The Races

The Races of the Greater Yellowstone Adventure Series

The details of the six races of the Greater Yellowstone Adventure Series are below. For the truly adventurous, please note that three of the races are labeled as “legs” of something called the Madison Trifecta. This means the completion of the Madison Duathlon (first leg), Madison Marathon (second leg), and the Madison Triathlon (third leg) all within a four week time span. This is called the Madison Trifecta. As of the end of 2015, there have been only 18 people who have completed the Madison Trifecta. They earned the coveted T.B.A. award which stands for Total Bad Ass. This is because anyone who can do the Madison Trifecta over four weeks of summer is a Total Bad Ass.

Please also note that marathon runners have an opportunity to do a Double Marathon. The Madison Marathon and Big Sky Marathon are scheduled as back-to-back races on Saturday and Sunday. This will earn Marathon Maniacs four stars. It’s also the only double marathon in Montana. Anyone who can do a Double at such a high altitude is also some kind of total bad ass!

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Stay Happy, Healthy, and Keep Running Forward.


Madison River Run

5K Race in Ennis

For many years, the Madison River Run was a local fun run that generally attracted 50 to 60 runners from Madison County and the rest of Southwest Montana. It is still a local fun run and it still attracts runners from Southwest Montana, but this is just the beginning.

The Greater Yellowstone Adventure Series has partnered with Willies Distillery, a new small batch distillery in Ennis, for this event. Willies Distillery is owned and operated by Willie and Robin Blazer and through a process that can only be called magical they take Montana grains and turn them into world class spirits. In fact, the company mission is to make world class spirits for world class individuals. This they do.

The Madison River Run coincides with Willies Distillery’s annual spring Pig Roast. It is generally on the first Saturday after Memorial Day Weekend. The race starts right on top of the Madison River (exactly half way across the bridge over the river) and the finish line is exactly right at Willies Distillery. The pig roast festivities begins shortly after the last runner crosses the finish line.

Here’s a chance to do a 5K, take part in a pig roast, and taste some of Montana’s finest spirits at Willies Distillery in downtown Ennis. This is a family friendly event as is the race. Strollers, walkers, kids, and all are completely welcome. After the race, the festivities at Willies Distillery take over. All in all, it’s a fantastic way to spend a Saturday in Southwest Montana.


Bike: 14 miles, Run: 7 miles

First Leg of the Madison Trifecta

The Madison Duathlon (bike/run) started out as a natural expansion of a good idea (i.e. the Madison Marathon), but it quickly became a good idea on its own. It has grown in popularity every year from the inaugural race in 2012. Many duathletes who have competed in the Madison Marathon say they had more fun on the duathlon.

There are probably several reasons for its popularity. First off, it’s a point to point duathlon that starts in one town and finishes in another (i.e. this ain’t a loop route like most duathlons). The biking leg begins on Main Street in Ennis, one of Montana’s most beautiful small townswhich is right on the banks of the Madison River. From Ennis, riders will cycle approximately 14 miles into the mountains separating Ennis from the Gold Rush Era town of Virginia City. The route is about eight miles of asphalt, along Varney Bridge Road that parallels the Madison River, and then six miles of good quality gravel roads along Shining Mountains Loop Road and Axolotl Lake Road. There will be at least a 1,000 foot gain in elevation (from 5,000 to over 6,000 feet above sea level) to the bike/run transition. Just a quick warning: There’s a two mile uphill that will truly test your legs.

At Twin Lakes, the bikers hop off the bike and begin a one mile uphill run followed by a six mile downhill run to Virginia City. This will be on a dual track dirt/gravel road. The road is passable by trucks, but is a bit rough for vehicles. Runners will have no trouble navigating the route.

The home stretch is right on the main drag of Virginia City which was the Territorial Capitol of Montana from 1865 to 1875. It’s a gold rush town and most of the original buildings are still there and many are still in use. Runners will see it all since the final mile includes a run down one set of back streets and then a final 500 or so yard home stretch on Main Street to the finish line right in front of the Madison County Courthouse. This is the oldest operating courthouse in the State of Montana.

