Winter, Cliff repeat again as Spirit Run champs 

Recently engaged couple takes first place for third year running

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - repeat performance Vancouver's Chris Winter, pictured, along with his new fiancée, Rachel Cliff, took top honours at the Whistler Spirit Run for the third year in a row.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • repeat performance Vancouver's Chris Winter, pictured, along with his new fiancée, Rachel Cliff, took top honours at the Whistler Spirit Run for the third year in a row.

At this point, the Whistler Spirit Run all but belongs to Chris Winter and Rachel Cliff.

The pair — newly engaged as of two months ago — have placed first in their respective categories three years running.

And while the cross-country power couple calls Vancouver home, oddly enough, their first encounter was at a training camp held right here in Whistler.

"We didn't talk, but it was technically the first time we met," Cliff said with a laugh after Sunday's race.

"So Whistler is kind of funny for us."

And speaking of funny coincidences, that training camp was organized by the late Frank Reynolds — Winter's former running coach and the man who inspired the Whistler Spirit Run.

"I started working with Frank early on in high school, and he was a mentor for me at the time... the biggest thing he taught me was to love the sport," Winter said after the race.

"I love seeing people out here running and being fit and having a blast, and that was really the lesson that Frank instilled in me, so it's great to carry on with this event in his memory."

At its heart, that's what the Spirit Run is all about — a love of the sport — and more than 300 people of all ages made their way to Whistler Olympic Park on Sunday to participate.

And they were treated to some perfect Autumn weather — a welcome change from last year's event.

"It was torrential downpour with snow up in the hills (last year)," Winter said.

"So when we were looking at the forecast this week and we were seeing 22 degrees and sunny, we were pretty excited about that."

Winter topped the men's open 8km category with a time of 25 minutes, nine seconds.

Jeff Symonds of Penticton finished second in the category with a time of 26:26, and Braeden Charlton of Vancouver came third with a time of 27:14.

In the women's open 6km class, Cliff earned first place with a time of 20:33, followed closely by Kirsten Allen (21:31) and Jessica Smith (22:04).

"It was a lot of fun," Cliff said.

"Really nice, sunny day, beautiful atmosphere."

In the men's masters category — featuring runners aged 40 and up — Oliver Utting took first place with a time of 26:40 while Mikhail Titov (31:42) and Patrick Downey (32:21) came second and third, respectively.

In the women's masters, Darcie Montgomery finished first (22:49) while Sara Forsyth (26:40) took second and Janice Mackinnon (27:26) came third.

While there was some prize money up for grabs in both the men's and women's open and masters classes — $400 for first place, $200 for second and $75 for third — the Spirit Run is not as competitive as other events, Winter said.

"This one to me is a lot more low key and a lot more fun, and I'm able to get out and enjoy doing what I love," he said.

"It's such a great community event, and everyone out there is my friends and family and stuff so the whole time I'm running, smiling, high fiving and stuff, so it's awesome."

Before the day's races got under way, Marie-Anne Prevost led the racers in some pre-event warm-ups set to music.

"It's just meant to kind of get everybody psyched up," she said.

"So it's just meant to be easy to follow, big movement patterns, a little bit of dynamic stretching."

Judging by the smiles of those dancing along, the warm-up served its purpose.

"I think that's exactly what this event is about, and they've got so many different races, so you can have somebody who wants to race, and somebody who just wants to enjoy," Prevost said.

As for the lovebirds Winter and Cliff, will they be back next year to defend their titles for a third year in a row?

"Absolutely," Winter said. "We'll be here as long as this thing happens, so hopefully many, many years."

After the big wedding that is, which is currently slated for September next year.

"We've got a big track season, lots of stuff going on, so then after that we can get ready and have a wedding," Winters said with a smile.

Check www.racedaytiming.ca and www.whistlerspiritrun.com for full results, including top finishers in the 2km girls and boys, 3km girls and boys, 4km girls and 5km boys categories, as well as the 1km family fun run and 4x2km relay event.

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