Ahead of the Whistler Alpine Meadows (WAM) 25-kilometre trail race on Sunday, Sept. 26, Bend, Ore. ultramarathoner Max King’s main goal was to run the course in under two hours—mostly because his friend, endurance athlete and event director Gary Robbins, told him it wouldn’t be possible.
“I said, ‘Challenge accepted,’” recalled King.
In reality, that was exactly the reaction Robbins was looking to achieve. “I knew that he would take that very personally, in a funny way,” he said.
King lived up to the challenge, crossing the finish line in just one hour, 55 minutes and 41 seconds and shattering the previous course record by nearly 11 minutes.
“Once the race started and I saw how seriously he was taking this sub-two-hour challenge, I had zero doubts that he would then knock the course record out of the park,” said Robbins. “It was incredible to see. We definitely had to adjust some of our volunteer times based on knowing that one of the world’s best mountain runners was legitimately going to run that course as fast as he could.”
Robbins added, “I would go out on a limb and say I don’t think anyone’s breaking Max’s time anytime soon.”
King initially travelled to Whistler to produce social media content for Salomon during the WAM 60-km event on Saturday, but made a last-minute decision to join the 25-km race. The runner said he arrived at the start line with few expectations, considering he had never visited Whistler before and admits he’s “not well versed” in the Canadian racing scene.
“I just went out, really, to run a fun race … I knew going in that I had a chance of winning, but didn’t know who else was competing so I wasn’t sure how I was going to do,” said King.
He likened the course to “a two-hour interval workout” through temperate rainforest that, while technical, flowed well and ran faster than he was expecting. King credited Whistler’s mountain bike and trail building communities for creating so many multi-use trails built specifically to be a blast, adding, “When you get on a course like that, it’s a ton of fun to run it, and to run it fast.”
B.C. women also posted incredibly strong times across all three courses over race weekend. Nelson’s Jennifer Shaub took the 60-km win, completing the gruelling course in 7:28:18 for ninth place overall. Victoria-based runner Patricia Roney was the top female finisher and seventh overall in the 25-km event, with her time of 2:28:29, while Brooke Spence of North Vancouver took the 13-km win, even landing on the co-ed podium in the process. She crossed the finish line shortly after Robbins to take third overall in 1:12:41.
As for the men, Shaun Stephens-Whale of Squamish won the 60-km race in less than six hours with his time of 5:41:19, while West Vancouver’s Jordan Guennette took the 13-km victory in 1:04:12.
‘A LOT OF INCREDIBLE HURDLES TO BE OVERCOME’
Organized by Coast Mountain Trail Running’s (CMTR) Robbins and Geoff Langford, the 2021 WAM races were among the first held in Whistler after COVID-19 forced CMTR to step back from hosting events in 2020.
So, aside from a freshly-set course record, what was new for WAM after last year’s hiatus?
“Only everything,” Robbins answered with a laugh.
“We didn’t get any permit approvals for any of our historical courses, so we were down to two options and those options were to cancel, again, or to redesign everything,” he explained. During WAM’s last iteration in 2019, runners had the option of competing in 25-km, 55-km, 110-km or 160-km (100 mile) races, as well as one entirely uphill race along Blackcomb’s Ascent Trail. This year, WAM offered a new 13-km distance in addition to the 25-km and 60-km events.
“There were a lot of incredible hurdles to be overcome to get these events off the ground this year, and all of that had to be done in the last five weeks,” Robbins said, singling out Whistler local Sonia Mahoney for a herculean effort leading up to race weekend. “She ended up having to do more than pretty much anybody else to salvage the races and they would not have happened without her.”
This year also marked WAM’s first as a stop on the prestigious Golden Trail Series tour. In 2022, Whistler will serve as the series’ North American finale, where double points will be up for grabs. “I would say next year we’ll see runners from 20-plus countries coming to Whistler to run the 50K race,” Robbins said.
The event director himself also decided to join in on the fun this year, competing in the 13-km event. It marked only the second time Robbins has raced in one of his own events in the last decade. He finished second, with a time of 1:07:08.
“My honest goal going in was to be within three minutes of (winner) Jordan (Guenette) at the finish and at 2m56s back I nailed my race goals,” Robbins wrote in an Instagram post.
Also competing this year were WAM veterans and former Vancouver Canucks Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who both crossed the finish line in 2:34:02 for 13th and 14th place, respectively. “I think it’s hilarious that Daniel always outkicks Henrik at the finish line and never lets him beat him. Every single time, every single race,” said Robbins.
“It was just really nice to be back with these things again and it was great to be in Whistler and to see how excited everybody was to be back at a start, and more importantly, a finish line.”
1. Shaun Stephens-Whale, Squamish - 5:41:19
2. Andrew Russell, Saanichton 6:06:20
3. Colin Miller, Lions Bay 6:42:35
Top local finisher: Dana Luck, 13th overall – 7:40:59
1. Jennifer Shaub, Nelson – 7:28:18
2. Julia Hlynsky, West Vancouver – 7:33:58
3. Kate Butcher, Vancouver – 7:40:45
Top local finisher: Maude Cyr, 25th overall (7th in women’s), Pemberton – 8:30:26
1. Max King, Bend – 1:55:41
2. Vincent Pagot, Chilliwack – 2:15:52
3. Tyler D’Arcy, Saanichton – 2:19:13
Top local finisher: Alex Dunn, 6th overall, 2:25:23
1. Patricia Roney, Victoria – 2:28:29
2. Brooke St. Germain, Vancouver – 2:35:19
3. Laurel Booker, North Vancouver – 2:36:54
Top local finisher: Lee Ann Ahrens, 28th overall (6th in women’s), 2:42:54
1. Jordan Guenette, West Vancouver – 1:04:12
2. Gary Robbins, Vancouver – 1:07:08
3. Ben Skinner, Whistler – 1:14:57 (< Top local finisher)
1. Brooke Spence, North Vancouver – 1:12:41
2. Kalie McCrystal, Squamish – 1:13:16
3. Jeanelle Hazlett, North Vancouver – 1:13:56
Top local finisher: Lesley Trivett, 48th overall (19th in women’s) – 2:13:41