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Whistler Alpine Meadows 2021

A Journey back to Whistler, back to smiles and back to being together.

Ty Holtan Photopgraphy

If there was anything about this weekend that stood out, it was the running community being back together again.

Whistler had brought me back to a race I had run two years before. It was the WAM in 2019 that had me all sorts of jacked up for all kinds of adventure.

Two nights before that gun would go off, I would be sitting out under the stars deep into the woods of the Algonquin lowlands. Between myself and the starting gate located along the Chekamus river in BC. Plenty was in the way. There were two lakes, two portages, a two hour drive to the airport, a five hour flight to Vancouver and then another two hour drive to the hotel. Arrival to the hotel was only a mere four hours before start time. Not much sleep could be had before the legs were turning over, up and over the mountain.

That first experince during the Whistler Alpine Meadows race is what adventure is all about. Waking up in Algonquin Park, the premier paddling park in the world, followed by running up one of the most famous ski resorts in the world in less than twenty-four hours was true adventure, or so I told myself.

Coming back in 2021 would be different. Of course I don't mean different in the way that we all talk about, the masks, the physical distancing.

It was different for myself, I came into the weekend hoping to volunteer and take part in the weekend's festivities. Trail Running is just as much about meeting other runners, chatting about the sport, and what makes us tick. Runners, trail runners and ultramarathoners tend to be a special breed. The sport, being quite individual in nature, attracts all forms. Whether the individual is social or reclusive, runners are very much just that, running from something. Perhaps running toward something. Most of the time, prying deep enough, into the soul, runners will divulge what they are running from.

The Thursday before the weekend, I was out volunteering and flagging the 25km course for Whistler Alpine Meadows with another runner from the area. She was about to run the full length of this particular course on Sunday and was that type of anxious we all feel before making a large effort. Not only did we both have great weather that day moving through the trail, placing little pink flags and ribbons on trees and inside tree stumps, but we also had great conversations.

The 25km course follows part of the Comfortably Numb Trail which is one of the more popular mountain biking and running trails in Whistler. The trail itself is popular among runners for a few reasons. From Wedge, into the village, the length is about 25km so it's a solid day of running, or morning depending on when you have a cup of coffee. The trail is also super runnable. Runnable tends to mean that the trail itself can be run at a fairly good speed without having to slow down because of roots, rocks or climbs. Still, that doesn't mean that the trail isn't fun and technical as it really puts runners through their paces.

My new friend and I were not flagging the Comfortably Numb Trail however, we were lucky enough to flag a nice three km section of the Sea to Sky Trail which follows Green Lake in the northern area of Whistler. We found places to mark the trail with little pink flags as we flowed through great conversations of our daily lives. My new friend happened to be a new mother. From what she explained to me, being a mother and a runner align well. With both endevours, there are quite a few ups and downs. But both exhausting experiences are still incredibly rewarding.

Coversations flowed through our histories, our dreams, our failures and successes until evolving into the WHY. What makes us tick and why do we run long distances?

To be honest, I am looking to answer that question myself and I am never quite sure how to answer it. Am I running from something? Probably.

I am mosly curious as to why others run through the pain. Maybe, their stories will help me figure out my own issues. The whole raison d'etre.

Originally it was my plan to solely volunteer for the weekend. Not that I am some sadistic type that wants to watch others suffer, with a coffee in my hands but I figured giving back to the ultramarathon world was about the least I could do. A friend of mine didn't see my karma seeking as a good enough reason to sit on the sidelines and pressured me to sign up for the 60km race on Saturday. My tendancy for the "Fuck it why not" attitude had me agree with her. I registered for the race only two days before the gun went off.

I will just begin to say that Coast Mountain Trail Series races by Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford is as elite as it gets in Canada for ultra trail running. Everything is top notch, from the trails, to the volunteers, and aid stations. The morning of the 60km race really was no exception. From my understanding, registration for the event opened only two weeks before the start due to a variety restrictions on top on Covid-19. The team was clearly committed to putting a race together in Whistler, and they did such a great job on short notice.

Ty Holtan Photography

After a breifing from the bearded man himself, the group was off under headlamp. As we weaved up the switchback, the line of bright lights could be seen as a convoy up and down the trail.

Racing is a deeply personal yet shared experience. The road racer would feel alone in an ultra, long hours completly by yourself, no idea how much further the person is ahead you or behind you.

The most common questions asked by friends after one of these races is, "What do you think about for that long?"

My race lasted for just under 9 hours before reaching the final. There was quite a lot that ran through my mind. As I mentioned, these races are a deeply personal experience where runners are tested physically, but so much more mentally.

All of those insecurities, well they certainly show up.

That mistake you made four years ago, where did that come from?

A song you havn't thought of for a while, is suddenly stuck in your head.

Saturday was the perfect day for running through the mountains.

The weather was even better for sitting in the grass, post race with a cold beer in hand. As runners finished their race, families were there to support their loved ones. It was in these moments that it really felt like ultras were back. The smiles and excitement everyone was feeling were unlike any of those we felt during the pandemic.

People supporting others while meeting new friends and laughing were certainly the highlight of the weekend. The race was just what brought everyone together.

#WildflowerTrailAdventures #Chasethefeeling

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