The first runners come in to a sparser crowd than the later ones, and their looks remain serious for a time after they finish the race. Their form is perfect as they cross the finish line on their final kick, feet hitting the ground and pistoning back up to nearly kick themselves again.
The later runners have the dogged look of determination that comes from the miles before, and they have the look of someone who has earned every step as they come down the hill on Lawrence and make the final turn up Last Chance Gulch between the fences.
A car turns up around 9:30 a.m. on Lawrence and Cruse, somehow making it through cones and signs so the occupants can ask a police officer for directions around the race course.
The Governor’s Cup has a long history in Helena, running for the past several decades and being supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield for much of that time. These days the race is a fundraiser for The Caring Foundation of Montana and its Care Van, which has traveled more than 50,000 miles to deliver more than 10,000 vaccines, health screenings, educational resources and preventive services in more than 30 Montana counties since 2014.
With 124 marathoners and 270 half-marathoners, the tent is busy for most of the morning. And with 421 10K runners and 912 5K runners, the rest of the race day is packed with the sound of thudding feet. And with 300 volunteers, the race can go off without a hitch.
At the marathon tent just behind the finish line, stacks of snacks are set up for finishers to snag and eat to replenish energy and nutrients. Lays chips (for salt), bananas, oranges and carbs are all provided and restocked by volunteer Shannon Hall, a 29-year Blue Cross Blue Shield worker who has been volunteering at the Governor’s Cup for the past 28 years.
Hall makes sure that every marathoner gets food for recovery and offers 5-10 minute massages with therapists who have gotten up early Saturday morning to knead and stretch tired runners’ muscles.
“We watch for injuries,” Hall said, with therapists and volunteers keeping an eagle eye on any complaints of numbness, chest pain or other worrisome signs of overexertion and exhaustion.
After the race, marathoners and half-marathoners stretch out for a long period of time to avoid cramping.
“Every runner experiences cramping,” Hall said.
Enid Kalaher is one of the massage therapists who got up bright and early for the race. She drove three days to get to Helena from San Antonio, her new home after leaving Helena earlier in 2018. She spent the week in Helena working remotely, but wouldn’t miss the Cup.
She explained the kind of massage therapists provide, “legs, back, buttocks, well, ‘gluteal region’ to avoid cramping,” Kalaher said. “It’s the waist down, some neck and shoulders because the spinal column was being jarred for 26 miles.”
John Murdy, an employee at the Pan Handler, is at the end of those 26.2, 13, 6.2, and 3.1 miles ringing bells for every runner coming through the last uphill battle to the finish line. The resident Pan Handler cat, Babycake, seems unphased by the sound.
Murdy used to run the Governor’s Cup “all the time,” but hasn’t for a while. “The elite ones don’t matter as much,” Murdy said about who needs the bell ringing. “The other ones come in and they’re struggling,” so Murdy pays special attention to ringing the bell loudly for them.
“I ring bells until the last person comes in,” Murdy said. He put his headphones back on and looked back down the avenue, waiting for the next runner to come up the hill.