For Melissa Descheemaker, and many others, there's just something about the Montana Women's Run that sets it apart from other races.
"I don't know how to articulate it," she said. "It's inspiring."
Descheemaker ran the race for the 16th time this Saturday, making the journey from Lewistown to the starting line on Second Avenue North between North 25th Street and North 24th Street, where she was met by a sea of orange.
The number of runners has exploded since Descheemaker first started coming to the race. There were just a couple hundred racers back then, she recalled.
This year's 33rd Annual Montana Women's Run saw a record-breaking 8,739 participants, eclipsing last year's turnout by 189 runners and squeaking past 2012's previously held record by just five. The participants' ages ranged from 2 to 92, and they came from as far away as Hawaii.
With blue skies, a cool breeze and temperatures in the mid 50s, the weather couldn't have been more perfect for the runners who took off in two separate groups Saturday, one for the 5-mile race at 8 a.m. and one for the 2-mile at 10 a.m., some running, some walking and some pushing strollers.
Jamie Timm, 40, owner of Fitness 19 at 15 Avanta Way, said she and her daughter look forward to the event.
"It's something we can do together, especially on Mother's Day."
Timm, who ran in college, said she now runs for her daughter, a second-grader who has fallen in love with the sport.
After 8-year-old Taylee Chirrick placed well in her first race last year, her father said she was determined to do better this year. So, she trained hard for the last year, waking up early each morning to go running.
This year, she ended up getting first in the 2-mile, shattering a record for the 8-and-under age division, her father said. Next year she hopes to do the same for the 9 to 12 group.
Olympic runner Zola Budd led the pack Saturday, completing the 5-mile run first in just under 30 minutes. It was Budd's first time in Montana. She said she was happy to wake up to "perfect weather."
Renee Coppock, Montana Women’s Run board president, said she couldn't believe how easy it was to get in touch with Budd to get her to come to Billings.
After finding Budd's email on a Coastal Carolina University webpage, she said she sent her a quick message. Budd quickly responded and agreed to come, she said.
After the race, Budd said the run helps facilitate a healthier lifestyle for women, which is important, she said, because of the role they play in raising the next generation.
"Healthy moms equal healthy kids," she said.
Libby Brindley, a nurse at Billings Clinic, said the event transcends the race.
"It's a tradition," said Brindley, standing beside her daughter. "It's something we love and get to do together."
This year marked the ninth year that Brindley participated and her daughter's seventh year.
Brindley was one of nine to win a crisp $100 bill during an award ceremony raffle.
Ekkie Wedul, the event's coordinator, said she knew she wanted to get involved after running the race in 1982. Since then, she said, she can't believe how big it's gotten.
After turnouts like Saturday's, Wedul said she shakes her head and asks herself, "Where do they come from?"
Nowadays, Wedul said there are four generations of women who come out each year. It's amazing "when young moms come in and talk about how they were pushed (in a stroller) and how they are now pushing their own daughter," she said.
"It allows women an outlet to take care of themselves, and it empowers them," she said of the race. "It brings the community together."
Bringing the community together meant a boost for some downtown businesses as well.
After the race, as crowds spilled into Rock Creek Coffee Roasters from an outdoor concert — where the bluegrass band Spur of the Moment performed — store owners Joel and Peggy Gargaro were prepared.
Peggy said they scheduled added staff and stocked up on supplies. "Women's Runs are always slammed," she said.
Joel said the event gave him about twice as much business.
A total of 87 teams participated in the event Saturday. Billings Clinic won the trophy for the large group and Billings Family YMCA won for the middle group.
The Montana Women's Run is the largest running event for women in the state. It's also one of the largest in the country. Since 1994 the Montana Women's Run has donated over $762,000 to the Billings community, including $89,000 for 2013.