Cindy Thompson Hits the Ground Running
Montana Marathon strives to promote an active lifestyle
Cindy Thompson won't soon forget the moment that lit a fire inside her and turned her into a marathon runner. It was a September morning in the year 2000. She agreed to help hand out water at one of the stations for the Montana Marathon. As she was passing out cups, greeting runners and cheering them on, a spry man with a smile on his face made the concentrated trek past her spot.
"Here was this little Asian man who looked like he was 112 and he, maybe, weighed a buck twenty five. He would run ten steps and walk ten steps. I remember looking at him and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, you know what? If he can do this, I can do this." It's all she talked about with her husband on the ride home after the race.
That was 15 years ago and Cindy Thompson hasn't slowed down or looked back since. In fact, she has only ramped up her efforts to make running a passion in others. Over the years, this 61-year-old athlete says there's something about being able to walk out your front door, lace up your shoes and literally hit the ground running.
"There is just a feeling that all is right in the world when you can get out, breathe some fresh air, run and clear your mind," Cindy says.
She'd given up triathlons in the 1980s and had been looking for something to stay in shape when she started to push herself to run. It had always been her least favorite leg of her competitions. Biking and swimming were her strong suits. She says, however, common sense prevailed. "It was the easiest thing to do. It just started to consume my life."
She joined the running club, the Yellowstone Rimrunners, and for a woman who at one point in her life didn't even enjoy the sport, she ended up owning a business dedicated to it.
"My husband is an accountant and he was doing the accounting for a guy who had started a shoe store. The man's health was failing and he was looking for someone to buy it. Tim came home and said, 'You know, I think you should buy this business. I think you would be really good.' I just looked at him and said, 'Are you kidding me?'"
That was in 1990. Cindy Thompson has been at the helm of Time Out Sports ever since. She laughs when she says, "I get paid to stay in shape, so what a perfect job I have!"
Since running is at the heart of her fitness and her business, Cindy always has an ear to the ground when it comes to big events like the Montana Marathon. When news hit that the YMCA was dropping out of planning the Montana Marathon, Cindy started to panic a bit. "I waited and waited for someone to pick the event up and nobody did." She got in touch with one of her running buddies, and vowed to keep this piece of Magic City history alive. "Ignorance is bliss! Had I known how much work it was, I probably would never have volunteered. Owning a running shoe store, it just seemed like such a fit and having such a passion for running, I just thought, 'Oh my gosh, we just cannot let this go!'"
Since those first years, Cindy has learned a lot about what it takes to put on an event of this caliber. It takes at least a $2 million insurance policy, an army of roughly 250 volunteers and more than a dozen sponsors before the first runners even line up for the race. It also takes someone with attention to detail to make sure the 26.2 mile course from Molt to Billings is registered as a certified USATF course. "You cannot believe how technical it is!" Cindy says. Believe it or not, even though you think a road hasn't changed over the years, Cindy says a typical marathon course is only good for about 10 years before planners have to get out their measuring devices to check, recheck and check the distance again. So many different variables, like parked cars, weather temperature and the shortest possible distance, come into play. Cindy says, "You have to put a little device on a bicycle tire and measure it from start to finish and then finish to start and if the two are different by even a little bit, you have to redo it." She says it's all worth it knowing that once the course is measured with accuracy, "If it is certified, it can be a Boston Marathon Qualifier." Which means, if runners from the Magic City so desire, they will be able to put one foot in front of the other for an Internationally renowned race. Cindy says, "It fulfills dreams. It does every year."
The course is unique in the sense that it starts off at an elevation of about 4,200 feet above sea level, drops to 3,130 and then continues on from Molt to Billings down rolling hills before hitting the city streets, ending at Daylis Stadium. It's a mix of quiet country roads and open land coupled with the more urban feel of the city's core. It's one course that nine hundred runners and walkers will take to each fall for the marathon, half marathon, or 10K.
For Cindy Thompson, there's just nothing like race day.
She starts to feel the electricity at about 4 a.m. when volunteers start to show up for their shifts. "It's really emotional for me. I just think 'Oh my gosh, because we put in all this time and effort, all these people are able to come out on this beautiful morning and run!'"
Putting on an event of this magnitude is a bit like running a marathon in and of itself. Thousands of man power hours are logged during the year, just for an event that's a few hours long on a hopefully nice fall day.
"It is a year round job, Cindy says. And while a lot of other race directors in other communities and other states get paid, she says, "I would feel bad taking a salary and asking all of these volunteers to donate their time. Not only that, but it gives us more money that we can use to distribute to the running community. We distribute a lot of money to the YMCA for their youth programs. We distribute to all the high schools’ cross country and track programs. We give money to any little organization that helps us."
In the end, the Montana Marathon doles out roughly $25,000 to different programs in our community that promote a healthy and active lifestyle. It's a mission that's ingrained in Cindy's own life. This race and this sport are clearly her passions. "If you can instill a love for a sport when they are young – especially something like running – it could be something that they could continue for the rest of their lives." For those who have never run, Cindy will always take time to passionately sell folks on the benefits. With a warm smile and in the tone of a true cheerleader, she offers this sage advice. "Just put one foot in front of the other. You'll do awesome!"
THE MONTANA MARATHON
Register for this year's event
Registration is now open for this year's Montana Marathon & Half Marathon. Mark your calendars for September 20, 2015. For more on the race and how to enter, visit montanamarathon.org.