by Andrew Garda
Since 2016, a contingent of Montclair High School runners have headed out to Montana to take part in the annual Montana Headwaters Relay. In the first year, the group didn’t have enough teens to run as a high school team, but in 2017 they were able to enter representing Montclair High School rather than a team of individuals.
Last year, they finished second in the high school section, falling behind a local group from Bozeman High School in Bozeman, MT.
Third time’s a charm for the Mounties, as the runners from Montclair took first place in the high school section this year.
The Headwaters Relay is a three-day, 232-mile team relay race through the mountains and valleys of Southwest Montana. The race route takes place almost completely on dirt and two-track roads, beginning in Three Forks and ending at Hellroaring Creek in the Centennial Valley.
The Montclair contingent was the same as last year’s with twins Stefan and Sebastian Urquidi, Tillie Ferguson, Dale Ross, Thomas Lee, David Aley and Aidan Ward making up the bulk of the team.
They were joined by a local runner — the race director’s daughter — who helped round out the team.
She wasn’t a distance runner however, and so the legs she ran were shorter than the other members of the team.
“Having only eight runners versus a full team of 10 is tough,” said John Urquidi, chaperone and father of twins Sebastian and Stefan. “With 10 runners, you’re running about 22 miles a day, and with eight you’re running almost 30 a day. So, they were at a disadvantage as far as going for the overall title.”
None of the Mounties ever hesitated to pick up the extra slack, according to Urquidi.
“Everyone was always willing to step up and go when needed,” he said.
Sometimes it wasn’t because of a lack of runners either, but logistical miscues.
With an adult team also going, and since none of the high schoolers were legally able to drive, there were less available drivers and during one stretch, only one car was allowed to go along the route.
Three runners were needed to run the leg, but one of them was in the wrong car, which meant someone in the pace car had to take an extra section.
“Meeting those logistical challenges are part of the race,” Urquidi explained. “People get injured, tired, dehydrated — it never goes the way you expect it to.”
Another issue the team faced centered around food on the third and final day.
During the previous two days, one of the drivers had been able to obtain some food for the runners, but day three saw the race too far from any towns to acquire anything significant to eat. The runners had to make due with granola bars, trail mix and apples.
The Mounties overcame that, running faster than a trio of teams on Day 3, including a group from Brown University.
The Mounties ended up beating them by eight minutes, though still trailing them overall by one place. Their eighth place overall finish was two places better than they had finished in 2017, and they dashed past two teams — called Twisted Blisters and Lt. Dan’s Leg’s — who they had been behind previously, beating them by two and ten minutes respectively.
At the end of the race, runners usually jump into the nearby river to cool off and celebrate. The Mounties definitely deserved a dip after their success.
They even beat the adult group of seven, four of which were Montclairians and three of which were fathers of the high schoolers — Tommy Lee, Tony Ward, David Ferguson and Mike Stein.
While both groups competed hard, it’s hard to imagine this not coming up again regularly at the dinner table until next year.