Runner’s ascending the steep terrain above the M. Photo: Seth Orme

By Adam Peterman, Race Director of the 2021 Sentinel Hill Climb

For me, the Hill Climb started in 2009. On a cold November morning when I was a freshman at Hellgate High School, I lined up to race my first ever Sentinel Hill Climb.  I had just read “Born to Run” and was wearing a fresh pair of Vibram Five Fingers (blue camo colorway, of course.)  I remember there was a skiff of snow and my footprints made it look like I was running barefoot. 

The course that year didn’t follow the ridge trail but instead the more gradual Boy Scout Trail to the top.  Two-thirds into the race, I blindly took the lead, not knowing how much farther was left, and turned myself inside out to avoid being passed. I haven’t won it since, and I think it’s safe to say I’m the only person to win it in Vibram Fivefingers. 

12 years later and I’ve been handed the ropes to be the race director.  With COVID precautions in place, we were given a unique opportunity to create an “Elite Heat” for the runners who want to start together in a pack and duke it out.  I love many things about running, but a big part of why I run is for the competition, and man, I’m looking forward to the fields that we’ve assembled from our Western Montana runners! 

The Men

  • The Young Men: There is a strong group of trail guys in Missoula right now who all have the capability to break 20 minutes at the Hill Climb (winning times are frequently around 20 minutes).  Monte Cole, Jeff Mogavero, Jackson Cole, Tyler Courville, and Alejandro “Peanut” Rosales will all take a crack at sub 20. 

    Monte Cole gasps for air after a time trial up Mt Sentinel last summer. Photo: Jeff Mogavero

  • The Cyclists: Howard Grotts is a professional mountain biker for Specialized who just moved to Missoula.  Since moving to town, he’s established the fastest time up to the “M,” in a whopping 6:01, and completed the Hill Climb course in 19:50 just a few days ago. He’s got the engine! The other cyclist in our field is Shaun Radley, owner of Montana Cyclocross and the hype man at the Treadmill Challenge.  Shaun has been raring to go at the Hill Climb and we can’t wait to see how he stacks up against Missoula’s best trail runners.  
  • The Fireman: Andrew Droback will be making his return to the Hill Climb this year.  Although he’s run in the 20’s multiple times, he’s never gone under.  Will this be his year to do it? 
  • The Men of Polson: Jason Delaney and Mike Adams will be making the trip down from Polson this year to see how they stack up in the Hill Climb. Delaney is a champion of the Pikes Peak Marathon, a highly competitive trail race in Colorado.  Adams has been a consistent podium finisher in RE Events for many years now.  

    Mike Adams cruising above the M in the last running of the Hill Climb. Photo: Seth Orme

  • The Ultra Man: New to the Hill Climb is Nate Bender, best known for his historic link up of all of Montana’s 12,000 foot peaks in one four-day push.  
  • The New Guy: Missoula’s newest trail guy, Kris Brown, is a professional athlete for Hoka One One hailing from Santa Barbara, California.  Fresh off posting the 10th fastest 100k time for an American, it will be exciting to see how he stacks up in a much shorter event.  
  • The Road Man: Grady Anderson, a former steeplechaser for North Dakota State University and self proclaimed “Road Man” has announced he is going for the $50 premium to the “M”.  Let’s see if he can hold on.  
  • The Dark Horses: In our field we have a handful of Dark Horses that could totally mix things up.  Keep an eye on Doug Melzer, one of Missoula’s fastest skimo racers.
  • Then there’s me:  Although I hold the fastest time up Sentinel, the past month I’ve primarily been a cyclist due to an upset achilles. Howard Grotts, however, seems to be doing quite well off of just cycling, so maybe it will be fine? (Editor’s note: Adam is also a professional athlete for Hoka ONE ONE and holds the fastest known time up Mt Sentinel in 18:39. He is the one to beat!)

    Nicole Murray taking an early lead in the 2019 Hill Climb. Photo: Seth Orme

The Women

  • The Defending Champ: Nicole Murray is back to defend her title. Nicole has won the Hill Climb and the Treadmill Challenge nearly every year she’s entered. Last year she took a commanding win in a time of 25:02. She is a force to be reckoned with and seemingly unstoppable in uphill events. Can she be challenged?
  • The Track to Trails Champ: Erin Clark busted onto the trail scene this January with a 2nd place finish at the Bandera 100k, earning her a coveted Golden Ticket to the 2021 Western States 100. Now a pro trail runner for Hoka ONE ONE, she is ready to roll on the dirt. If that wasn’t enough to make her a favorite, Erin was also an 11 time All-American at the University of Colorado. She is one to watch this Wednesday, although she claims to “hate the Sentinel Ridge trail.”

    Erin Clark and Adam Peterman after Erin’s second place finish at the 2021 Bandera 100k

  • The Coach: Maryn Lowry, a former Division 1 runner at Iowa State and University of Montana, is transitioning from track to trails and ready for the hill climb. Her athletes know her as the assistant coach at UM, but you may soon know her as the gal devouring the ridge trail. 
  • The Ultra Runner: Heather Brooks is best known for her commanding presence in mountainous 50 and 100 mile races. This Missoula ultra runner and La Sportiva athlete will also be dropping down in distance for this event. She’s deep in a training block for the legendary Hardrock 100 this summer in Colorado. We’ll see how that translates to short, steep, uphill climbs.
  • The New Gal: Katrina Miller is new to Missoula from Santa Barbara and looking for a solid showing at her first Hill Climb experience. She hasn’t been at the running game for that many years, but comes charging into town with some top finishes at trail ultras and a desire to race hard. 
  • The PT: Local physical therapist and all around trail crusher Sara Bougnher will enter the Hill Climb as her first race since winning the Siuslaw Sand Dune 25k in early 2020. Will she be able to handle the lack of sand? 
  • The Dark Horse: Katy Robin-Garton, is returning to the climb this year after placing 2nd in 2017. Look out for her and her husband, Doug Melzer as dark horses! 

The Sentinel Hill Climb will make for a fun evening of running and an exciting return to in-person racing.  Follow this link to learn more and sign up! 

Don’t forget the ice cream at the end! Photo: Seth Rome