Going to Whistler is always a pleasure. It is an adventure paradise and the excitement level is always at it’s peak. This trail race was no exception.
Having fresh memories of the last 5 Peaks Cypress Trail Race about a month ago I was wondering what it would be like. In my opinion the Cypress race wasn’t as good as it could have been on several levels. However, I must give 5 Peaks full credit for the amazing job they did on organizing this race. They not only did a good job of organizing, communicating, processing but also responded to some logistics issues which caused small start delays very well.
The day involved getting up at 5am for the 2 hour drive to Whistler. I travelled with a fellow Coquitlam Search & Rescue member (Gord). Gord and I are two of a few SAR members who really enjoy trail running. While it is all for fun I like to joke about who is going to win and we seem to be taking turns in that.
On the way up to Whistler we stopped off at McDonalds. With the late 11am start Gord wanted to get something in his belly. Unfortunately, I succumbed to peer pressure and had a bacon and egg McMuffin as well. I think I just didn’t want to watch him eat his. This is something I would never normally do and I think it is super weird that I did this. Not surprisingly we had upset stomachs for the rest of the day.
Before I left the house I took two tablespoons of MCT oil and a coffee so I had no burning desire to eat. Lesson to self, always stick with the game plan!
We got to Whistler with plenty of time and checked in to get our race bibs and swag. I was amazed at how fast they processed us. It was super organized and they had lots of help at the desk. 5 Peaks always does a good job of the registration but it seemed like they were extra organized this time. The other great thing was they had the washrooms right there as well instead of the classic porta potties. The only thing that could have been better was if the Solomon store was open so we could browse their items while we waited for the lifts to open.
At this point, Gord’s stomach began to really start to act up. We went to the grocery store and bought some bananas and Pepto-Bismo. Unfortunately, my stomach was also doing weird things as well. Not as bad as Gord but still a distraction.
We took the lift up and then waited at the Round House for the Peak to Peak to open. There was a delay in opening the Peak to Peak lift which caused the entire race to be delayed by about 30 minutes. The 5 Peaks staff communicated this however and responded to the change very well. Huge thumbs up to the race director for responding to this with great communications.
After a brief race intro with some emphasis on passing, the 3km kids race got started, then the 1km and finally the adults Sport and Enduro races began in waves.
If you are a racer and reading this in order to prepare, please ensure you know the trail running etiquette (especially around passing). You are not the fastest person on the course (well you might be but unlikely) and you are not the slowest (well you might be one day but not always). You will need to pass others and others will pass you. Please be a grown up about it.
Poor trail running etiquette is when you act like a poor sport and pretend you don’t know people are behind you. Let them pass if they are riding your ass. If they are behind you for more than a few seconds, it means they are faster than you. You are not going to out race them. You are not going to win by blocking them. You will only lose respect by not letting them pass. If in doubt, communicate. Trail racers are awesome people and are totally up for a having a conversation. Say stuff like, “would you like to pass?” I often get this and sometimes I say thanks and pass but other times I apologize for crowding them and back off a bit as they are setting a good pace. Don’t be that guy who just ignores the people who are tripping over his heals for KM after KM.
Likewise, if you are passing people you must show respect. Always communicate your intention as you pull up to the slower person. Say the famous words: “on your left” as you close the distance. This is their prompt to move over. I take it a step further and say: “on your left whenever it is convenient for you.” I prefer this as sometimes it is just impossible to move over quickly. If they take an extra 5 seconds in the name of safety, that is okay.
The Whistler course has not changed for a few years so everyone knows what they are getting. No surprises and the trail is pretty good. Lots of sun exposure so sun screen is a must. Lots of single track so passing needs to be planned and coordinated. The terrain is super dusty and so there are clouds of dirt dust coming up into your face. My legs were covered in this dust and my sunglasses became almost unusable near the end. I saw one girl running with her hand over her mouth. If you have allergies make sure you take your antihistamine.
The race starts in waves to spread out the racers and to help avoid bunching up. Enduro and Sport are mixed together until they branch off later in the race. The route immediately takes you up some mild incline which is like a punch in the stomach to remind you that you’re at higher elevation. If you didn’t spend the night up at Whistler the night before and instead drove up you can feel a difference. I always feel it for the first 10 minutes of running but then forget about it as I settle in.
