Over the years, I have really enjoy the 5 Peaks Trail Running Series. It used to be one of the most well organized and enjoyable series. Even if I was to pick an individual race I would have to say the Whistler, Golden Ears Park and Buntzen Lake/Diez Vistas races are amazing on their own. Yet, I am disappointed to report the gradual decline in this race series has hit an all time low for me this year and has prompted me to seek bigger and better events.
The 5 Peaks Trail Running Series is a series of trail races throughout Canada but in BC it entails 5 trail races (one for each of the summer months) taking place on different “peaks.” This year that includes: Golden Ears Park, Seymour Mountain, Alice Lake, Whistler and finally Buntzen Lake/Diez Vistas. They have a kids run, a Sport Course and an Enduro Course.
My fascination with the series began one day at Buntzen lake where I heard a bunch of noise coming from the beach. I wandered down and saw a big inflatable start/finish line and a bunch of people clowning around and having a good time. I saw people with race bibs on that were covered in mud and exhausted. Bloody knees, muddy clothes and huge smiles. I was intrigued. What was this all about? The next year I signed up to do the shorter Sport Course which has runners doing the perimeter of Buntzen Lake. A mild 10kish run with some winding hills. On the home stretch some of the fast Enduro runners blew past me. A tail of flying mud flew from their shoes as they ripped through the wet trail. As I slugged along I dreamed of one day being that fit.
Over the last four years I have seen the decline of the 5 Peaks series in BC. I’m not sure if they switched management or just got tired of offering high quality events. Whatever the case it has slide down a notch each year with a crash this year.
It started with the venue changes. Seymour was a great race but disappeared. Instead we were given Alice Lake in Squamish which sounds good but is actually a very boring run. The track is not very technical and about half of it is downhill. A load of single track where it is very difficult to pass and not great scenery. To top it all off, you have to park near the highway and walk in or wait for the van/bus which comes by to shuttle people in every 15 minutes.
One year I kept getting emails from the organizers saying they had not charged my credit card. After a few phone calls and emails we got it figured out but made me start to pay attention. What were they doing with my credit card on race day?
5 Peaks used to have a buzz of excitement about it. It used to have a much higher participant turnout and vendor exhibits which offered free treasures. There used to lines of temporary shelters set up with vendor goods. Everything from power bars to little flash lights. Not so much any more. Now the only booths I see is the sponsor Salomon and a vegan health food supplement company.
At the very beginning I used to buy a 5 Peaks shirt and wear it proudly. Now they have one style of shirt and it is really ugly. They call it a “technical” shirt. While it’s not essential that a race have awesome swag, it does help. It is easy to do, provides another source of revenue to the organizers and allows participants to have something to show off. 5 Peaks has nothing I would bring home even if they were giving it away.
The final nail in the coffin was this year. The final race at Buntzen which I think is the best course they offer is what I really look forward to. Every year, for every race, I sign up on race day with dozens of others. No race has ever sold out. Until this year…
To my surprise, a few days before the Buntzen 2013 5 Peaks race I saw a tweet that they had SOLD OUT. WTF? I checked the website page for Butzen. Didn’t say sold out. Maybe there was a mistake… I tried to register but it was closed. Didn’t say sold out but wouldn’t allow me to buy a ticket. Damn. How could this happen? It never sells out and I didn’t even know there was a limit. Whereas with other great trail running series such as the one in North Vancouver who posts the limit and the number of registered people and therefore spots left, 5 Peaks does not do that. So, I assume there was no limit. I certainly never heard of any concern of it selling out as the line ups for race day registration are huge. I estimate that at least a quarter of people do that.
Well, I was bummed out and disappointed. I called the 5 Peaks office and left a voice mail. I emailed them and sent them a tweet. All I got back was some annoying responses that I should have registered early and see me next year. Really? After being a dedicated customer for 4 years I sort of expected a bit more of an explanation than that.
After being bummed out for a few hours I decided that I would try to see the positive side of this and simply do the race on my own the day after. Heck I would even save the 50 bucks and wouldn’t have to worry about yelling “on your left.” I had almost come to peace with it.
But then I received an email after the race from a friend who was there and saw a bunch of people registering for the race that morning. Oh no. Now I am upset.
I could sort of get over the 5 Peaks race series not being well organized enough to clearly warn their regular participants that they may lose their spots. I was trying to be civil regarding their canned response telling me I should never do what 25% of their participants do and buy at race day. But I lost my mind when I heard they did indeed provide registration on race day.
Looking back, 5 Peaks could have done some amazing stuff here to enhance their reputation and begin rebuilding their quality to the same levels as where it used to me. To begin, they could have a counter like the North Shore race series provides on their web site. They could also send emails out to people like me warning them when they decide to implement a limit. Also emails indicating when they are at 70%, 80% and finally 90% would be a huge help. Heck even put links in the emails to the cool merchandise they don’t yet have. This would help avoid the mess they have now created.
Failing to avoid upset customers who never received any fare warning and were therefore denied entry, a kinder and smarter campaign could have been performed by the race organizers. First, don’t fuel the fire by telling upset customers to come back next year. Then if you really can’t extend the newly imposed limit say that and mean it. If you think people won’t show up and you plan to resell their spot (which they apparently did) then tell people that. Provide the level of service a normal person would expect. Be helpful, kind, transparent and honest.
I’ve run the 5 Peaks series for 4 years now and am disappointed that it got a bit worse instead of a bit better year after year. Now I am taking this opportunity to find better races and I think I have just the answer: