Winter, Cliff top Whistler Spirit Run 

Over 240 people come out for classic cross-country running event

click to enlarge fast startChris WInter (far right)
  • fast startChris WInter (far right)

Over 240 people turned out to the fifth annual Whistler Spirit Run, which took place at Whistler Olympic Park on Saturday, including a few members of Canada's steeplechase team. The course was a series of loops out of the Olympic cross-country stadium area, with a mix of pavement, gravel and dirt.

Vancouver's Chris Winter took an early lead in the men's 8km event and never looked back. He finished the race in 24:42, averaging a kilometer every 3:06. Sean Chester placed second in 25:53, followed by Kevin O'Connor in 26:18. Originally the unofficial results put O'Connor second.

For Winter, a national track and field athlete who competes in the sport of Steeplechase, it was a chance to train and prepare for nationals. Shortly after he earned his podium, and a cheque for $400, he took off running again with women's winner Rachel Cliff, also richer by $400.

"The (prize money) will help me travel to races over the next couple of months and the nationals at the end of November," said Winter, when asked if he had plans for the money.

"In the spring I was over running in Europe and doing a lot of events, and after that I took about a month off to rest and get ready for the fall season. This was my first race back, and it was important to me — Frank Reynolds was my coach for my first eight years of running, he's the reason I'm running track. It's super important to me to be able to do the race this year."

Reynolds, a North Shore track and field coach, passed away in 2006 after training athletes and staging events for almost two decades, earning acclaim like the Sport BC President's Award for his efforts. He came up with the idea of hosting an event at Whistler Olympic Park as a way to promote the Olympics as well as track and field.

Winter said the course was challenging compared to most track events.

"There's a bit of altitude here that you could feel, and that one hill was not easy at all," he said. "By the third lap, which was cut short, it felt like it was uphill the whole time with that hill to get over. But it's a gorgeous setting in Olympic Park, and running past the Olympic rings makes it special."

Winter said he tested the other runners early to see who could keep up, but by the end of the first lap he had a good lead. "I felt good after that, and just had fun and enjoyed the course," he said.

Matt Barry was the top Whistler runner in the men's 8km race in 11th place in 32:54, followed closely by Jon Decaigny in 12th in 32:55. Graeme Fitch was 14th in 34:53.

In the women's 6km run, Rachel Cliff was the top racer in 20:22, followed by Chantelle Groenewoud in 21:06 and Erica Digby in 21:30.

With a $3,000 donation from Sierra Sil, the top three men and women in the Open/University category won $400, $200 and $75 respectively.

Cliff, who is also a member of the national track and field team — and an athlete who trained under Reynolds, said she enjoyed starting with the men.

"It was nice to mix it up with the guys and girls and the start, and try to hang onto fast people," she said. "I kept tabs on some of the girls, but by the time I was over the first hill I was on my own, and in no man's land a little bit. I just tried to keep the guy in front of me in sight and not worry too much about my own pace or what anyone else was doing."

Cliff also liked the idea of racing a lap course.

"I like lap courses," she said. "When you get to the second lap there's this feeling that every step you're taking is one step closer to the finish, so it feels like that second lap is easier."

Cliff's fall seaon includes an 8km in Victoria and the cross-country nationals, as well as other races between 5km and 15km.

In the men's master category, the top three were Kevin O'Connor in 26:18, Mikhail Titov in 30:21 and Jonathan Irvine in 33:36. The top three masters women were Darcie Montgomery in 22:39, Lisa McDougall in 26:04 and Jill Lawson in 27:06.

Following the open and masters races, the track opened up to high school and elementary school students.

In the senior boys high school 17 and under 5km race, the top three were Mike Rogers in 19:39, Max Lindley-Pert in 21:01 and Daniel Rogers in 21:05. In the 4km senior girls race it was Lucy Smyth in front (no time because of a chip error), followed by Whistler's Lauren Doak in 19:11 and Allison Marlyn in 20:15.

In the 3km junior high school categories for students 15 and under the top three girls were Danielle Steer in 11:36, Annika Richardson in 11:47 and Katie Weaver in 12:15. The top three boys were Kieran Lumb in 10:33, Whistler's Kayden Sim in 10:44 and Dakota McGovern in 10:57.

In the 2km elementary school 12 and under group, Nina Watson was first in 8:44, followed by Katia Lumb in 9:00 and Alisa Feuz in 9:06. The top three boys were Michael Mitchell in 8:10, Whistler's Fraser Doak in 8:13 and Nicholas Zurkovic in 8:18.

In the afternoon's 4x2km relay, the top team was the Pan Pacific Zoom — Adam Ward, Tyler Eardley, Anthony Higgins and Milene Faivre in 35:47. The Pan Pacific Rush was second in 43:07, followed by JACK FM in 45:46.

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