The Big Sky State Games typically kicks off with a 5K run, but this year organizers decided to shake things up.
Instead of a hot 5K, participants began the 29th annual games at Pioneer Park with the first-ever Soaked Run, where runners and walkers got drenched by hoses and slip and slides throughout the two-mile course.
Billings Mayor Tom Hanel was there to see and motivate the three waves of runners off the starting line, as was Montanan and Olympic skier Heather McPhie.
Hanel, a former runner himself, said the event exemplifies the Billings community.
“It’s what Billings is all about,” he said, after the third wave of runners, a group of about 45, took off around 7 p.m.
“We’re a very healthy and energetic community ... It’s another way of showing what we stand for,” he said.
Executive director of the games Karen Sanford Gall said the idea for the run came after she and other organizers debriefed after last year’s games.
They knew they wanted to move the 5K run because its late start often resulted in heat-related injuries, she said.
So they brainstormed. They came up with the idea for the run based on similar runs in other cities, hoping that it would not only cool runners off and result in fewer injuries, but also attract a wider demographic.
After considering names like “Cooling Your Heels,” they decided to name it the “Soaked Run.” They pushed the 5K to Saturday morning, the same day as the 10K and half-marathon.
On Friday, the event was a success.
Gall said about 500 runners showed up for the inaugural event, exceeding organizers’ expectations.
She said they anticipated around 300 people.
Some runners got more than they planned for, too.
“It was wetter than I expected,” a drenched Danielle Mullens, 25, of Billings, said after crossing the finish line at Daylis Stadium.
She added that she was also surprised by the number of children and families who turned out.
Mullens met Aaron Like, 25, also of Billings, while running the course, and they ended up crossing the finish line together.
Both said they plan to come again next year, where each said they also hope to compete in some of the long-distance running events.
Nicholas Schneider and his friend Espen Nyquist, both 9, ran in the event together.
“My sister had a friend who wanted to do it, so I told my friend Nicholas and he said yes,” Espen said.
“It was awesome!” Nicholas said.
Opening ceremonies followed the run, with Olympian McPhie lighting the torch and a Parade of Athletes.
The games are scheduled to run through Sunday.
Gall estimated the games’ overall turnout will be around 10,000 people, which is about the same as last year, she said.