BILLINGS — On Monday, the day will finally be here.
It’s payoff time for all the miles logged in the cold of winter and the warmth of summer.
On Monday, the Boston Marathon will be contested. To those in the running world, and even the common sports fan, the Boston Marathon is the premier marathon in the world.
This year, a contingent of 47 runners have qualified for and entered the race from the Treasure State. A unique fact is eight of those who will be lacing up their running shoes for the 26.2-mile race are women runners from the Billings-based Yellowstone Valley Distance Project racing team.
Kristen Volmer, Lauren Zent, Mary Owen, Chelsea Dana, Emily Rankin, Sarah Lord, Teresa Larsen and Ruth Dye will be representing the YVDP in Boston. All reside in Billings, except Volmer who lives in Laurel.
All eight qualified by finishing a sanctioned marathon and meeting a time requirement based on their age and gender.
The YVDP began approximately two years ago, said the group’s coach, Dave Coppock. Coppock, who retired at the end of the 2017 season as a coach at Montana State Billings after spending 28 years leading the cross country team and 10 guiding the track team, said Dana, Owen and Lord started the team as “they were looking for a competitive outlet for their running, rather than social running.”
The group, which generally meets once a week at Pioneer Park to train, has approximately 15 men and women that regularly participate. Dana said there was a male member of the team who ran a qualifying time for Boston after the cutoff date to enter, but most of the male members are focused on running the 5K and 10K races.
Coppock will not travel to Boston for the race, but plans on tracking the YVDP runners at home online. He said it is an accomplishment for eight runners from one running club to qualify for Boston.
“I’m real excited,” he said. “It has been fun watching them progress and the idea to do Boston. They are all motivated. It’s a fun group; everyone is dedicated.
“We are pretty efficient. They all have a lot to do after work. We are efficient at getting the workouts in.”
Lord said it would be her fourth marathon and second time competing in Boston. She said the group started to form a plan to try and qualify together for this year’s Boston Marathon in late February or early March 2018. Lord credited Dana as being the “ringleader who organized it and had her pulse on everyone’s running goals.”
That’s when Lord was “sucked in” as the team trained toward a common goal.
“I was a retired marathon runner until the rest of the Yellowstone Valley Distance Project got excited about making a push for the Boston Marathon and I got seduced by their energy.”
Larsen said it will be her eighth marathon and third time competing in Boston. Larsen — who she said she doesn’t have “a time goal and just wants to enjoy it” — also credited her teammates for giving her the extra push needed to qualify and enter Monday’s race.
“It’s a fun group. They are talented and accepting and friendly and fun and inspiring,” she said, adding she’d also be competing in the 5K along with Dana in Boston and attending a Boston Bruins playoff game. “I would not be going back to Boston if I had not joined up with YVPD.”
Volmer, who will be running in her second Boston Marathon and 21st overall marathon, recalled a fond marathon memory.
“My favorite was the Billings Marathon last year,” she said. “I got engaged right at the end of the marathon. We ran the marathon together, hand-in-hand. … As soon as the marathon was over, he got down on one knee and proposed to me.
Volmer and Bob were later married on the top of Red Lodge Mountain. “We were skiing. I wore a dress and he wore a tuxedo T-shirt,” she said.
While those memories are still vivid for Volmer, she said her teammates help keep her focused.
“They push me to be a better runner and also a better mom and wife,” she said. “We are having lots of conversations on our runs. … My running friends are like a second family.”
For Owen, it will be her third time testing her skills in Boston and 12th total marathon. She said one of the appealing parts of the Boston Marathon is the inclusiveness of the event. According to the Boston Athletic Association website, there were 30,088 entrants last year.
“It’s such a fantastic and very humbling experience,” Owen said. “Something for me that is really cool is the best athletes in the world are running the same course as me on the same day as me. That is very humbling. You see so many different stories with people who come to Boston. The last time I did it, I ran several miles with a visually impaired runner. It is really cool to see the whole slice of humanity that is right there in the race.”
Rankin said she did not competitively run in college or high school. It will be her first time competing in the Boston Marathon. Overall, it will be her 10th marathon.
“If you would have told me when I was in college I would be running, or running the Boston Marathon, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rankin said, noting she started running on the treadmill to stay in shape, gradually improved and didn’t turn back. “I was the farthest thing from a runner in high school and college.”
What is Rankin most looking forward to in Boston?
“An amazing environment and vibe and just the experience. I’ve heard than from everyone,” she said.
For Dana, it will be her eighth marathon and like Rankin her first time running in Boston. She has competed in a New York City Marathon.
“I’m going because of these guys,” Dana said, motioning to some of her teammates. “I’m not big on traveling. It’s an iconic marathon. Most of the people I’m going with have done it before. It sounds like a great running event.”
While Dana said some of the team members will be taking in a Boston Red Sox game on the trip, Lauren Zent said she and her husband would be attending a Pink concert in Las Vegas on Friday night and then traveling to Boston on Saturday night.
“I just want to go to Pink, she does all sorts of acrobats,” Zent, who will be running in her third Boston marathon and 15th overall marathon, said. “I’ve just always wanted to see her. She’s been on my bucket list and my husband bought me a ticket for my birthday and it’s Boston Marathon weekend.”
Zent is the cross country coach at Billings West, Lord at Billings Senior and Owen is an assistant at Billings Skyview.
Dye ran in three marathons in three months last year, a feat in the running world which qualifies an athlete for the Marathon Maniacs club. Overall, this will be her eighth marathon and second time competing in Boston. The stay-at-home mother of five enjoys the camaraderie of the YVDP team.
While she was a runner in high school, Dye did not run in college. Dye explained that after her daughter, who is now a year and a half, was born, she began running again after meeting some friends who were runners.
“It’s good for your mental and emotional health to get outside and get your blood pumping. Nothing makes you feel as good as a good run,” Dye said.
With a brutal February, training was hard for club members. Zent said she wore a couple pairs of leggings, thermal long sleeve shirts, a light jacket, mittens, and a stocking cap when training outside. Dye said she was able to run on the treadmill, but “you are on the treadmill forever on the same place. Who wants to be on a treadmill for three hours? Not me.”
When it’s time to race on Monday and the day the group has been training so hard for finally arrives, there is no doubt they’ll soak in the atmosphere and give it their all.
Rankin is ready for the “excitement, buzz and camaraderie.”
“I’m so excited,” Volmer added.
“I am super excited. It’s one of those things where it’s a big deal. Lots of people are trying to get into it,” said Owen. “You sign up several months in advance of the race. There is a big buildup and lots of anticipation that surrounds it. You are training all winter long and by the time it is here, it’s like where has the time gone?”