Runners, friends, and families then have the entire town of Virginia City to relax, be a tourist, chill with ice cream, candy, and other food. This is your chance to visit one of America’s best preserved gold rush era towns. This point-to-point duathlon is a good combination of natural beauty, wildlife, history, heritage, and a competitive challenge for any athlete who loves the West and Montana.


Full, Half, and Team (4 runners) Marathon Events

Second Leg of the Madison Trifecta
Since the inaugural race over Labor Day Weekend in 2008, the Madison Marathon has grown by leaps and bounds. It has joined the ranks of American marathons that sell out each year. We have hosted runners from at least 40 states and several countries. Nearly one-half of the runners come from outside of Montana which is pretty good considering we have just 200 slots open. The 200 runner cap is due to US Forest Service policy which must regulate the number of runners on public land because the ecosystem on the Gravelly Range is quite pristine. When you see the route and its surrounding environment, you’ll understand that there is a lot to protect.

Every year, the Madison Marathon hosts Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters. We also get a lot of runners who have made the Madison their first marathon along with many, many return runners (some for the 5th, 6th, and even 7th or 8thtime).

Why the success? We take no credit for being good race organizers. We try hard and mostly succeed in doing what we say we will, but it’s not us. It’s the scenery. It’s the elevation. It’s the wildlife (a bear ran in front of a runner one year and there was a wolf on the route a few years ago). It’s the camaraderie. Since there are only 200 runners, you have a chance to meet nearly everyone. It’s the chance to join an elite and unique experience. It’s the extraordinary opportunity to run a marathon at over 9,000 feet on a good quality gravel road under the Big Sky of Montana.

It’s the fact that the starting line of the Madison Marathon is at 9,250 feet above sea level and just 13 states have mountain peaks higher than this starting line. It’s the fact that you are almost guaranteed to get a PW because of the high elevation and the four to five-mile uphills and downhills that never dip below 8,500 feet. It’s also the fact that you won’t care about getting a PW because this marathon really is all about the experience. It’s the Highest Road Marathon on Planet Earth. Long distance running just doesn’t get any better than this.

Madison Marathon Elevation Profile


Big Sky Marathon

Full and Half Marathon Events

The Big Sky Marathon is the result of our success with the Madison Marathon. We held our Inaugural race in 2015 to appease marathoners from around the world who were screaming for a double in Montana. To non-marathoners, this is completely counter-intuitive. Afterall, why would you host a second marathon immediately after one of the most difficult marathons in America? To the likes of Marathon Maniacs though, it makes perfect sense. Why run just one marathon over a weekend when you can run two? Why not earn Four Stars as a Marathon Maniac over the course of 48 hours vs. possibly earning just one star and only if all your other stars line up?

We couldn’t answer the why not questions other than to say, ‘Yeah, why the hell not?’ The Big Sky Marathon is a doozy. It starts at around 8,500 feet above sea level on the route of the Madison Marathon, and it goes, down, down, down to the town of Ennis on the banks of the Madison River. Turns out, it’s the Second Longest Downhill Road Marathon on Planet Earth. It has a net drop of 3,651feet. Here’s some details:

Starting Location: 45.094411, -111.862213

Near the turn-around point of the Madison Marathon on the Gravelly Range Road

Elevation: 8,592 feet above sea level

Finishing Location: 45.349268, -111.724506

Main Street Ennis – Lion’s Club Park next to the Madison River
Elevation: 4,941 feet
Net Drop: 3,651 feet

Route: The starting line is within the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest and the route runs on the Gravelly Range Road to the US Forest Service gate and then on the Call Road to Varney Bridge Road near the Ennis Fish Hatchery (all gravel roads). Then, it runs along Varney Bridge Road to Highway 287 (pavement). From the turnoff onto Highway 287 to Ennis, it runs on Main Street to the finish line at Lion’s Club Park in Ennis. The half marathon finish line is amid the alfalfa fields of the Bar 7 Ranch.

