The 1,000-plus runners taking part in the second annual North Face Whistler Half Marathon this Saturday, June 2, run the gamut from walkers to competitive racers. It's the biggest running event of its kind in the corridor, and based on interest — it sold out by the end of January — it's only going to get bigger.
Race director Dave Clark is encouraging everyone to come out and cheer, and to support the event, as well as the Little Ripper Kids Race and the post-race celebration at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
When planning the event, Clark said they looked closely at other iconic runs to determine why they're so successful, and followed their example when building the Whistler event.
"We looked at the Vancouver Marathon, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, New York, Boston, Big Sur and other big destination runs, and why people go there," he said. "Partly it's the destination, but it's partly the race management and how it's all executed. When you look at the details of our race, it's still small but it's got pieces of what makes those big events so popular, and we hope we're nailing all of the things that are going to please people."
For example, Clark said they focused on making it easy to register, and making the website as detailed as possible. They also made everything from the package pickup to the morning of the event as simple as possible, while adding things like live music and post-race food tables that people are going to remember.
"And on race day we make it fun, and engage the community, as much as we can," said Clark. "And the course is enjoyable. It's not designed to be fast, a lot of runners are going to be posting personal bests, but it's enjoyable and really scenic. We really looked at the whole experience, pre, during and post-race because we wanted to emulate those big events."
The day gets started at 7 a.m. with the walkers' start, which is followed by a warm-up stretch and the national anthem before the mass run start at 7:30 a.m. The first men are expected to finish around 8:40 a.m., depending on the weather, and the first women about 15 minutes later. Most runners will finish between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. with the Rutherford Creek bluegrass band playing at Whistler Olympic Plaza.
The Little Rippers 1km run starts at 10:30 a.m. with a sold-out group of 110 runners heading up the Village Stroll to Gateway Boulevard, turning back and then running around Whistler Olympic Plaza. For many kids at Myrtle Philip Community School, it's the final kilometre in the half marathon they've been running after school during the past few weeks.
There are lots of good places to watch the race unfold. The start/finish area is always a good bet, but there are a lot of other good spots as well — with a bike you could probably hit them all.
The 21.1km course starts at Whistler Olympic Plaza and follows Lorimer Road to the bottom. From there, runners head out on Crabapple Drive and Beaver Lane to Blueberry Drive — and some good photo opportunities of runners with the mountains in the background. At the corner of Blueberry and St. Anton Way you can see the runners go by twice, first on their way to do a loop of Alta Vista and secondly as they head back out towards Lorimer on the Valley Trail. When the runners get back to Crabapple they continue on the Valley Trail towards Rainbow Park before turning around. They do a lap of Balsam Way and Easy Street before jumping back on the Valley Trail on the other side of the Whistler Golf Course to Whistler Village. Runners head through the village and out to White Gold and Spruce Grove neighbourhoods.
Clark is encouraging residents and homeowners to cheer on the runners as they go by and add to the atmosphere. Afterwards, Clark wants to invite everyone to the village for the post-race entertainment, which includes DJs from the Digital Mountain Tribe and live drumming form the Drum Café. At noon there will be an interactive drum display/lesson with 300 drums in the crowd.
"It's something that's never been seen before in Whistler, and we think is going to be incredible," said Clark.
It's shaping up to be an exciting race as well. Both defending champions, Jim Finlayson and Care Wakely of Victoria, have signed on to defend their titles, and there are some serious challengers in the group: Edward McCarthy (7th in 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon), Tina Connelly (record holder on Vancouver First Half), David Palermo (first in 2012 April Fool's Half Marathon and course record holder for New Balance Fall Classic), Kristina Rody (a pro marathoner who lived in Whistler and holds the Comfortably Numb Trail Run record), Lisa Brooking (first female at April Fool's Half Marathon), Cartin Jones (first overall in 2010 Royal Victoria Full Marathon), and Amy Schneeberg, Shawn Nelson and Stephanie Hamilton.
Finlayson finished the hilly course in 1:09:25 last year, while Wakely came in at 1:21:04.
Looking forward, Clark says the goal is to increase the field size for the race, but he doesn't know if that will happen in 2013 and how it will affect the race and choice of roads and trails. One option could include adding more distances to the event — maybe 10km and 5km courses, and possibly even a full 42.2km marathon.
"There have been a few discussions about the future of the event, but it's in the early stages," said Clark. "Whether the cap is going to be increased in 2013 is yet to be determined, or whether we'll add alternate distances as well so a wider range of runners can participate."
Road Closures in effect
Whistler residents and visitors should be aware that there are a few road closures and delays in effect during the run:
• Highway 99 at Lorimer Road will be closed from 7:30 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. and the west section of Lorimer will be closed to westbound traffic from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.;
• Crabapple Drive and Beaver Lane will be closed to southbound traffic from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.;
• There will be temporary delays along the entire route. People should also be aware that the Valley Trail will be busy, and in some sections the runners will be in both lanes. The section of Valley Trail from Lorimer to Rainbow Park will be extremely busy from about 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and people are advised to take the alternate route along Alta Lake Road.