HELENA – Two weeks ago it was state track. Last week it was graduation. Saturday is officially the final hurrah, at least for now.

Helena High distance runners Iain Anderson and Brandon Stinson threw their caps in the air with the rest of the seniors on Saturday, prepared to leave the hallways of Helena High School behind. The graduates now prepare to jet off to college, leaving close friends Zane Roush, an upcoming junior, and Jonah Fisher, who will be a sophomore, behind. Their time together dwindles, which leads us to the oval track at Helena Middle School.

The four friends have met nearly every day after school, pacing their way around the track, footsteps echoing throughout the empty stands, training for Saturday’s Governor’s Cup race.

“We had talked about doing the half marathon,” said Stinson, who is headed to Montana State in the fall. “We had dreams.”

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“And then Brandon and I realized we have to pay college next year, so we decided to devalue to the 10k,” laughed Anderson, who will run for Davidson College. “But we’ve been thinking about this since winter.”

Yes, months after the quad wrapped up the high school cross country season, ideas spawned to compete one last time before they officially went their separate ways. Anderson, Fisher, Roush and Stinson share a special bond – you’ll notice it immediately watching them stride throughout Saturday’s race – a bond that was sparked from hundreds of hours and dozens of miles.

“A lot of time and a lot of mutual respect,” Stinson said of the friendship runners share. “I think that’s a big deal because we all know that we’re going through the same or more pain every day. I think we would all probably agree that as much as running can not be fun, in the end we enjoy it in a way. We all have a good time even though we’re putting ourselves through a not-good time.”

“There’s kind of a reason to why we run. Yeah, it hurts, but in the end, once you think about it when you’re done with the run, you think, ‘Oh, that was a pretty good time,’” said Roush. “It doesn’t feel good while you’re running eight laps around a track in 11 minutes, but once you’re done you’re like, ‘That was good. Maybe I’ll do it again soon.’ You just want to come back for some more.”

Each runner agrees the Governor’s Cup may be their thing in the future, that reunion bringing friends back together from wherever their futures take them. But Saturday is the first, and while runners from around the region are sure to chase fast times, this group is focused more on the memory, at least for now.

“I think probably, I’m going to assume, we’re all doing this to have fun,” said Stinson. “We’ll take it as we go in the race. If we see there’s a realistic chance of being in the top 20 in the race, I don’t think anyone will object to going for it.”

“I feel like we’re going to run together and if we all feel good enough we’ll try to do well against everyone else,” added Fisher.

“This is more for us than anyone else. It’s one last hurrah,” said Roush.

Saturday will serve as the final finish line for this foursome, at least for now. The friends plan to race side by side, aiming to finish as close together as possible. But don’t be surprised if one, maybe two make a last-second sprint for what could be a lifetime of bragging rights.

“Jonah,” said Roush, mentioning his prediction of which friend would fight for first place.

“Iain,” differed Stinson.

“Oh really?” questioned Anderson.

“I don’t want to win this one,” chimed in Fisher.

“If you want to sprint I’m coming for you,” replied Anderson.

“If one of us sprints the rest of us are going to go try to catch him,” Fisher said.

“Yeah, the rest of us are going after him,” added Roush.

“We’ll probably do some stupid thing when we get to the finish line, but it will be for the fun of it. And we’ll get a laugh from the crowd, which will be great,” said Anderson.

If it is indeed a final hurrah, there’s no better way to make it memorable.