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.