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'A hugely successful day'

Whistler hosts Canada's first official swimrun competition

After taking the endurance sport world by storm across Europe and the United States, ÖTILLÖ Swimrun made its Whistler (and Canada) debut on July 7. 

Sea to Sky denizens welcomed many of their fellow Canadians, plus Americans and other internationals, to a unique hybrid event that combines trail running and open-water swimming across each of Whistler's lakes: Alpha, Alta, Green, Lost and Nita. 

Unlike triathletes, swimrun participants face multiple legs of running and swimming and are clad in wetsuits for the duration of their quest. The elite athletes were more than prepared, reaching checkpoints and aid stations so quickly volunteers barely had time to move into position. 

Sunday's festivities touched off at 6 a.m. to mitigate the effects of 30-plus degree heat, with some needing more than eight hours to reach the finish line. 

'We were flabbergasted' 

Thomas Lubin and Cedric Wane emerged victorious in the World Series team division, conquering 4.7 kilometres in the water and 38.5 kilometres on land in four hours, 28 minutes and 23.86 seconds. The Tahiti residents adapted well to glacial water in spite of being accustomed to the tropical seas of French Polynesia. 

"It’s a stunning course," said Lubin in a press release. "We were flabbergasted—that’s a new word for us." 

Runner-up honours went to Marcus Barton and Kawika Tarayao (4:42:22.43), and the mixed-gender duo of Bronwen Price-Dierksen and Gregory Dierksen clocked in for third (4:44:46.14). 

Several other ladies joined Price-Dierksen atop the podium in various categories. 

Kayla Kobelin was one of three people to break the five-hour mark as a solo World Series athlete. Her excellent time (4:59:53.69) was fast enough for bronze behind fellow Bend, Ore. native Chris Wright with gold (4:27:53.09) and silver medallist Adrian Cameron of Bee Cave, Texas (4:32:51.09). 

Moving to the Sprint class, which involves just under 3.2 kilometres of swimming and 20 kilometres of running, a mixed-gender team of Jen Anderson and Simone Franzini put themselves on top (2:24:01.93). Amanda Staloch and Kylee Timso, both women, impressed observers in second overall (2:37:06.98) as they bested third-placers Dawson and Kenton Kosiek (2:39:45.85). 

Michael Pritchard (2:12:48.95) and David Terlicher (2:12:49.02) combined for a noteworthy one-two finish among Sprint soloists, with Bellingham, Wash.'s Pritchard just overcoming his rival from New Westminster, B.C.

Tommy Adams rounded out the podium on behalf of Winchester, Ky. (2:19:51.59). 

“When you lift your head to breathe [in the swim] and look at those mountains, wow, you get chills and it has nothing to do with the water temperature,” said Pritchard in a release. “I hope this venue continues." 

The Experience division was the shortest of the bunch, offering a "mere" 565 metres in the lake and 9.8 kilometres on foot. Squamolians An Ran Chen and Joshua Bax grabbed gold (1:19:21.21), Timothy James and Robyn Wilkinson clinched silver (1:27:56.51) as bronze landed with Adel and Lawrence Armstrong (1:29:24.59). 

Remarked local race director Dale Tiessen: "I am personally new to swimrun, but my understanding is that it's attractive to women and mixed teams because it's adventure-style racing, not just timing and distance. I was super excited to see basically gender parity across the event." 

Heads up

A synonym for "adventure-style" could be, in Tiessen's words, "heads-up racing." 

Take the following stretch of racecourse, for example: 1.4 kilometres between Alta Lake's Station House and Rainbow. A single arrow points competitors northbound, and a large teardrop flag bearing the ÖTILLÖ emblem marks the terminus. Participants must navigate a body of water they've had no previous experience with, trusting their instincts and perhaps a smartwatch for guidance. 

The spirit of swimrun certainly fits the quintessential Whistler experience. ÖTILLÖ sport director Staffan Björklund beamed throughout his Sea to Sky visit earlier this year, praising the area's natural majesty and tourism infrastructure in equal measure. Tiessen received overwhelmingly positive feedback from athletes along similar lines. 

"It was a hugely successful day," he said. "We had a great course that ran all over town, and at the same time, we had a very minimal footprint. We were very careful to not get in the way of locals who are recreating. We had great professional crews out doing water and land safety … no medical issues at all in spite of it being a very hot day." 

Swimrun is off to a fantastic start locally, with roughly 120 contestants last weekend. Tiessen believes he and his peers have learned valuable lessons about the event, as have their cohorts in the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association and Resort Municipality of Whistler. Prudent growth is now the key, and who knows: Whistler's Swimrun might one day rival its European counterparts with some 800 people in the field. 

Full results are available at;perpage:100