The North Face Whistler Half Marathon is making its way toward going global.
With an ever-expanding segment of its competitors coming from all over the map, the race is becoming a popular option for destination runners.
In the fifth staging of the race, slated for Saturday, June 6, runners will descend on Whistler from as far away as Montreal, Indianapolis and Houston. Race director Dave Clark also noted runners from Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore will be in attendance, adding that they are likely on longer vacations to the area and the race itself is less likely to be the driving factor in their visit.
Still, he's noticed an increasing number of people getting in touch to inquire about what else there is to do in the region, piggybacking on a trend of planning vacations around a race.
"We're seeing a real wholesale geographic shift of the runners. It's a lot more destination runners that are coming these days and that's true again this year," said Clark.
By May 26 over 1,500 runners had already signed up for the race, and it's expected that by the time the starting gun is shot, athlete numbers will be around last year's total of 1,700 athletes.
"Going into the fifth year, it's always an unknown, when you have these events going, what the popularity is going to be," he said. "We're pleased with the numbers."
There are guaranteed to be a few extra people on the course who aren't competitors, though. In a new twist for this year, Clark explained CLIF Bar will supply a full pace team to give runners an added boost of advice and support.
"For people who are unfamiliar with the course, or need a little bit of extra assistance in trying to hit their goals, these pacers will be out there running with balloons and signs so it will be easy to identify them," Clark said. "If (a runner) is looking to run a two-hour half marathon, they'll find that two-hour pace person in the start corral and then be able to run with that person who's also going to be able to provide them some motivation and tips."
Clark feels getting to a half-decade is a major milestone to reach — "it's not a brand-new event anymore" — as it's becoming established on runners' calendars far and wide.
"When we set out to do this five years ago, we weren't really sure what to expect," he said. "We thought we'd get 300 runners out."
While there won't be anything major to mark the five-year anniversary, Clark said there would be some recognition along the way for those who have been involved since the beginning.
"We're keeping that under wraps, we want it to be a bit of a surprise," he said, noting about 25 people have signed up for all five races. "What's rewarding about recognizing the five-year participants is that many of them are from within the community."
One need not be a veteran of the race to participate this time around, though, as spots in the race are still open and volunteers are still needed.
"We absolutely have availability in first aid, water stations, course marshals and assistants in and around the finish line," he said. "We expect to be filling up spots right up until the 11th hour."
For more information, visit www.whistlerhalfmarathon.com.