Blazing a Trail with Montana Women’s Run

May 2024

by elise habel

The telling of stories is what connects us across generations. The legacy of the Montana Women’s Run has borne countless accounts of victories accomplished, barriers broken, trails blazed, spotlighting tales of a deeper sisterhood along the way. Yes, Montana Women’s Run has been uniting women since 1982, blazing its own trail and steadily growing to become a cherished tradition for thousands of women and families across the region. Bringing us along for that run (or walk), three women share their experiences with Montana Women’s Run.  


Ekkie and daughter Lynne

Ekkie and her husband had recently relocated to Billings from Denver right around the time the first Women's Run commenced. She heard about the Billings Rim Runners men’s group and their initiative to put on a race for the women in their lives. Many of their girlfriends or wives supported the men's races by volunteering and manually tracking times. But Ekkie, like other women, concealed a spirit of competition within her, and when the opportunity finally arose, she jumped in with both feet. “They were doing something entirely new to the state - new to the country even. In the ‘80s, women were somewhat intimidated to race against men,” Ekkie reflected. The Montana Women’s Run was among the very first athletic events specifically designated just for women in the U.S., pioneering the way for hundreds of other women’s runs to sprout up nationwide and promote health and fitness for everyone. “Growing up, there were no opportunities for girls to play sports or compete,” Ekkie said, “the Women’s Run gave women of all ages that chance.”   

Ekkie, who still participates in the race every year and now proudly sits on the Montana Women’s Run board, remembers what it was like to be there the morning of her first race and the playing of the National Anthem. “There’s something about the National Anthem,” she said, “it makes any sporting event feel like a true competition.” A reverent silence falls over the crowd, and the crisp morning air fills everyone's chests. From then on, the Montana Women’s Run has begun race day with The Star-Spangled Banner sung by a mother-daughter team. “It really sets the tone,” Ekkie noted. 

The Montana Women’s Run maintains its reputation as one of the largest women’s events in the region today, having grown from 65 finishers in 1985, then jumping to 500 participants the following year, and up to nearly 9,000 in recent years. “Do you know why the numbers jumped so much from ‘85 to ‘86?” Ekkie asked. “The ladies Rim Runners took over that year, and they got a pink, long-sleeve race shirt; no one had ever seen a pink race shirt before!  And everyone wanted one.” Still today, women all over Montana want their own annual, beautiful Montana Women’s Run t-shirt. “It’s special to see everyone wearing the same shirt Downtown; it shows comradery - like we’re all on the same team.” 

Though Ekkie doesn’t run the race anymore, you will find her faithfully walking on this May. “That’s the thing,” Ekkie said, “it doesn’t matter how fast you go. Even the last person is there. You’re ahead of those who aren’t.” 

Jeanne & Victoria 

L to R: Ellie, Victoria, and Jeanne

For Jeanne and her mother, Victoria, race day is an all-day celebration. After a morning of walking together and enjoying the community, they gather with their friends for breakfast or coffee. In the afternoon, the ladies bounce from flower shop to flower shop, picking out which plants will grace their gardens that season. “It’s all about being together,” Victoria said with a grateful smile. That’s what makes the day so special.” 

Jeanne and Victoria have participated in the Montana Women’s Run every spring since 2000. Even when it’s not race day, the two get together for weekly walks. They commit to walking together year-round, no matter the temperature. The ladies have seen their share of not-so-pleasant weather on race day, too, but they have never missed a year. “It’s Mom who really holds me accountable,” Jeanne chuckled, “she always tells me that ‘we’re gonna do it no matter what!’” Jeanne and Victoria exchanged smiles, and then Jeanne added: “For me, I just want to be like Mom.” 

The Montana Women’s Run means many things to the women who cherish it. For Victoria and Jeanne, it means being together and being healthy, but it also means taking part in a purpose bigger than themselves. “My whole life, I have been able to afford the care that I need,” Victoria choked up, “but I have friends who haven’t been able to, and I know there are so many other women who can’t either.” All funds raised by the Montana Women’s Run are poured directly back into the community, supporting women’s health, among many other causes that impact the women of Billings. “Anything that has to do with women getting better (physically, occupationally, etc.) means growth for women everywhere as a whole,” Victoria concluded, “and that is something special.” 

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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