The race, for full marathoners, can be broken down into roughly three sections:

Section One – This is from the starting line to the point on the route where the significant downhill begins. The starting line is at nearly 8,600 feet above sea level. It’s quite near the turn-around point for the Madison Marathon. The runners will not drop in elevation too significantly over the first seven or eight miles. There are few or no uphills on this section of the route. It is essentially flat and on top of the Gravelly Range though everything is eventually headed downhill. This entire section is within the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. As runners get close to the border of the National Forest, there will be long, gradual down hills of two to three miles in length, but they will not necessarily be quad burners. The estimated distance is eight to 10 miles.

Section Two – This is the quad burner section. It begins almost immediately after runners leave the National Forest. Runners will cross a cattle guard gate and then the next several miles will be a quite steep downhill. This is a series of switch backs that drop the runners from 8,600 feet to 6,000 feet in a relatively short distance. The “official end” of this section is when the road hits a t-junction after going through the Bar 7 ranch. The estimated distance is four to seven miles. The half marathon finish line is within this section.

Section Three – This section is a flat area that gradually declines in elevation. The lower part of the Bar 7 Ranch is approximately 6,000 feet and Ennis is just shy of 5,000 feet. The first few miles will be on gravel road, but eventually the runners hit pavement near the Ennis Fish Hatchery turn-off. From here, the route is on the Varney Bridge Road and it parallels the Madison River. Eventually, it reaches Highway 287 and then runners will be about two miles from the finish line at Lion’s Club Park in Ennis. The estimated distance of this section is 10 to 12 miles.

Awaiting all at the finish line is the beauty and calming waters of the Madison River. Willies Distillery is just nearby as is the Gravel Bar and Grill and several other businesses on the Main Street of Ennis. This is the Second Longest Downhill Road Marathon on Planet Earth. Surely, that’s a good enough reason to do this race.


Olympic Distance Triathlon: Swim – 1,200 yards in Ennis Lake, Bike – 23 miles on Highway 287 from Ennis Lake to Harrison, Run – 6 miles from Harrison to Pony

Third and Final Leg of the Madison Trifecta
Like the duathlon, the Madison Triathlon was intended to be an extension of a good idea. It became, however, a good idea on its own as well as the genesis of the Madison Trifecta Sporting Series. Do all three! If you do all three events (the duathlon, marathon, and triathlon) in a single summer, you will be a T.B.A.

By the way, T.B.A. stands for ‘Total Bad Ass’ because anyone crazy enough or tough enough or bad enough to complete all three events in a single summer IS a total bad ass. The Madison Triathlon is the culminating event of this incredible accomplishment.

The Madison Triathlon is unique in a few other respects. First, it is, like the Madison Duathlon, a point-to-point race as opposed to a loop route. Athletes will start in one town and finish in another. It will also start at the foothills of the Madison Range (the second highest mountain range in Montana) and finish in the Tobacco Root Mountain Range. Second, it is an Olympic Distance triathlon. There are very few of them in Montana and this is one of them. Third, the swimming leg is in open water (not a swimming pool). The route is a 400 yard triangular lap in Ennis Lake. Athletes make three laps for a total of 1,200 yards. Fourth, the biking leg is almost all on Montana Highway 287 and includes a five-mile uphill and, best news yet, a five-mile downhill. There are also some great flats. Fifth, the final running leg is a gentle uphill grade from Harrison to Pony. The finish line is right in front of the infamous Pony Bar. Lastly, the entire race is at elevation. It’s not quite like the Madison Marathon (9,000 feet plus), but the entire route is over 5,000 feet above sea level. So what you got is an Olympic Distance Tria mile above sea level. Is there any other such Tri in America or anywhere else in the world?

