Getting Off the Road: My 5 Favourite Things About Being a 5 Peaks Ambassador

The 5 Peaks racing season came to an end last weekend with a race on beautiful trails around Buntzen Lake in Port Moody. I've spent the last year acting as an Ambassador for 5 Peaks, which has been a tremendously rewarding experience in many ways. I thought that I would devote this blog post to reflecting on some of the reasons why this has been such a great gig (in no particular order):

1. The amazing race courses. I ran in three of the BC races over the spring and summer, at Golden Ears Provincial Park, Alice Lake Provincial Park, and Mt Seymour. All of these offered challenging, beautiful trails that were a joy to run on. (I also managed to race the three that had perfect weather...lucky or just good planning?). Racers had to cross streams, leap over and duck under fallen trees, navigate technical rocks and roots, and grind it out on steep climbs and descents. In short: they are perfect trail races. 

2. Witnessing people run their first trail race. What an inspiring thing to be witness to. I talked to so many runners at the events who were trying trail for the first time, and reactions varied from instant love to statement like "well, I can't really say I had fun during the race...". The thing is, even that latter group - I guarantee - would come back for more. Trail running has a way of doing that. In the Seymour race, I came third to 2 teenage girls, one of whom was running her first trail race (which, incidentally, she won). Her enthusiasm afterward was palpable: safe to say she is well and truly hooked. And speaking of young talented runners, that brings me to:

3. Seeing the kids race their hearts out. Each 5 Peaks race has a 1k and 3k kids race, which are usually run by the kids of racers and/or volunteers. I absolutely love seeing how excited and proud these racers are, from little tiny ones running with their parents to 10 and 11 year olds blasting through the 3k course. It's such a positive, fun atmosphere and a wonderful way to introduce kids to running, friendly competition, and the joy of spending time in nature.

4. The inclusivity. 5 Peaks honours every single runner, and I truly believe that everyone at these races comes away feeling like they are equal participants. Partly because every event has a short and a long course option, these are great races to try as a first foray into trail running. At Buntzen Lake, I didn't race but was volunteering as a sweeper for the 10k Sport course. My sweeping partner was a woman I had never met, but who had also done several races this season - in which, in her words, she finished dead last. After sweeping the course with her, I picked up the prize for winning the overall series title. We had a fantastic hike/run together, getting completely soaked in the rain and chatting the entire time about ultra running and personal stories - because, at the root of it, all trail runners are part of the same community. And with that sentiment, my final point:

5. Meeting so many like-minded people. Before I became a 5 Peaks Ambassador, I ran mostly on my own. This is something that I still love to do, but I also love that engaging with this community has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, many of whom I now consider friends as well as running partners. It has led to incredible running adventures and the amazing phenomenon of participating in events (either as a racer or a volunteer) and feeling like half the people there are family.

As the 2015 season draws to a close, I want to thank Race Director Solana for taking me on as part of her 5 peaks team (and trail family), and of course Brendan for coming to all of my races and always being my #1 fan and supporter. People often think of running as an individual sport, which of course it largely is - but it is also a sport filled with a tremendous amount of love and support from others. I like to think that this is especially true of trail running: there is just something about getting off the road that seems to bring out the best in people. 

All photos courtesy of Rob Shaer.

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