Dartmouth College, where she shined on the Nordic ski team. She then coached the Big Green, before returning to her hometown, where she coached the Nordic ski teams at Montana State University and Bridger Ski Foundation.
Her most recent coaching stint involved paralympic Nordic skiers at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Korea.
But back to Saturday’s DFMI, Trygstad-Saari said she “knew I’d regret the fast downhills,” although she praised the race’s supportive volunteers.
Helena’s Debbie Gibson, 53, claimed the masters title and placed sixth among the women.
The men's 12K was garnered by Mike Kaiser, of Montana City, in 48:59.46, outracing Helena’s Shilo Hernandez, in second at 50:40.85.
“The weather was a lot nicer than I expected, but the hills still hurt,” the 35-year old Kaiser said. “It’s a really fun race, but always challenging, whether you running the 5K or the 30K.”
Nicole (Hunt) Murray, 48, of Whitehall, captured the women's event in 57:09. The Capital City’s Lindsay Ward placed runner-up in 1:01.13.
Kaiser, Hernandez and Murray are all past Mt. Helena Run titlists.
“This one has four hills, compared to Mt. Helena’s one,” grinned Kaiser, when asked the difference between the two races. “You kind off tick them off as you go … well, the first one’s done. And then when you finish the fourth you’re like, ‘thank God it’s over.’”
The 5K winners featured youth and experience. Ten-year-old Elliott Stimpson of Clancy won the men's race in 22:10.9, while Helena’s Julie Ackerlund, 52, claimed the women's championship in 23:02.76.