Nearly 300 runners braved the rain Sunday (Sept. 29) as the Whistler Spirit Run saw its highest participation levels in the six-year history of the event.
The one-day running festival saw repeat champions in both open races, and once again featured a mixture of international- and recreation-level runners sharing the trails at Whistler Olympic Park.
Chris Winter repeated his men’s open 8-km victory from 2012 with ease, while partner Rachel Cliff did the same in the women’s 6-km, edging Canadian Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff for the title.
Winter soared over the soggy course in 26 minutes, 14 seconds to win for the second straight year, coming in nearly a full minute ahead of the rest of the field. Kevin O’Connor, another former open champ, was the overall runner-up at 27:09 and also took top spot in the men’s masters division.
Winter said the weather ended up being better than expected and wasn’t a factor for him in taking the victory.
“The course was good. They made a few modifications from last year that I think improved the course a bit,” said Winter, who ran the 3,000 m steeplechase for Canada at this year’s IAAF World Championships.
“For me, I’m coming off a long track season and then a couple weeks of downtime, so this was my first real run back. I felt good for the first four K, and then the hills started getting to me and the (altitude level, too), so the last couple K were a good grind.”
Ian Searle (28:06) placed third, while David Palermo (28:15) and Devin Rajala (28:50) rounded out the top five overall. O’Connor was more than five minutes ahead of masters runner-up Mikhail Titov.
In the women’s run, Cliff opened up an early lead over Stellingwerff and hung on for the win, clocking in at 21:23 for a 13-second margin of victory.
“The whole second lap I was pushing and kept trying to put a gap on (her),” said Cliff. “It was nice to have her up here. We train together in Guelph and it was good to see her again.”
Alecia Kallos (23:37) was also on the podium, and Jen Moroz and Rachel McCormick were fourth and fifth, respectively. Lynn Kanuka, best known for winning a bronze medal for Canada in 3,000 m at the 1984 Olympics, won the masters race.
Though it was international-level racers who occupied many of the podium positions, the majority of Sunday’s participants were recreational and youth runners. There are few chances for Olympians like Stellingwerff to take part in grassroots-level events like the Whistler Spirit Run, making the race a neat experience.
“It is very unique and it is special,” said Stellingwerff. “The community feel is really nice and everybody all in, having fun, it’s very different than going to an Olympic Games where everyone is really, super serious. Sometimes it’s nice to let loose and let go, enjoy watching the kids’ races and the people cheering as you run by. That was really fun.”
Stellingwerff, who reached the semifinals in the women’s 1,500 m in London last summer, was making her first visit to the event and said she’s hopeful to be back again in the future.
“I love Whistler,” she said. “It’s one of my favourite places since I’ve moved out to the West Coast two years ago and I try to come up here as much as I can.”
Peter Deimer, chair of the Whistler Spirit Run board, said Sunday’s event was “definitely the wettest” on record since the inaugural one in 2008, making the participation numbers all that much more encouraging.
“Today, following the monsoon we had (Saturday), is a real cross-country day,” Diemer said as youth races were ongoing Sunday. “It will be our largest event ever.”
Locals run to strong results
Whistler runners occupied three of the top four spots in the high school girls’ (17-and-under) 4-km race. Cass Deane finished second with a time of 19:09, while Lauren Doak was a close third and Chantal Deane placed fourth.
Locals were among the top finishers in the junior high boys’ (15-and-under) race as well, with Michael Murdoch and Manu Elorza placing fifth and sixth, respectively.
At the elementary school level (12-and-under), Pemberton’s Joe Davies placed third in the boys’ race and J.J. Deane finished sixth in the girls’ event.
Several locals also had good finishes in the open races. Among some of the local results, Gwendolyn Kennedy was 13th overall in the women’s race and third in the masters division. Whistler’s Lou Stevens and Gwen Milley both earned spots in the top 25 overall.
In the men’s event, Brent Murdoch was 15th overall and seventh in the masters run. Crosland Doak also finished in the top 20 overall, and top-30 finishes belonged to Whistler runners Walter Wallgram, Ian Milley, David Mehta, Ru Mehta and Casey Vanden Huevel.
Full results are posted at www.racedaytiming.ca.