There are few sporting events that bring Olympic-level athletes, recreational runners and families together into the same arena. That’s one of the things that make the Whistler Spirit Run, which returns to Whistler Olympic Park on Sunday (Sept. 29), unique.
The event is entering its sixth year and will once again feature some of the country’s top international- and university-level runners alongside youth competitors, with different cross-country races targeting all ability levels during the one-day festival.
Since its establishment in 2008, the Whistler Spirit Run has entrenched itself as a way to celebrate the sport from the very grassroots. But the idea behind it goes back much further than that — from event visionary Frank Reynolds, the late, esteemed Lower Mainland track coach who dreamed of a world-class running event open to anybody, right here in B.C.
“The real work and discussion began about 2 ½ years before our first event, so for some of us it’s been actually 8 ½ to nine years that we’ve been talking about this event,” said Peter Diemer, chair of the Spirit Run board.
“It has grown in leaps and bounds. We’re getting lots of kids now from the corridor, we’re getting kids from the Lower Mainland, some of the most serious and competitive runners in the region, Olympians and international competitors as well. The level of competition in the really high-end race is really quite outstanding, and for the kids’ races … you get some excellent competition as well.
“And what’s been really nice over the years is that the Family Fun Run has actually developed into a fun, 1K walkabout or stroll-about the inner start and finish area in the bowl at Whistler Olympic Park … People are out there with their strollers, knapsacks and dogs, and you’ve got 85-year-old people as well as three-week-old people. It’s really nice.”
While the Whistler Spirit Run prides itself on being inclusive, one can also expect the top-level races on Sunday to be competitive. With $3,000 in prize money up for grabs, spread across the open and masters races,
Chris Winter is the defending champ of the men’s 8-km open race. The 27-year-old, who competed for Canada in the 3,000 m steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships in August, will be a favourite to repeat his victory from 2012.
Rachel Cliff, who won last year’s women’s 6-km open race, is also back to defend her title. However, she may get a bit of a challenge from Canadian Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff, who reached the semifinals of the women’s 1,500 m in London last summer and is expected to compete Sunday.
Meanwhile, organizers are hopeful to once again see high participation numbers from youth runners. In particular, they’re targeting Sea to Sky athletes, and are hoping to attract more than in past years through the biggest change the event will see for 2013 — moving from Saturday to Sunday.
“That really allows a much broader participation from kids in the corridor,” said Diemer, noting that past editions of the Whistler Spirit Run have conflicted with youth soccer commitments for many potential participants from the Sea to Sky. “We recognized that by moving the event … we’d be having a much better chance of engaging with many of the kids that play soccer on Saturdays. It allows us to at least give them the opportunity to attend.”
Online registration for the Whistler Spirit Run will remain open at www.whistlerspiritrun.com until midnight Friday (Sept. 27), but interested participants can also sign up on-site on Sunday until 30 minutes before each race begins.
The open and masters races will get underway at 11 a.m. and will be followed by youth races beginning at noon. The Family Fun Run (2 p.m.) and relay (2:30 p.m.) will close out the event. See the event website for more details or visit Whistler Spirit Run on Facebook and @whistlerspirit on Twitter.