They came in leggings and shorts and jeans, some wearing tutus, scarves or hats.
But most of the 8,084 participants in the 35th annual Montana Women’s Run wore light-turquoise long-sleeve shirts with colorful logos when they hit the course. The 5-mile run got underway at 8 a.m. and the 2-mile event began an hour later.
With temperatures in the 50s and much less smoke in the air than Friday, it was a perfect day for a walk or a jog on the streets of downtown Billings.
“There were a lot of concerns about the smoke (from the wildfire in northern Canada) and the weather, and to get out here and see this blue sky, we are thrilled,” said Julie Burton, board member of the Montana Women’s Run. “Last year it was wet and rainy and cold, and everybody’s out here in just their T-shirts and their shorts.”
Event organizers had hoped to reach 10,000 entrants this year. But at least three college graduations Saturday in Billings and Bozeman might have kept that from happening.
Still, more than 8,000 runners and walkers — mostly but not all — women and girls, filled the downtown streets. And it was apparent they were having fun.
The run is always held on Mother’s Day weekend, and multiple generations showed up for the event.
“Every year it is amazing to me to see women gathering together making this a priority and celebrating the Mother’s Day weekend and celebrating women, whatever the relationship is,” Burton said. “And it’s all for a fantastic cause that is focused on being healthy and taking care of themselves.”
While waiting for each run to begin, at the corner of Second Avenue North and North 25th Street, entrants relaxed, chatting, taking selfies and stretching or dancing to the taped music that blared from speakers. Volunteers helped direct the women to the starting point.
After a performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Ziggy Ziegler counted down the last few seconds, then shot his starter pistol. As the runners and walkers set off, a sea of turquoise spread out almost as far as the eye could see.
Onlookers cheered from the sidelines at many points along the route. Some participants grabbed cups of water provided to them on their way.
They celebrated when they finished the course at Second Avenue North and North 30th Street. Participants were handed a carnation and a commemorative pin. Then they walked to Skypoint, where a band played live music and tables were filled with fruit, pastry and other snacks.
Mary Owen, 24, of Billings, was the overall winner of the 5-mile race, with a time of 24:03. Nicole Lair, 29, of Billings came in second and Chelsea Dana, 33, of Billings, third.
For the 2-mile run, Taylee Chirrick, 10, of Billings came in first, with a time of 13:10. She was followed by Hannah Obert, 13, of Columbus and Sierra Summers, 16, of Wolf Point.
Before the start of the 2-mile race, longtime friends Toni Chapel, of Billings, and Glenda Buxbaum, of Glendive, asked another woman to take a photo of the two of them together. The two women, both 65, first met when they were in junior high.
Chapel said she’s taken part in the Montana Women’s Run for “probably a good 25 years.”
All of those years, she walked with another good friend, Marlene Stai, who passed away last year.
“So this run’s kind of for her,” Chapel said.
Chapel invited Buxbaum this year to enjoy what she has every year she's come.
“I said that she had to experience just the energy and to see all the women dressed the same,” Chapel said. “It’s just fun, it’s a happy feeling and it’s energizing.”
Buxbaum said she was glad to make the trip.
“It’s unreal the number of people, because there’s probably more here than there are in the town of Glendive,” she said. “It’s very, very exciting, and I’m really glad to be here.”
One group came to the run without the race T-shirts. Instead, they wore identical gray-and-black T-shirts with an image of their family matriarch on them.
Mary Denton, who passed away in December at the age of 104, last took part in the Women’s Run at age 100, using a walker and a wheelchair. It was part of her bucket list.
Denton was an amazing, determined women who demonstrated unconditional love for her family, granddaughter Mary Palmer said.
“So when she passed away, the whole family just kind of decided we’d do a memorial for her this Women’s Run,” Palmer said.
About 35 members of the family joined in the 2- and 5-mile races on Saturday. Son-in-law Tom Price said Denton would be proud of the family coming together.
“Not for coming together for her, but just coming together as a family because that was always important to her,” he said.
Tammy Lake of Sidney came down for the race with her daughter Kira Pewonka and 6-month-old grandson James. She and Pewonka have been running races together for several years, and this was their sixth time at the Women’s Run.
“It’s a blast, we enjoy it, it’s a good bonding time,” Lake said. “It’s amazing to see how many women come every year. It just makes your heart feel full, it really does.”
Brenda Fisher and her daughter Megan Bynum, 13, arrived in tutus that matched their T-shirts, made by Megan the night before. The two, who moved to Billings a year ago, have participated in some kind of women’s run ever since Megan was born, Fisher said.
Megan was glad to be back for her second year at the Billings event.
“It’s really fun to do it together,” she said.
Fisher said having it fall on Mother’s Day weekend is perfect.
“It’s a fantastic Mother’s Day gift,” she said. “Any time I have with my daughter is a great gift.”