The Whistler 50 Relay and Ultra had big shoes to fill from the start. Hosted by BC Athletics, the race replaced the very popular 100km Haney to Harrison Relay and Ultra on the fall calendar, one of the last, biggest races of the season. But as the populations grew in the Fraser Valley, the traffic increased and the Haney to Harrison became more and more difficult to run. They held the last event in 2010, then promptly announced plans to replace it with the 50-mile/80km relay and ultra in Whistler in 2011.
The attendance dropped off considerably in the move from around 2,400 participants in the move, though in the first year some 1,200 people did participate.
"We think this year will be in the same ballpark," said Maurice Wilson of BC Athletics. "At its peak the Haney to Harrison had over 300 teams, and we would love to get it back up there. That's probably a three or four year plan to get back to numbers like that, but we're quite pleased with the way things are going. Whistler is really an ideal venue for us to host this type of events, with so many benefits over what Harrison was able to offer."
Some of those benefits include the availability of hotel rooms and accommodation within Whistler, while teams racing in the Haney to Harrison often had to stay as far away as Chilliwack to find space. Another benefit is the Valley Trail system, and the ability to keep runners off the roads for the most part. And the post-race party for the Haney and Harrison was moved to Harrison Mills, which required runners to take a bus — while in Whistler the athletes can celebrate at the Whistler Conference Centre.
"The response we had to the event last year seemed to be very positive," said Wilson. "I think people really liked having everything in one location where they could come up and park their car for the weekend, and be in walking distance to all the relay exchanges and the post-race events and awards."
The event also got high marks from ultra runners doing the entire race solo. Although they had to do four laps of the same course, there was a bit more variety than running along the side of the highway out to Harrison. As well, it made it easy to eat, drink, change clothes and get help from support teams on the long run.
This year the registration for the ultra was sitting at 32 on Tuesday, but Wilson expects a lot of last minute registration and they're expecting up to 50 people to do the event solo.
There are a few changes this year for runners. The courses are the same as last year with two loops, one roughly 13km and the other roughly 7km, but the start and second transition have been moved to Whistler Olympic Plaza. The other transition is nearby at Lost Lake Passive House, which means teams can stick together for most of the day.
The date has also been changed, moved up two weeks from the first Saturday in November to Oct. 20. "Last year we got really lucky with the weather," said Wilson. "It was cold in the morning but it turned into a pretty nice day. There was some snow on the ground, which might have been a problem for us so we moved the event up a couple of weeks to reduce that weather concern."
The other major change is the decision to move the awards to the next morning at the Whistler Conference Centre so it doesn't interfere with celebrations.
Registration is still available at www.bcathletics.org/whistler50/. The cost is $720 for a team of eight, which includes a ticket to the pre-race social, the awards ceremony and race schwag.
The pre-race social is on Friday, Oct. 19 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Brewhouse with specials for runners who show their race numbers. The ultra awards take place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday night at the Whistler Conference Centre, and the after-party runs 8 p.m. to midnight at the conference centre. The main awards are on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the conference centre.