MISSOULA — Running on the streets of Sacramento is a bit of a different feel than the neighborhoods and calmer routes in Missoula.

Concrete can be tough and unforgiving on the legs and joints, while city streets and urban landscapes are a more chaotic environment to some runners. Trails and quiet neighborhoods can be calm, peaceful and the trails will vary in terrain more than the flat asphalt and streets.

For mother-daughter duo Heather and Bethany Lourick, the 49th annual YMCA Riverbank Run at Playfair Park Saturday is the right chance to test out some of the training the two have done the past six or seven weeks.

The Louricks moved from California to Missoula in December 2020 and were staying in a hotel before they could find permanent housing. Heather and her 9-year-old daughter Bethany joined a running class at the local YMCA to stay in shape, pass the time and do a home-school physical education class in a way.

In just a short time since taking the class and focusing on their skills, the two have each noticed pretty solid improvements in their mile times.

Heather and Bethany credited their running coach Dennis Bender, who helped them hone in on their running skills and get the right things down.

“It’s been really fun because when they came here they were new in town; new at the Y,” Bender said. “They just came into my class one day and said ‘Well, we are here to run,’ and I said ‘Great.’ It’s really fun; they are very inspiring. They are motivated. They just want to learn and … they are more focused. They’re kinda taking running as something they can work at. … They are realizing there is the same discipline to running as there is to other sports.”

Bethany and Heather aren’t total newbies to running, but are relatively new to competitive and more serious training despite having competed in 5K races in Sacramento in the past — usually around Thanksgiving. At just 9, Bethany is already a solid runner with a current best mile mark of 9:28, 30 seconds better than her previous PR of 9:58. Heather meanwhile is just 9:44 after her baseline was more around an 11-minute mile.

“Maybe six or seven weeks of training and what (Bender) is teaching us works,” Heather said. “We went from no experience to improving on our mile so it is fun to see those gains.”

As for the difference between running the streets of Sacramento and the nature feel of Missoula, the two were pretty excited for the new vibe.

“It’s just a beautiful place to be with the mountain in the background,” Heather said. “When we were doing our 5K in Sacramento it was a downtown, urban environment — crowded — so I think it will be great.”

Bethany is pretty excited to get outside after being kept to the indoor track at the YMCA during the cold winter months.

“It’s going to be really fun, because we’ve been inside running on the track because it’s been cold out since winter,” Bethany said. “It’s going to be nice to finally get outside.”

Back in person

The pandemic forced plenty of sports and annual competitions to either change completely, take a quick break or pause for a while. The Riverbank Run took a different look in the fall, going virtual to avoid the large gatherings that a race of its scale can bring to a community crazed about running.

This time around, the race has both options.

There are options for in-person, large scale competitions that are slated for Saturday morning and a virtual option for runners to go at their own pace on their course or route of choice on any day before or even on race day.

Race organizers suggest if you are feeling sick or under the weather to play it safe and stick with the virtual option.

As for other precautions, masks or face coverings are required for all in attendance except when actively running and participants are asked to show up no more than 15 minutes before their start time to avoid overcrowding.

The 10K will start at 9:00 a.m., the 5K at 10:30 a.m., the trifecta mile at 11:30 a.m. and the 1-mile fun run will start at 11:45 a.m.

The race will start and finish at Playfair Park near the YMCA — a slightly different route due to construction on the traditional course.

As is tradition, the race goes beyond the competition. Proceeds help the YMCA continue its community involvement such as childcare. Registration fees start at $30.

The 48th edition of the run was originally postponed nearly half a year from March 2020 to October 2020 due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like community races across the country, the event eventually went virtual from August through October to mitigate large crowds while still giving participants a chance to race and have something to compete in.

The last time the race was held totally in person there were over 2,000 participants for the 47th edition in spring 2019 when Jacob Verrue took first in the men’s trifecta division, completing the 5K, 10K and 1-mile trio of races in 57:29.98. It was the second straight year Verrue took first in the 10.321-mile-long trifecta.

To register for the event, log on to runsignup.com/Race/MT/Missoula/The45thAnnualYMCARiverbankRun.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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