Oh, and this race is also the final leg of the Madison Trifecta. Even if you were not part of the other two races, you will at least have the chance to meet the TBAs. The Madison Triathlon is not for the faint of heart. It’s no Iron Man (that is a month or so later), but it will probably feel like one because of the open water swim and the high elevation. There is also a great reward at the end of the race. Since it’s the last race of the series for the TBAs, we will throw one hell of a party for everyone (athletes, friends, family, etc…). You gotta sign up (or get someone in your crew to sign up) to join the party.


The Inaugural Tour de Gravelly

A cycling race of approximately 88 miles along the spine of the Gravelly Range
Okay, we’re going to try something totally new. Therefore, the logistics involved is going to be a work in progress. If you’re the type of cyclists that needs a more defined and detailed agenda, this might not yet be the race for you. We’re limiting this race to just 50 cyclists because it’s an inaugural event and who knows what will happen. If you want to join the fun and break some new ground with us, please do. Someone has to go first and you will be more than welcome to be part of the group.

The basic logistic picture is as follows:

The race begins in Ennis at Lion’s Club Park. It ends at Lion’s Bridge in the southern part of the Madison Valley. The route is essentially the Gravelly Range Road that is on top of the Gravelly Range. If you take Highway 287 from Ennis to Lion’s Bridge, it is a straight shot down the Madison Valley and is about 45 miles distance. The proposed route for the Tour de Gravelly will wind its way up to the Gravelly Range, cycle along on top, and slowly meander its way down the range to Lion’s Bridge and the distance will be closer to 88 miles.

The rough description of the route is as follows:

  • Cyclists start at Lion’s Club Park and head out of town towards Virginia City on Montana Highway 287.
  • Just two miles outside of Ennis, they turn left onto Varney Bridge Road which parallels the Madison River as it heads south
  • After about 12 miles, there is an intersection. If you go straight, you get to Varney Bridge and eventually Highway 287. If you turn right (which is what you will do), you head towards the intersection for the Ennis Fish Hatchery and the Bar 7 Ranch. Up to this point, the road is paved. Shortly after this point, it is gravel.
  • Cyclists will keep to the left (do not go to Ennis Fish Hatchery) and eventually end up on the Call Road, which is gravel, and goes through the Bar 7 Ranch.
  • The next destination is the Gravelly Range Road which enters the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. There’s a few intersections, but none are too confusing. You just need to remember that it’s all uphill. You will eventually veer right and begin a very long climb up the Gravelly Range to get to the top. You’ll see the incline of the road from a good distance away.
  • The distance from the Ennis Fish Hatchery/Bar 7 intersection to the cattle guard for entering the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest is about 25 miles.  It’s all uphill.
  • Upon entering the National Forest, cyclists stay on Road 290 (Gravelly Range Road) all the way through.  Clover Meadows is about 14 miles from the gate.  Monument Ridge is another eight or nine.  The turn-off to Standard Creek Road is about 12 miles past Clover Meadows.  You’ll pass all these landmarks
  • For anyone who has run the Madison Marathon, this is the same route.  The highest point on the race will be Monument Ridge at 9,587 feet.  Since the starting line at Lion’s Club Park is around 4,940, you’re looking at almost a 4,650 feet vertical climb.
  • At an intersection on Road 290 as you’re heading south, the road goes to the right towards Black Butte Mountain (and the starting line of the Madison Marathon) or left to Black Butte Cabin.  The proposed route goes to the left and down what is Standard Creek Road.
  • Cyclists stay on this road all the way down the mountain to the West Fork of the Madison River.  It will be one hell of a downhill, but not hugely steep.  It is around 20 miles.
  • The finish line will be on Lion’s Bridge (or near) with a finish line awards ceremony and party either at the fishing access, West Fork cabins, or somewhere in between.

As far as getting people and bikes back to Ennis, we don’t yet have a plan but we’ll work on one. For now, please build a contingency of your own with friends, family, etc… to get back to your vehicle in Ennis.

This institution operates under a special use permit from the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.
This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

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