Neither Saturdays' rain nor the weekends unpredictable weather could stop the return of the Whistler Half Marathon this past weekend.
With the race normally taking place each year in June, this event marks the first in more than two years, and the first to take place 100-per-cent off-road.
“It’s so great to have it in person. I think people feel a little bit of like normal, even though we are not out of the woods here for sure,” said race director Dave Clark, about the race now relocated in Spruce Grove Park and the Lost Lake Trails.
“The feedback from runners was they loved the course. It was challenging but they really liked it. They were really happy they got to do it but they really liked being out in nature versus previous years where we’ve been a bit of a built environment and a natural environment. We went all-natural environment this year and people seem to really have gravitated to that.”
The new off-road format was a particularly nice change of pace for Dutch runner Joost Van Esch who has been training for a marathon in the Netherlands and isn’t accustomed to running with so much scenery around him.
“[My goal was] finish the race, and enjoy the scenery,” he said. “I mean this is incredible, I have to say, especially compared to the Netherlands, which is as flat as you can think of. It was really hard for me to actually come up with a [time goal], given the elevation. You are running at a certain height and it’s unpaved obviously so I just wanted to run a nice race.”
While Van Esch was the first to cross the finish line on Sunday with a time of 1:28:33, narrowly beating Soufiane Ait Driss in a photo finish, he was third in the overall standings for the two-day event. Elizabeth Hirsch, running in the Female 20- to 24-category, was the overall winner clocking a time of 1:23:54 with Cam McNamara finishing second at 1:28:12.
Other winners included Cassie Smith in the Female 35- to 39-category with a time of 1:34:00 and Paul Blazey in the 30-kilometre discipline with a time of 2:00:28.
Blazey, who won the virtual 30-km race last year as well, was aiming for a time of two hours on Sunday. But even though he missed that mark by a mere 28 seconds, he counts the day as a success and is just happy to be back racing again.
“It’s so much nicer [in person],” said Blazey. “I missed 2019 mostly because of injury, 2020 was COVID and a baby, so it’s been two and a half years since I really raced. But the break was almost a bit good for me because the body had a chance to heal and get my motivation back, and then getting the crowds and having people to support you on the way round is so much better. Doing a [30-kilometre] on your own in the rain or in the cold is not quite as motivating as this, so it’s lovely getting everyone out.
“But yeah, the win was awesome and it was lovely to do it in front of the little one. It’s the first race she’s seen me in, and I win, so that’s nice.”
For most runners, the new course location proved to be more challenging than any half marathons they have run previously, but that wasn’t the case for Sunday’s first female finisher Cassie Smith, whose background is in Ultra trail runs that can span more than double the distance of the 21-km half marathon.
But despite her familiarity with long-distance trail runs, she said she didn’t go into the day with any expectations other than to enjoy finally being back to doing in-person events again.
“I actually didn’t have any goals. I was just happy to get out racing again and really, I didn’t even think about pacing. I just thought I’ll come out and run by feel and enjoy the day and fortunately for me it felt good today so I just ran hard,” said Smith.
“It was absolutely beautiful. I’ve run up in this area just for fun a few times and I haven’t run that particular route, but it’s an amazing time of year to be running with the fall colours and the terrain was nice and just the atmosphere in general here is very lovely [with] positive people.”
The event wrapped up on Monday, Oct.11 with the five- and 10-km disciplines. Markus Toolsie-Worsnup was the overall winner of the five-kilometre with a time of 21:27, while Raul Verdu Carbonell took home the win in the 10-km with a time of 38:18. Jenn Kirker and Laura Henderson finished as the top female racers with times of 22:17 and 44:46 in the five- and 10-km, respectively.