In another month the Callaghan Valley could be buried in snow, but this weekend the Olympic cross country trails are wide open for runners taking part in the first Whistler Spirit Run, Sept. 27-28.
There are two parts to the event, with a classic cross-country race on Saturday, and fun 10K solo or relay race on Sunday.
Registration started slowly but is picking up in the final week, says event director Ashley Weber. With clear skies in the forecast he also expects strong race day registration.
He acknowledges that it could take a few years to build a following, but he is taking steps to grow his audience.
“Saturday will be run like a typical cross country meet, with runners racing in different age categories and different races through the day. Eventually I hope to bring in more schools, more high schools, more clubs and more universities as well,” he said.
Both events are sanctioned by B.C. Athletics, but Weber would one day like the events to count towards high school sports. As well, he notes that universities in the province compete under two different sanctioning bodies, and that colleges operate in a third sanctioning organization, and he wants to hold an event that will bring those groups together.
“Right now, for example, the University of Victoria is in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport), while UBC and Simon Fraser are in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) where they compete against American schools. I see this event as one where all the schools can compete against each other, along with schools from Washington, Alberta, everywhere,” he said.
The distances are shorter for the cross-country race than the fun 10K on Sunday. Kids in Grades 2 and 3 will run a 1 km course, kids from Grades 4 to 6 will run a 3 km course, and Grades 7 and 8 will run 4.5 km. High school women will run 5 km, and high school men 7 km. The varsity male athletes and open men will run 8 km, and the varsity female athletes and open women will run 6 km.
The 10K race on Sunday can be run as an individual or as part of a relay team. Several athletes are competing on both days, and many of those are doing the relay on the second day.
And while Weber expects the first day to be competitive, he was careful to ensure that the courses and format appealed to beginner runners and trail runners as well. The trails are a selection of rolling gravel roads in Whistler Olympic Park, with an easy grade.
“There are harder trails if we wanted to use them, but we wanted a cross-country race that wasn’t technical,” he said. “There’s no singletrack and the trails are wide enough to drive a vehicle on them… which will open the race to a wider population base that would not compete on the more technical terrain.”
The event is also being run in honour of Frank Reynolds, a track and field coach from Vancouver who passed away two years ago after dedicating his life to the sport and to coaching runners.
There will be ribbons for the top three finishers in the junior events, and the elementary school or junior club with the most participation will win a Run, Jump, Throw clinic for their school. The high school or club with the most runners will receive a cash award to cover participation costs.
For more information or online registration, visit www.whistlerspiritrun.com. Day of race registration is available until 10 a.m. on both days.