Meet Riverbank Run Runners: Pat K. and Ron B.
The YMCA Riverbank Run has seen thousands of runners cross the finish line during its 50-year history. While runners have come and gone, two faces have remained the same—Ron Bender and Pat King have competed in every Riverbank Run since the race’s inception in 1972.
The first Riverbank Run (or the Bank Run as it was then called) was hosted by First National Bank. The 7.1-mile race started in Milltown, snaking its way along the old highway, before ending at the bank’s parking lot in downtown Missoula. (Today, the location is home to ROAM Student Housing.)
A former Hellgate High School track and cross country runner, Pat King was in his early 20s when the first Riverbank Run was announced. Figuring it’d be good way to keep running, Pat signed up.
“The organizers had only planned on 300 participants for the first race,” said Pat. “About twice as many people signed up and they had to do another order of shirts.”
One of those 600 racers was fellow runner, Ron Bender. Ron had moved from West Yellowstone to Missoula in 1967. He was simultaneously teaching in Frenchtown and going to grad school under the GI bill when he volunteered for a fitness study at the UM. A few times a week, he and other volunteers would exercise together, trying to get their heartrates up to 150 BMP. Around the same time, a running club was formed on an old dirt track, so Ron joined that. When the Bank Run started, Ron, who was already exercising regularly, signed up.
Neither Pat nor Ron set out with the goal to run every race, but over the years, the races started adding up.
“I wasn’t thinking much about it and then I got this plaque that said ‘Perfect 10.’ That was nice,” said Ron. “All of a sudden I was getting a ‘Sweet 16’ plaque and then a shirt that said ’30-Year Runner.’”
A tradition was born.
“I was the track coach over at junior high school in Frenchtown,” said Ron. “I started scheduling the school’s track meet around the Riverbank Run to make sure I could race.”
Ron, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, has since relocated to Billings. However, neither age nor distance has stopped him from racing.
“I drive over from Billings and the night before the race, I go out for pasta and one beer,” he said.
“The beer’s for potassium,” he added with a laugh. “After the race, I go to Red’s Bar. Then I take a nap, get cleaned up, and head over to the Double Front. Both Red’s and the Double Front expect me now.”
This year will be even more special for Ron.
“My wife and I are coming over Thursday this year and all the kids are going to join me,” he said. “It’s going to be nice.”
While Ron’s tradition has stayed the same, the race has evolved quite a bit over the years.
“The original course was 7.1 miles and had a lot of uphill. People wouldn’t realize it at first because it was gradual, but it’s certainly an incline,” Pat said. “We had names for some of the hills, like ‘Brickyard Hill’ because it was by the brick mill.”
“Running wasn’t very sophisticated when we started out,” added Ron. “We’d run in Converse shoes and old sweats.”
In the last 50 years, the race has moved to its start to downtown Missoula and started offering 1 Mile, 5K, 10K, and Trifecta race options. It became a fundraiser for the Missoula Family YMCA and started offering running options for youth through the Grade School Challenge. Participation swelled to thousands of racers.
The race also helped several local Missoula staples find their footing including the Shirt Shop and Mountain Line Transportation. The Shirt Shop has printed nearly every Riverbank Run shirt since 1972, including shirts for this year’s 50th. And, back when the race was in Milltown, the newly-formed bus system would transport runners to the start line.
Even this year, the race is still changing. Due to Higgins bridge construction, the 50th Annual YMCA Riverbank Run will be held in Midtown, with all races starting and ending at the YMCA. Ron Bender and Pat King will be there, of course, ready to race like they’ve been doing for the past 50 years.
“I’m 85, so I might talk to Pat about dropping down to the 5K next year,” said Ron. “But this year, Pat and I are still signed up for the 10K.”
From all of us at the YMCA, congratulations to Pat King and Ron Bender on 50 years of running! We’ll see you at the start line on Saturday, April 30. Develop your own Riverbank Run story, just like Ron and Pat! Click here to sign up for the 50th Annual YMCA Riverbank Run.