Whistler Trail Running: Testing the 5 Peaks Course
Updated February 2020: This is an account detailing the 2015 course and is a great read to give you an idea of what the 5 Peaks trail running series is like. This year’s event is happening on August 22, 2020. Another running-based blog with more events is: Going the Distance: Running Events in Whistler
Full disclosure: I went in to this one slightly baffled by the whole trail running phenomena.
Having spent most of my life hiking in the Whistler wilderness I was having a hard time understanding why anyone would want to enter this magical, diverse and incredibly nuanced natural world and then try to sprint through it as fast as possible. For me, the Whistler trails have always been about slowing down and appreciating the whistling marmots hiding in the rocks, the wildflowers waving in the breeze or the way clouds drift past a distant peak…how can one appreciate that while trying to break a personal record for time or distance?
But the sheer popularity of trail running had me curious. Whistler hosts numerous trail running events each year and Whistler Blackcomb even offers time-tracking capabilities on select hiking/running trails to help accommodate those who like to hit the hills hard and fast. With the Whistler leg of the 5 Peaks trail running series set to hit town in August Insider running expert Taylor Godber and I uploaded Blackcomb Mountain for a test run of the 5 Peaks course following Lakeside Loop, Decker Loop and Overlord trails. Here’s what we learned.
Trail Running is Hard
Ten kilometers of alpine trail is not the same as a 10 km run in the valley. The elevation definitely plays a role. Blackcomb hiking trails start at 1850 meters (6000 feet) above sea level so the average runner will notice that thinner air right away. The terrain is also rocky and uneven, requiring much more focus and fleet-footed dexterity than your regular urban jog. Add in some serious hill-climbing (134 m/440ft of elevation gain on the Decker Loop) and it quickly became apparent that alpine trail running is maybe not the easiest way to get into the sport.
The Views Are Still Amazing
Looking where you are placing your feet is essential in trail running but even with eyes on the ground it was impossible not to notice the magnificence of running through big alpine bowls with sweeping glacial views. While trail runners may not notice some of the subtle natural moments that a hiker will enjoy, the overall awesomeness of being high in the mountains definitely still plays a role. (The views also provide a great excuse to stop and rest.)
Early or Late
For events like the 5 Peaks runners will have the trails to themselves but your everyday recreational trail runner will share the paths with hikers. Most everyone is considerate and will step aside to let you pass but even so, heading up early or late will help avoid some of the congestion.
Bring some water (especially if you plan on slogging up the Decker Lake climb). It is also not advisable to drink from the streams flowing off the mountains. Google “giardia” if you don’t believe me.
Stay on the Trails
Even though there are some rocky sections the designated trails have been designed to minimize impact on the environment and are maintained through the summer. Free-running off the trail is harmful to the delicate alpine ecosystems and also increases your chance of stepping on lose rocks and rolling an ankle.
Wear Proper Shoes, Bring a Jacket
It’s always important to be prepared for chilly weather in the mountains as conditions can change in mere minutes. Trail running can be a hot and sweaty business but the download on Blackcomb’s chairlifts can be breezy and cool, especially after exercising. Good supportive footwear with decent tread is also key, there is a reason they sell trail-specific running shoes.
So in the end we found that trail running is more involved than regular jogging – but it’s also more fun. We highly recommend taking a good running partner to share the views and high-five at the end of it all. Last one there buys après.