It’s 8 AM on a cool, overcast Saturday and the 3rd annual Whistler Half Marathon is just under way. I’m leading the pack as we climb up Blueberry Hill towards the 3 km mark. I’m leading the Pack! Race favourite David Jackson is fifteen feet behind me running uphill at around 20 km/hour. I know this because I’m sitting shotgun in the Mountain FM “Adventure Team” pace car with great views of racers and the speedometer.
David overtakes us moments later as the pace car leaves the course to return to the finish area at Whistler Olympic Plaza but for a few minutes there, I was leading the charge on what Canadian Running Magazine calls “Canada’s most scenic Half Marathon.” And it felt good.
On the ride back Mountain FM station manager Joe Polito explains a bit of the story behind Whistler’s top home-grown running event. “Like so many incredible ideas in this town,” he says, “it kind of all came together one night in a hot tub. I remember Dave saying, ‘I really want to put this race on.’ Then he did and the rest is history.”
Dave Clark, founder and race director of the North Face Whistler Half Marathon, patrols the start line the morning of race day, calmly keeping things flowing amidst a literal sea of spandex-clad runners, walkers, joggers, and a couple dogs.
“We’ve got 1600 participants this year,” Dave says. “It’s growing so we added the 10 km race as well. People are into testing their boundaries and challenging themselves. It’s about healthy living and a healthy community.”
To that effect the Whistler Half Marathon had already raised over $20,000 for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of Canada and with a concert and party for racers, a kids’ event and more the Whistler Half Marathon seems set up for many successful years ahead.
As the pace car returns to Whistler Olympic Plaza the first runners of the 10 km event are starting to trickle in. Mountain FM morning show co-host Carl Bown announces the name of each and every participant as they cross the finish line while host Matt Soper holds down the MC and awards duties on the main stage. “I think this is one of the biggest and best events on the Whistler calendar,” Joe says “and it’s great for us to be set up right here. Just to see all the finishers, to see how many people that you know but you didn’t know they were into running.”
There are certainly many smiling locals involved but the Whistler Half Marathon is a destination race as well and hosts runners from all over. “It’s a good excuse to come to Whistler,” says Tamra, a Victoria, BC resident running with her boyfriend John. “We come for the run and then we’ll party for the next three days and just enjoy Whistler.”
The Half Marathon was more of a family affair for Whistler local Michelle Moran. “My dad inspired me to sign up,” she says. “He’s 60 years old and he’ll finish [the 21.5 km course] in under two hours. He inspired me to run the 10 km and then I inspired my mom. The whole family is representing.”
Interestingly, Dave tells me that 70 per cent of participants are women which seems like the best-kept secret of all. In the end, David Jackson wins the 2013 Whistler Half Marathon with a time of 1:11 and 24 seconds (which means he pretty much kept that 20 km/hour pace all the way to the end).