The last time Jeanelle Hazlett competed in the North Face Valley to Peak Race, she had to battle through strong winds, bitter cold, rain and even snow—not to mention a brutal climb up Whistler Mountain's full vertical elevation—to win the women's 17-29 age category.
Luckily, Mother Nature decided to be more forgiving this time around.
"I raced it back in 2016, and the weather (on Saturday) compared to that day was beyond beautiful, so that was a huge plus," said Hazlett of the clear skies and mild temperatures runners experienced during the fourth-annual North Face Valley to Peak Race on Saturday, Sept. 1. "It was nice to run on such a gorgeous, gorgeous day in Whistler."
The great conditions weren't the only highlight of Hazlett's day: she was the first woman to cross the 22.5-kilometre course's finish line, in only two hours, 46 minutes and 13 seconds (2:46:13), to earn one of her "first big wins" since recovering from the broken foot she suffered last November.
The 2016 event "was one of my first races digging in to be a bit more competitive so I was really excited to come back a couple years later and just see how my training and my racing has paid off over the two years since having raced it," said Hazlett, adding that while she "had no idea" where she'd fall amongst her competition, having a penchant for uphill climbing meant the course's over 1,600 metres of vertical elevation gain played to her strengths.
Whistler's Claire Daniels followed closely behind with a time of 2:51:57—landing her in second place for the third year in a row—while local runner Hannah Kitchin rounded out the women's podium, crossing the finish line in 3:00:32 to repeat the third-place result she claimed last year.
"There was some really good, strong competition out there from some local Whistler girls," said Hazlett, who's based in North Vancouver.
Daniels noted she was tired heading into the race, after running the Squamish 50's 80-kilometre ultra marathon on Aug. 18. She's currently preparing for the Whistler Alpine Meadows 110-kilometre race set to take place on Sept. 22, so "this was sort of a fun, training race," she explained. "It's a real treat when you have these tough, challenging and also really high-calibre races right in your backyard."
After holding a steady pace and trading the lead position with Daniels throughout the first half of the race, Hazlett "kind of dropped into a second gear, probably at around the 14-K mark," the winner recalled. "That back half of the race; I didn't remember as much how amazing and runnable it is ... it's just super flowy apart from the three little climbs, so that was really exciting because I was feeling pretty great at that point and was able to put on a little bit of gas and pass (Daniels) and just hold a position and keep running strong."
After heading into the event without any expectations, Daniels said she was "stoked" with her second-place finish.
"It was a fun race—Jeanelle and I sort of leapfrogged a bit. I could tell that she was really working hard to make it happen so I was really excited that she was able to pull off a good race and to get that first(-place win). It was really awesome for her and I was really happy coming in second. It's always nice crossing the finish line and still feeling good."
When it comes to trail running, "You just never know until probably the last kilometre whether or not it's a race you might win ... nothing's ever certain in a trail race," Hazlett added with a laugh.
In the men's 22.5 km event, Kristopher Swanson took the win with a time of 2:10:14. Squamish's Eric Carter fell back into second place—a position he claimed in both 2015 and 2016—with a time of 2:12:35, after entering the race as its defending champion. Connor Meakin crossed the finish line in 2:22:07 to earn third place.
In the age categories, Brendan Urlocker won the men's 17-29 in 2:26:20, while Daniels topped the women's 30-39 division. Local runner Kristian Manietta took the men's 40-49 division win in 2:39:45, while Angela Shoniker won the women's 40-49 in 3:04:55 and Sandra Louie topped the women's 50+ in 3:45:11. Marek Dutkiewicz won the men's 50+ in 3:02:04.
Lee Ann Ahrens won the 10-km women's race in 1:04:36, while Jordan Givenette topped the men's 10-km event in 45:57.
Saturday's race marked the event's first year incorporating a three-kilometre loop and a one-kilometre kids' race, as well.
Liam Dungey topped the three-kilometre men's field in 17:56, while Olivia Rodig won the women's three-kilometre race in 16 minutes.
The event drew over 200 runners to compete amongst the four distances.