MISSOULA — Pat King had no idea that back in 1972, he'd run a road race that would become a tradition over the next 50 years.
"I figured I'd do it a couple times and that'd be it and it just keeps growing on you from time to time and pretty soon, 25, 30, 50," King said with a laugh. "Everybody keeps asking about it, I can't believe it's that many."
That race is the YMCA Riverbank Run, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday in Missoula.
King, a YMCA employee, is one of two men who have run the race every single year since its existence. The other is Ron Bender, who currently resides in Billings but will be in the Garden City on Saturday to compete once again.
With that rich tradition, King has seen plenty of changes over the years.
"Now it's a more flat course right through the middle of town," King explained. "Started out alongside the river from Milltown to Missoula along the highway there and that just grew too big there. They couldn't keep 1,000 people on the highway because they couldn't close the highway down so they had to move it into Missoula."
And in recent years, King and Bender have gotten to know one another thanks to their histories with the Riverbank Run. Both will compete in the 10K.
"In the last 10 years or so it's just been him and I and afterwards we get together and make sure everybody made it," King said. "His wife usually takes a picture of the finishers, the ones that did all of the races."
And the biggest element that has stood out to King over the years is the enjoyment he's seen from others, and the community connection that comes from it as the race has grown.
"Everybody has had a good time at it and now it's family-oriented too with the one mile fun run," King said. "We try to get the grade school kids and the grade schools into it and get more family members into it and let everyone know about it."
Race director Keri McHugh said this year's Riverbank Run will have over 2,000 competitors lining up on Saturday as the event reaches the half-century mark of giving the community something to wrap its arms around. The race will be run behind the YMCA for the second straight year due to construction in downtown Missoula. McHugh added that packet pickup is at Scheels on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. then at the YMCA on race day. Contestants can register even up to 20 minutes before the race they choose on the day of the races as well. The course map can be viewed here.
The races offered are a 10K, a 5K and a one mile trifecta option for those who will run all three races. There's also a one mile fun run. For those who want to do a virtual option, that is also available for the third straight year.
"We're so proud to be able to offer this and have so many people come out," McHugh said. "My goal for registration was at least 2,022 people so we crushed that and now we're carrying on and I think it just shows Missoula is into supporting its community, helping everybody out, getting everybody out and doing something healthy and what better way than the whole family to do that."