Anthony Bourdel has gone from hitting the road to hitting the trail, and it's a move that's been successful thus far.
The 28-year-old Vancouver resident, who is originally from France, blazed to victory at the Helly Hansen Comfortably Numb Trail Running Race on June 13. Bourdel nearly broke the two-hour barrier for the roughly 23-km course, finishing in two hours, 26.6 seconds (2:00:26.6) and crossing the line six minutes before Whistler resident Vincent Pagot. Fellow Whistlerite Jake Breuer was just over 11 minutes off the pace to take third.
On the women's side, fellow Vancouverite Anne-Marie Madden crossed the line first, winning in 2:11.50.2. Madden also had a significant cushion, finishing over five minutes ahead of runner-up MK Cirelli of Rutland, Vt. Whistler's Jennifer Demard rounded out the overall women's podium, finishing nearly 28 minutes back.
Bourdel has committed to a switch in priorities from road racing to trail racing this season, and was at Comfortably Numb for the first time.
"I didn't have any expectations about the time or how I would run," he said. "I was very surprised it was so runable. (It was) technical, but (I was) still able to run and there were some beautiful views."
The race was mostly smooth sailing, though just past the midway point, Bourdel experienced some tough conditions.
"Around the 16-km (mark), there was a part that was downhill with lots of rocks. It was really unstable. It was very technical and challenging," he said.
Bourdel looked at Comfortably Numb as a strong warm-up for the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, a 48-km race slated for July 11. He also took part in the Seek the Peak race in Vancouver the day after Comfortably Numb, placing fifth.
"It's totally different. With road races, you know that you have to keep the pace," he said. "Each kilometre, you have to check your watch (to ensure you're maintaining a pace). With trail races, you are more free. You don't have to check your watch, you just enjoy it."
Pagot, meanwhile, took advantage of a familiar trail to take the runner-up position.
"I cruised the whole way," he said. "I tried to not go too fast. I know where I could push, so that's what I did."
Like Bourdel, Pagot raced with his eye on another date — July 4 — when he will participate in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland. He feels ready, but is going to race each weekend to keep fresh in advance of the race.
"It's like one last block of training," he said. "I've signed up for the BarnBurner (Triple) next week in Pemberton. I'll just run it as a race for training. I'm going to do Sea to Sky Scramble, too (in Squamish on June 27)."
Madden, meanwhile, came up for the race for a second time and after a scorcher in her first run, said this year's race was near ideal.
"I've run it before and it was hot. It felt like you were getting baked on the open, rocky sections," she said. "It was not muddy, not too dry. There wasn't that fine dust that you sometimes get on top of the rock and you're sliding all the time. It was fantastic."
Madden had some competition fairly early, but broke away and was even on her own for a fair portion of the run.
"I was in the lead from the start, but the second-place female was pretty close behind until about five or six km," she said. "I had some men around me and at the water station, I stopped to fill up my bottles and the guys in front of me kept going. I had the trail to myself for the rest and I actually quite enjoyed that. It was beautiful just to be out there by yourself."
Madden also enjoys blending road and trail competitions, but feels particular affinity for the latter.
"I like a mix. I love doing trail races because it makes me feel justified to do a lot of my training on the trail," she said. "I do like road races. They're great benchmarks and they do allow you to push yourself in a more cardiovascular kind of way."
Race director Chris Colpitts said registration was down slightly over previous years to 95, but was still pleased with the turnout. The course was also extended slightly to finish at Nicklaus North Golf Course, a change Colpitts said ended up working out quite well to create atmosphere.
"Looking out over the Whistler Air dock and Green Lake really creates a great place to have a finish line for a small community event," he said.