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Cloudy skies and a little rain didn’t stop a crowd from turning out for the 35th annual Heart and Sole Race Saturday morning.

To mark the auspicious anniversary, hospital officials hoped to enlist 3,500 participants.

“We surpassed our goal by three,” said David Irion, president and CEO of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, before the start of the first race. “And along with the 300-plus volunteers, this is a great community event.”

Heart and Sole is put on by St. Vincent and Billings Gazette Communications.

Entrants lined up on North 30th Street, in front of the hospital. Their bright-yellow micromesh T-shirts stood out in contrast to the morning’s dark clouds.

People of all ages took part in the 5K and 10K runs and the 2-mile health walk. Some of the runners competed in the Road Runners Club of America 5K state championship.

“We think any one of those participation levels is really important and good for our community and our community’s health,” Irion said.

Christy Rockne waited on the sidewalk to line up for the 2-mile walk with her husband, Shawn, and daughters Makayla, 10, and 1-year-old Makenzie. The walk is one way to stay active, she said.

“It gives us time to spend together and stay healthy at the same time,” Rockne said.

Saturday was the family’s first time in the Heart and Sole Race. Rockne is working toward getting back into shape for running.

“And we just decided we’re going to slowly work into it, and why not do it as a family?” she said.

As Gwenna Peters, of Billings, waited at the front of the pack for the 5K race to begin, she talked about her love of the sport.

“I grew up in Glendive and I ran on the very first women’s cross-country team in Montana, when we were just coming through Title IX,” she said. “So I’ve been running for a lot of years.”

Running keeps her healthy and gives her energy, said Peters, who has taken part in Heart and Sole for the past several years.

“The races are always fun,” she said. “They get you excited. It’s sort of a goal, and then there’s all these people here so you can just feel the energy.”

Adding an international flair, Francisco Rodriguez, a native of Spain who lives in New Jersey, ran in the 10K. Rodriguez has taken part in 162 marathons, including one in each state in the U.S., as well as a half-marathon in every state.

“And now I’m doing 10Ks in every state and this is my 32nd state,” he said, waiting for his race to begin. “And I decided to do the 10K in Billings because I did a marathon here and I love the city.”

Rodriguez was a 2-1/2-pack-a-day smoker when he took part in his first race in New York City in 1988. That spurred him to quit smoking and keep running.

“I feel much better,” he said. “I’m 63 and I never have been better.”

At the end of the race, at Dehler Park, was the Montana Active Life Festival. This was the festival's fourth year.

The event was a bit soggy, as a light rain came down. But that didn’t stop participants gathered on the concourse from grabbing fruit or a bagel or a popsicle, and some water.

A few people waited in line to get a free massage. Some visitors took turns on a climbing wall.

Others checked out the many booths set up to hand out information. Organizations such as Billings Parks and Recreation, BikeNet, Billings Amateur Hockey and Yellowstone Rimrunners invited people to learn more about them. 

Julie Wang, who came to Heart and Sole with her mom and son, ran in the 5K. She didn't mind the cooler weather, and the rain didn’t start until she finished the course.

Wang was pleased with her performance in the run.

“I think I’ve done it four or five times and I actually did my best this time, so that was nice,” she said.

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