Spirit Run returns to WOP 

Classic cross-country race offers mix of distances, family run and a relay

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOERN ROHDE - spirit runnersThe start of the 2011 Whistler Spirit Run.

Whether you were a member of your school's cross country running team or got into running later in life, there's lots to like about the fifth annual Rio Tinto-Alcan Whistler Spirit Run taking place this Saturday, Sept. 22 at Whistler Olympic Park.

For one thing, it's a classic cross-country event with shorter distances than most trail runs. The open, university and masters divisions are 8km for men and 6km for women, with shorter distances (2km to 4km) for high school and elementary school categories.

The shorter courses come in handy as there are other events taking place the same day. At 2 p.m. there's a 1km Family Fun Run, followed by the 4x2km Relay with Corporate, Club and Family Divisions. In past years participants have taken part in multiple events, bringing families and friends along to enjoy a day of running.

To make things more interesting there is a prize purse of $3,000 available in the open categories courtesy of sponsor Sierra Sil, which is attracting a strong field of runners from the Lower Mainland. As well, the races are officially sanctioned by BC Athletics and runners can earn valuable points in the Lower Mainland Series.

Race spokesman Peter Diemer said registration is going strong for the 8km and 6km distances, and is picking up for the younger age groups as well.

"The 6km and 8km are the real competitions with the prize money on the line, but there are good number of teams registered for the relay as well," he said. "We hope to see more schools and clubs register in the other categories, but we're not surprised — usually teams and coaches register the last few days because everybody's busy getting back to school. But things are looking great, the weather is looking spectacular, and we're expecting a lot of last-minute interest. We're hoping to see a lot more kids come out from Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton areas."

As well as prize money, participants will be supporting a few causes. This year a portion of the funds raised will go towards establishing a running club in Whistler for kids in elementary and high school.

"We were surprised to learn that there's something that Whistler does not have, and that's an organized running club for kids with proper coaching," said Diemer. "What we would like to do is to take the net proceeds from our race and help organize a society for running, specifically aimed at training younger elementary and high school students to run.

"It's really not about going out and running 5km or 10km, it's a balance of running, training, weight-lifting, core work... young kids can get injured if they don't train properly."

Coach and trainer Diana Rochon has joined the Whistler Spirit Run board, and will be involved in establishing a running club for Whistler.

A portion of the proceeds will also go back into a bursary program in honour of Frank Reynolds, a track and athletics coach who had a huge impact on his sport spanning two decades. His work earned him Coach of the Year honours from the North Shore Sports Awards in 2003, the President's award from Sport B.C. for his work with the coaches association and BC Blind Sports in 2005, and the BC Athletics Excellence in Coaching award, also in 2005.

Reynolds, who passed away in 2006, originally had the idea of hosting running events at the Olympic venues to build support and public appreciation for the Whistler Olympic Park venue in the Callaghan Valley. Now, the Frank Reynolds bursary program provides money to young athletes to help them pursue their goals in track, cross-country, athletics and other sports.

According to Diemer, one of the relay teams will be led by Jessica Smith, who competed in the 2012 Summer Games in the women's 800-metre race. She was coached by Reynolds for several years and is bringing a team to run in his honour.

Online registration is available until midnight tonight (Thursday, Sept. 20), but day of race registration is available from 9 a.m. at Whistler Olympic Park until half an hour before the start of each event.

The 8km and 6km categories are $16, and elementary and high school races $12. There is no charge for the Family Fun Run, and relay teams are $60 in the Club/Corporate Challenge and $40 in the School/Family Challenge for teams of two or four.

The 8km and 6km races start at 11 a.m., followed by Elementary School Students 12 and under at noon, junior high school students 15 and under at 12:30 p.m. and the girls/boys senior high school 17 and under categories at 1:15 p.m. The Family Fun Run is at 2 p.m. and the relay starts at 2:30 p.m.

For more information and registration, visit www.whistlerspiritrun.com.

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