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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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.
1 – Easy
2 – Moderate
3 – Difficult
4 – Very Difficult
5 – Holy Shit!
Start: Lion’s Club Park in Ennis
Finish: Vigilante Station on Forest Service Road 100 in the Ruby Valley
Total Mileage: 57 miles
Road Surface: 10.5 miles pavement followed by 47 miles of gravel road
Elevation Gain: 4,650 feet over the first 40 miles
Elevation Loss: 3,112 feet over the final 17 milesRoute Description (five mile segments)
First 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 4,941 – Lion’s Club Park in Ennis
Finishing Elevation: 4,903 – Along Varney Bridge Road
Course Rating: 1
Gain/(loss) of elevation: (38)
Notes: This segment is entirely pavement. It parallels the Madison River and it’s built for speed.
Second 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 4,903 – Along Varney Bridge Road
Finishing Elevation: 5,055 – Near a PO Box (#19) on Gravelly Range Road
Course Rating: 1
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 152
Notes: This segment is also entirely paved road. It’s also built for speed. If there’s a southern wind, it will be apparent on this section. You’re heading due south the entire way.
Third 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 5,055 – Near a PO Box (#19) on Gravelly Range Road
Finishing Elevation: 5,646 – Two hundred yards up the first steep incline
Course Rating: 2.5
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 591
Notes: Half a mile in the road turns to gravel and remains gravel to the finish line. The road is in good enough condition for a standard car (sedan) to travel on though Cottonwood Road would be slippery if there is rain. The uphill begins and there’s a clear view of the immense hill that must be climbed.
Fourth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 5,646 – Two hundred yards up the first steep incline
Finishing Elevation: 7,269 – About a mile into the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest
Course Rating: 5
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 1,623
Notes: A Holy Shit! rating may actually be an understatement. This section is steep, unforgiving, and often a rough road as it climbs and climbs and climbs up and into the National Forest. When driving, we kept our Isuzu Trooper in second gear the entire way. You’ll need your granny gear on your bicycle.
Fifth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 7,269 – About a mile into the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest
Finishing Elevation: 8,060 – Near Crocket Lake on Road 290
Course Rating: 3
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 791
Notes: This segment features vast open areas on the Gravelly Range Road. This section is a steady climb up. There is no shade or a break from the constant grade. The road is rough in a couple areas, but you will not have any real speed going into these areas since it’s all uphill.
Sixth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 8,060 – Near Crocket Lake on Road 290
Finishing Elevation: 8,646 – Open area near Mile 22 of the Madison Marathon on Road 290
Course Rating: 3.5
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 586
Notes: This section continues up and up on Road 290 (Gravelly Range Road). It’s the second half of the Madison Marathon route which runners always say is the toughest part of the marathon due to its long and frequent uphills.
Seventh 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 8,646 – Open area near Mile 22 of the Madison Marathon on Road 290
Finishing Elevation: 9,017 – Near Mile 10 of Madison Marathon Route; View of Snowcrests
Course Rating: 4
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 371
Notes: This segment passes Clover Meadows (a privy is available) and the road skirts the ridge lines of the Gravelly Range. The elevation is likely to start kicking in as the uphill grade continues. However, there are a few flat and even slight downhill sections on this leg just before Clover Meadows.
Eighth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 9,017 – Near Mile 10 of Madison Marathon Route; View of Snowcrests
Finishing Elevation: 9,341 – Few hundred yards short of Monument Ridge (highest point)
Course Rating: 4.5
Gain/(loss) of elevation: 324
Notes: This section is entirely above 9,000 feet in elevation. It parallels the ridge lines with tremendous views of the Snow Crest Range. There are long stretches of open and uphill grades. This section finishes just short of Monument Ridge which is the highest point on the route at 9,587 feet. Black Butte Mountain comes into view on this leg.
Ninth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 9,341 – Few hundred yards short of Monument Ridge (highest point)
Finishing Elevation: 8,579 – Cottonwood Road; About two miles in
Course Rating: 3.5
Gain/(loss) of elevation: (762)
Notes: This leg goes up and over Monument Ridge and the downhill begins. It starts with a very steep downhill grade. The 3.5 rating is to allow for adjusting to downhills and the need to be more cautious on the road due to loose gravel and rocks. It won’t be easy. This includes the turnoff onto Cottonwood Road which will be a hard right at an intersection of three roads. Black Butte will be on your left after you turn.
Tenth 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 8,579 – Cottonwood Road; About two miles in
Finishing Elevation: 7,205 – Open area on Cottonwood Road; Many cottonwood trees
Course Rating: 3
Gain/(loss) of elevation: (1,374)
Notes: Cottonwood Road is packed dirt as opposed to gravel. If there is rain before the race, this will be problematic. The road is very steep and windy like a roller coaster. There are numerous sharp turns and blind corners. The packed dirt will be easy to ride on and to gain speed, but care should be taken.
Eleventh 5 Miles
Starting Elevation: 7,205 – Open area on Cottonwood Road; Many cottonwood trees
Finishing Elevation: 6,414 – On Road 100 in the Ruby Valley; Valley bottom
Course Rating: 3
Gain/(loss) of elevation: (791)
Notes: This is a steep and constant downhill to the floor of the Ruby Valley. Cyclists will arrive to Forest Service Road 100 and will turn right to the finish line. This road is gravel and relatively flat. There are two privies on this segment if needed as well as a creek if you want to cool off.
Last Leg (less than two miles)
Starting Elevation: 6,414 – On Road 100 in the Ruby Valley; Valley bottom
Finishing Elevation: 6,229 – Finish line at Vigilante Station
Course Rating: 2
Gain/(loss) of elevation: (185)
Notes: This is just a two mile final run to the finish line. It’s flat and entirely gravel that is relatively loose and dust will be raised by any passing vehicles. The finish line will be on the road at the gates to Vigilante Station. The post-race party will be inside the compound. Beer and other drinks on us!