When my alarm went off at 4 a.m. this past Sunday, part of me didn’t want to get out of bed.

The thought of making it to the starting line of the Missoula Half Marathon in time for the 6 a.m. start was a little daunting. The thought of running 13.1 miles before most people have even had their morning coffee was even more daunting.

Somehow, I willed myself to wake up and get into race mode. I arrived at the starting line on time — barely — and took off at exactly 6 a.m. with a pack of more than 2,500 half-marathon participants.

Now, for those of you who are not familiar with competitive running, let me tell you: getting a group that large rounded up and ready to run on time is nothing short of a miracle. But, everything went about as smoothly as it could go, and thanks to the professional chip timing system — which starts each participant’s “clock” only after they have moved past the starting line — every single runner’s finishing time was completely accurate.

Even more amazing than the on-time start was the overwhelming amount of community support. I couldn’t believe how many Missoula residents got up early to stand out in their yards and cheer on the runners. Some even set up their own aid stations — complete with ice pops, lemonade or sprinklers shooting out a constant stream of cool, refreshing water. Without those enthusiastic spectators, my racing experience would have been a lot less enjoyable.

I also have to give props to the countless volunteers who showed up to lend a hand — either by directing traffic, keeping runners on course or handing out thousands of cups of water and Gatorade.

By the time I crossed the finish line, my legs were totally dead and I had to try really hard not to lose my breakfast. Still, I enjoyed every minute of my first half marathon experience, thanks to the unmatched spirit of the Missoula community.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.