Snow Joke Half Marathon turns 40
February 21, 2019
SEELEY LAKE - The Snow Joke Half Marathon celebrates its 40th anniversary this year under new ownership. Run Wild Missoula and the Missoulian are teaming up to produce the event where hundreds of runners take a lap around Seeley Lake Feb. 23.
“It’s an iconic event, in Montana and certainly in western Montana,” said Tony Banovich, executive director of Run Wild Missoula. “We wanted to make sure it continues … as a successful event, so we’re happy to come and provide our operational know-how.”
Formed in 2006, Run Wild Missoula has received widespread recognition for the Missoula Marathon, which was named Runners World’s best overall U.S. marathon in 2010 (Boston was fifth). The same publication last week included it as one of the “10 Best Bucket List Marathons You Should Run in 2019” along with the likes of Paris, Stockholm and the Midnight Sun Marathon in Norway.
The race starts at 11 a.m. at Seeley Lake Elementary School. Pilot cars will run from Morrell Creek to Boy Scout Road while racers are on Highway 83. Motorists can expect traffic to be held starting just before 11 a.m. Banovich said they adjusted the timing so they hope the longest wait will be 15-20 minutes right at the start of the race.
“Once we get past that first [wave of runners], we expect we will be able to run a pilot car every 10 minutes,” said Banovich.
Runners will need to cross Highway 83 on Boy Scout Road as they head into the finish. Law enforcement will be directing traffic to ensure runners are able to cross safely starting around 12:15 p.m. but motorists should not expect delays.
The new race directors will continue the tradition of teaming up with Seeley Lake Elementary School and Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue to staff the aid stations along the way.
Unlike most half marathons, dogs (on leashes) have been welcome at the Snow Joke for years. The Cheetah Herders introduced an official Canine Division in 1983.
That’ll remain, said Banovich, who was a senior distance runner at Butte Central when the first Snow Joke was run in 1980. Five years later he finished fourth in the Seeley half-marathon.
“Pat Caffrey and his group had their way of doing things, their personality, that may be a little different from Run Wild and the Missoulian,” Banovich said. “That being said, we’ll be trying to keep some of the quirkier things about the race, like the goofy signs and the dogs.”
The top three men and top three women finishers will split $700 in prize money. Each runner will receive a 40th anniversary medal. Early registration cost for the race is $40. Runners can sign up at mtsnowjoke.com. Long-sleeve 40th anniversary Snow Joke T-shirts are available for $25.
Missoulian Publisher Jim Strauss said, “We’re especially pumped about this year’s run because it marks the 40th anniversary. The half marathon has grown into quite an event from its humble beginnings with 32 runners in 1980.”
Snow Joke didn’t start regularly attracting more than 100 entrants until its late teens. The numbers of finishers first blew past 200 in 2004 and topped 300 the following year. Since 2010 the race has drawn more than 600 four times, peaking in 2016 when 832 men and women, 81 of them with dogs, completed the circuit around the lake.
More than 550 runners already have registered, which is about 20 percent ahead of last year’s total at this time. Registrations could top 700, organizers say.
Winter weather has never forced cancellation of Snow Joke, though Caffrey once said warm weather threatened it a number of times.
Strauss called the town of Seeley Lake “an idyllic setting for a winter run.”
“That picturesque backdrop is one of the great attractions of the Snow Joke,” he said. “Seeley Lake is proud to be the host community for the Snow Joke and always puts its best foot forward to support the race and the hundreds of runners before, during and after the race.”