Two large hills on on the route. The first is steeper and zig zags across the mountain. The second is longer and near the end of the course. A lot of the course is either technical or single track so safe passing opportunities are rare. I also found myself holding back in the name of safety. Some spots are simply not runable. Also the views are the best you will get anywhere so I was constantly wanting to look up and enjoy the spectacular views of the glaciers and mountains. I also really enjoyed the cool air that would come as the wind took it off the glaciers. Super refreshing as we were fully exposed to the sun most of the day.
Overall this is one of my favourite 5 Peaks races even though the logistics and timing are more challenging. They did a great job on this one. Congrats!
And for those who were following the Coquitlam SAR Gord vs Rob Challenge, Gord won this one.
My scoring for the 2014 Whistler 5 Peaks race is as follows:
The actual course is amazing. The only improvements I can recommend I can make are to change the downhill to avoid the loose gravel. This would allow the downhill runners to be able to open up more. Also, while the Blackcomb course is superior to the old Whistler course, I did enjoy the KM or so near the end of the old course where passing was much easier.
Overall the course is awesome though and fun to run.
5 Peaks did a lot of communications via email, social media and during the event which was awesome. It would be hard to do a better job. I was seriously impressed.
While I wasn’t as impressed at the last race as there seemed to be less volunteers and route flagging, this race was excellent and very well organized. I hat is off to 5 Peaks for doing such a good job. I realize the challenges that the race director faces when hosting an event at Whistler and 5 Peaks did an awesome job at over coming obstacles and making it a great day for racers. Bag check in at the top of Blackcomb was much appreciated.
I was very impressed with the swag offered at the first few races. The Buff products are very useful and cool. The arm warmers at Alice Lake were great and the Buff headband at Golden Ears was appreciated as well. However, the ice pack gel thing that they handed out at Whistler will sit in my closet with a few others. Not something I need or even want. While I am on the subject of swag, I am not sure why 5 Peaks doesn’t go into this more. Lots of opportunity. They have made a few good shirts in the past but nothing I have seen lately makes me want to buy. Finisher buckle? Cool shirt? Sign me up.
Food & Drink: 8/10
Food and drink is okay. Since we were at Whistler I wasn’t concerned and went to a restaurant afterwards for a burger and beer(s). The selection seemed better this time than last. Some nice cookies, oranges, Cliff bars and other fruit. Nice work!
Aid Stations: 9/10
Aid stations are crucial but often overlooked. The Ski Patrol that volunteer to help with first aid are first class. Not only do they put up with us whining racers with our aches and pains but they enthusiastically encourage us throughout the race. Awesome people.
A huge amount of effort is required to make these races work and I have heard so many stories of volunteers doing amazing things to help with this. One story I heard at the last race was how one volunteer hitch hiked to the destination and then camped there the night before to make sure he was there super early to help set up. That’s devotion. My hat is off to the volunteers as they make it happen.
Travelling to Whistler is a longer distance but offers fantastic views. The gondola and Peak to Peak lift takes time and means a longer start time but is part of the adventure and adds excitement. If you have not yet experienced it then I highly recommend it. It makes the day longer than normal but is worth it. Free parking at Whistler.
Signup is easy on line. No more race day registration which may sound bad but it ensures no mix ups as I experienced last year. I think this was a good decision by this years race organizers. Thanks for sorting this out! During registration you are also offered the opportunity to donate to certain causes which is cool. One suggestion might be to have an option to buy a race tshirt.
5 Peaks has one of the best set of race partners with MEC, Solomon, Cliff Bar and Suunto present with race tents. Buff is now a sponsor as well this year which is cool as the have interesting products. You can demo some excellent Solomon shoes or at least try them on and ask questions. MEC offers chocolate milk after the race which is also super popular. Thanks to Cliff Bar for the great snacks too. How about the vendors offering some products to buy from the tents?
So my total score for the 2014 Whistler 5 Peaks is an impressive: 85/100 !
I highly recommend this race to trail runners.