Ahead of last Saturday's Whistler Alpine Meadows trail race, organizers were hit with a grizzly curveball.
The race course, part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, was originally designed to include several alpine trails on the west side of the valley—including the Sproatt Alpine Network and Rainbow Lake and Skywalk trails—that officials closed earlier this month after two instances of human-wildlife conflict with a confirmed grizzly bear in the area.
The trail closures—coupled with cold, wet weather—created a logistical nightmare for race directors Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford, especially since this year's race marked the debut of the 110-kilometre event in addition to the annual 12K, 25K and 55K races.
For the inaugural 110-km event, that meant opting to turn the course into an out-and-back relegated to the east side of the valley, rather than the loop they initially planned on.
Victoria-based athlete Gregory Lariviere was the fastest runner of the day to complete the 110-km distance.
"Because they kept the first 50K or so the same, I kind of knew what to expect. Knowing that it was going to be turning around and coming back, I was scared a little bit, just because I knew that big ascent back up Whistler was going to be really tough," Lariviere recalled.
"I think it did play well into my strengths—I'm pretty good at just kind of a power hike ... I quite enjoyed it actually, now looking back."
Larivier crossed the finish line in 14 hours, 56 minutes and 26 seconds (14:56:26), sneaking in just under his goal of 15 hours.
Zachary Del Greco and Scott Maguire rounded out the male podium, while local Kristian Manietta finished in sixth.
In terms of the course's difficulty and elevation gain, women's 110K champion Marieve Legrand found it "very comparable" to what the original course would have served up.
"It was incredible to see what the race directors were able to do, you could not have said that it was a last minute course change. On the day of, along the way, it was as though it had been planned for months," she said.
But in reality, racers found out about the course changes just five days before they crossed the start line.
"It was the best that could be done in those circumstances, there really was no other option," said Legrand, a North Vancouver runner and part-time Whistler resident.
"I was familiar with the course regardless, and just tried to go with the flow, stay focused and prepare myself for the unexpected: Bad weather, changes in the course, and everything else ... it still goes with the training I put in. The weather wasn't great, but at the same time I don't do well in the heat, so I figured this would better play to my strengths."
The strategy worked: Legrand held on to the lead for the duration of the race, before crossing the finish line in 17:57.24.
"It was nice to finish strong and know that I had done everything I could have done for me. Finishing in the lead was a bonus. It was a fantastic feeling, and great to share with family and friends along the way and at the finish line," she said.
Local runner Marián Tréger was similarly unaffected by the difficult weather that seemed to hold off for most off the 25K race.
"The weather looked really bad the night before, so everybody was a little concerned about how it was going to be ... It was a little bit wet and slippery, but other than that it was really, really nice."
Tréger was disappointed the re-routed course didn't get to hit the alpine trails he had anticipated.
"It was still a great run," said Tréger, who finished second with his time of 2:19:01, just 10 minutes behind winner Brendan Hunt.
While he may have been concerned about the weather, there were two notable competitors in the 24-kilometre men's field Tréger wasn't worried about: Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The two former Vancouver Canucks and Art Ross Trophy winners seem to have turned to trail running to keep active in their retirement—they finished 24th and 25th, respectively.
"They're going to be strong for sure, they're pro athletes, but it's a totally different sport, hockey and running," Tréger said.
"I was like, yeah they'll probably be good but there will be different guys who will be really fast and strong runners."
For full results, go to spruceregistrations.com