Montana Women’s Run: Empowering Women for 42 Years

May 2024

article by maria weidich | photos courtesy of Montana Women's Run

The Montana Women’s Run, now in its 42 nd year, has become synonymous with Mother’s Day weekend in the Magic City. As waves of women come together in their vibrant race shirts one Saturday morning each spring, our community has embraced the event as a treasured Billings tradition since 1982.  

1982 starting line

The primary mission of the Montana Women’s Run has been - and always will be - to promote health and fitness among women of all ages and abilities. “It serves as a beacon for promoting health and wellness,” longtime board member Ekkie Wedul said. “By encouraging active participation in physical activity, the run not only cultivates a healthier lifestyle but also empowers women to set and achieve fitness goals, fostering a sense of empowerment and achievement.”    

Paving the Way 

While it seems commonplace now, women weren’t always encouraged and supported to run races. Before the Montana Women’s Run held its inaugural event, women seldom competed in local races and were more likely seen producing running events for the male-dominated running community.  

As an act of gratitude, and with the help of the Junior League of Billings, the men of the Yellowstone Rim Runners Run Club hosted what became the first annual Montana Women’s Run in 1982, drawing approximately 200 women. Now managed by an all-female leadership team, thousands of women walk and run each year, making it one of the largest women’s races in the region. 

Giving Back 

Since 1994, the Montana Women’s Run reached a level that permitted the event to donate funds back to the Billings community to extend its mission of promoting health and fitness among women. “It also raises awareness about important issues like women’s health and charitable causes, contributing positivity to the overall wellbeing of the community,” PR and Marketing Coordinator Mandi Graham added.  

Approximately $1.7 million has been gifted to female-driven organizations, such as the Billings YWCA, Billings Clinic Women’s Wellness Fund, MSU-B Women’s Cross-Country Scholarship, Rocky Mountain College Women’s Scholarship, and the Billings Family YMCA.  

It Takes a Village 

The Montana Women’s Run truly is a community-supported event. With a large leadership team, dozens of sponsors, and a staggering 350+ volunteers, producing an event of this stature is a collective group effort. “The event serves as a hub for community engagement,” Mandi added. “It brings together women from diverse backgrounds to socialize, network, and support each other’s fitness journeys.” 

The leadership team are volunteers themselves, which is a testament to their dedication to the race, Mandi said. “A majority, but not all, are avid runners, but all board members share a strong passion for the race and are committed to ensuring its longevity for years to come.” 

Shirts of Solidarity 

Mandi said the official Montana Women’s Run long-sleeve race shirts represent far more than participation. “They represent achievement, team spirit, support, and commemoration, all contributing to the overall experience!”  

“With distinctive designs featuring vibrant colors, these shirts have taken on a life of our own,” she laughed. “Year after year, they have grown in popularity, becoming a symbol of pride and accomplishment for participants. The anticipation for these shirts adds to the excitement surrounding the event, making them a tradition that people eagerly look forward to and enhances the camaraderie and unity among participants.” 

This year’s commemorative race shirt was designed by Jim Heins of Heins Creative. Since 2000, Jim has contributed his creative talents and has designed an impressive 20 shirts for the event. Past designers have included local female artists, and the leadership team hopes to continue incorporating more women designers in the future.  

For nearly 30 years, the Montana Women’s Run has hosted “Getting Started Clinics” beginning in April. Each Monday leading up to the event, the clinics prepare participants for race day. They are free of charge and take place at Pioneer Park. 

2024 Getting Started Clinics 
  • When: Monday, May 6th at 5:30pm 
  • Where: Pioneer Park 
  • Who: All are Welcome 
  • Cost: FREE  

Just for Kids  

For the past 20 years, the Montana Women’s Run has hosted a Kids’ Run on the Tuesday before race day. “The purpose of the Kids’ Run is to promote healthy activity for kids,” Ekkie said. Many of our participants have children, and we wanted to include them in the fun, too!” 

2024 Kids’ Run 
  • When: Tuesday, May 7 at 6:00 p.m. 
  • Where: Rocky Mountain College Football Field 
  • Who: Kids Ages 3-10 
  • Cost: FREE – Please arrive early to sign waiver 

A Run for Generations 

Most would agree that the Montana Women’s Run represents a community tradition. “Shared with generations of family and friends, it holds sentimental value and memories that add to its significance,” Mandi said.  It’s not uncommon to see multi-generations on course sharing the race together and supporting each other, year after year.  

“It's an amazing opportunity to be part of something special and connect with other women. The atmosphere is incredibly supportive, whether you're running or walking. You'll find encouragement every step of the way, and the sense of accomplishment when you cross that finish line is truly unbeatable.  It serves as a reminder of the importance of physical fitness and self-care, all while being able to contribute to meaningful women’s initiatives and make a difference in our community or beyond.” 

The 42nd Annual Montana Women’s Run is Saturday, May 11. The 5-mile race begins at 8:00 a.m., and the 2-mile race at 9:00 a.m. Learn more at

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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