If you are looking for a little New Year's inspiration to keep your fitness resolutions, keep an eye on Missoula's streets.
Every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, a small Lycra-clad crowd of runners is putting in the miles for a tangible goal: The Boston Marathon on April 20.
Rain, sleet, snow, slush, you name it the weather won't deter these runners who have qualified for the oldest and most lauded marathon in the country.
"We have 16 weeks to train for it and this training group started on Dec. 29, about the worst week to begin any kind of training, especially in Montana," said Darr Tucknott, who qualified for the Boston in July by finishing the 26.2-mile Missoula Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 24 minutes.
"It's hard to stay motivated this time of year, and that's truly the benefit of having a group with the same goal," Tucknott said Sunday before the group's 18-mile route from downtown Missoula to Piltzville and back. "It helps keep you going, no matter the weather."
Missoula runner David Schmetterling organized the group with the help of Runner's Edge, a Missoula speciality running shop, because he knew training would be a chore if he had to do it alone and a handful of other local runners were also Boston-bound.
"For me, there is no way I could train as hard and stay as motivated if I were doing this alone," Schmetterling said. "Running in the dark, in snow and ice is a pretty daunting and challenging endeavor, so having a group to train with makes it almost bearable."
The group numbers 14, but Schmetterling knows the area has a lot of runners who are qualified for the Boston Marathon and invites those people to join this newly formed pack of co-conspirators.
"Training for a marathon is a huge commitment and having a group with which to train provides motivation, encouragement, competition in a good way and camaraderie," he said.
Although each person is running his or her own race, the runners are teaming up to help defray travel expenses and most of them will tour the city together in the days before the big event.
Come race day, they will be easy to spot in the crowd of 25,000 runners. They'll be the ones in bright orange shirts that bear two bold words: "Missoula Montana."
"This is a big event," Schmetterling said. "For many runners in this group, this is going to be overwhelming and a little different from a few hundred runners showing up for a local run."
Boston will host its 113th annual running of the marathon April 20, and like all the years before, the city will pull out all the stops to make the race a giant party, said Anders Brooker, owner of Runner's Edge.
"It's an amazing event because of its history and because you just don't get the opportunity to run through a city of that size the town shuts down for the day just for the runners," he said. "It's just a cool weekend to be there."
Such thoughts help stoke motivation, which is critical, given Missoula's icy, slushy streets.
Strap-on snow cleats called ice joggers allow them to run on slippery routes, and new athletic wear that wicks moisture helps keep the chill away, Tucknott said.
But really, it's the good company of the group and the beauty of our backyard that makes marathon training more than bearable, said marathon runner Steve Brown. It's what makes running 50 to 70 miles a week enjoyable.
"Missoula is a great place to run," Brown said. "There's a lot of variety and it's all right here out our door."
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at email@example.com.