The 2019 Vancouver Island Race Series is entering its 38th year, offering up eight races that are scheduled to go every-other-week starting on Sunday, January 13. The series includes the 40th annual Harriers Pioneer 8K (North Saanich), Cobble Hill 10K, Cedar 12K (Nanaimo), Hatley Castle 8K (Colwood), Port Alberni Paper Chase 15K, Comox Valley RV Half Marathon, TriStars Sooke 10K and Synergy Health Management 5K (Sidney).

Here are a few reasons why runners, whether you are a beginner, veteran, elite or are just happy to participate, will enjoy the series.

Late starts

Unlike the common practice of organizers having to start road races early in the morning like 8:00 or 9:00 am, all series races start at 11:00 am, except for the Pioneer 8K, which starts at 11:30 am – civilized hours for runners as well as sponsors, media and volunteers. Everyone shows up happy.

Compete with yourself

Port Alberni start. Photo by Lyndon Cassell

For those runners and walkers (of all abilities) who like to measure how they stack up against their own performances from race to race, over different courses and varying distances, the series offers a point scoring system to compare yourself to yourself.

Additionally, from 5K to the half-marathon distances, competitors who would like to run for their club, school, team or sponsor, can accumulate points at each race for team results, all calculated within your own five-year age-group. At the end of the year, the “clubs” are ranked in order of finish based on points accumulated. Running is an individual sport, but the club competition makes it more team-oriented, which mean camaraderie and fun.

Five-year age-groups

Compete for medals, ribbons and prizes within your own five-year age-group. For those who like to just participate for the fun, health and or social benefits – all the more power to you – and for those who want to win, place or show, you can do so within your own age-category. Not everyone is 25-years-old and at peak lifetime fitness. Some of the most fun and competitive age-groups are the ones which includes the young at heart.

Beginners and champions race together

Dozens of Olympians have raced in the series – if not hundreds – the most recent include 2016 Rio Olympians Lucas Bruchet and Natasha Wodak of Vancouver.

Future international runners use some of the island series races for training and competitive work, like the Prairie Inn Harriers Youth Team which is led by two-time Olympian Bruce Deacon. Some of the PIHYT members have competed internationally for Canada as juniors, youth and eventually senior age-competition. Some have also gone on to compete at the university-level.

The events

Race # 1 – Pioneer 8K

For 2019, the first race of the series is the Pioneer 8K. The event is hosted by the Prairie Inn Harriers Running Club and takes place in North Saanich, near Sidney. The event records are 22:58 by Carey Nelson from 1984 and 25:28 by Natasha Wodak; both are from Vancouver. In 2013, Wodak set the national 8Krecord with that performance and finished behind only four men. Wodak also owns the national 10,000-metre record of 31:41.59. Nelson competed internationally for Canada. He continues to run as a 50-plus masters athlete. He owns a 2:12:28 marathon best and competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The Pioneer 8K course offers a flat and fast route that is run entirely on asphalt in a rural setting.

The men’s defending champion Bruchet who won in 2018 in the time of 24:06 in less than ideal conditions also won in 2017 finishing in the time of 23:24.

Vancouver’s Rachel Cliff won in the time of 26:23. She also won in 2017 in the time of 26:51 and finished second in 2016. She is the national record holder in the half-marathon distance with her 1:10:08 from her Woodland, TX performance in March of 2018. She ran the fastest Canadian marathon debut all-time in September during the BMW Berlin Marathon. She finished in 2:28:53; the national record is 2:28:00 by Lanni Marchant.

The fastest Greater Victoria area finishers were both UVicVikes athletes in Matt Noseworthy and Alison (Hooper) Irvine. Noseworthy crossed the line in second place overall in the time of 25:29, while Irvine finished in 28:30, placing ninth, behind eight lower mainland runners.

Faces in the crowd:
Lucy Smith who now competes in the 50-54 age-group is a19-time Canadian champion in road, cross-country, track and triathlon. She is atwo-time world silver medallist in duathlon .Smith continues to run and is coaching youth girls. There were two competitors in the 85-89 division in Hazura Sangha and Jim McLean. Victoria’s MauriceTarrant in his late 80s has won races in his age-group over 250 times. He is inthe Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

Race # 2 – Cobble Hill 10K

This race is nearly as rural as the Pioneer 8K, flat and fast, although there is at least one hill to keep the course honest.

The Ceevacs Running Club of the Cowichan Valley operates this race each year.

The 2018 winner was Shelby Drope of Nanaimo. He is a prolific trail runner; his specialty. The Bastion Running Club member also won the entire series. He finished Cobble Hill in exactly 33:00 in 2018 over a strong field which included former UVic Vikes, Ian Searle, Kyle Irvine, Nick Walker and Craig Odermatt (top master over 40).

Alison Irvine finished first in the time of 35:38. Irvine(Hooper) is a former triathlete and runs for the UVic Vikes. She beat out Vikes teammate Chloe Hegland who finished in the time of 36:04. Catrin Jones, a 50KUltra specialist finished third in the time of 37:38.

Faces in the crowd: Steve Osaduik of Nanaimo, former GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon record holder at 2:16:49 was out for the race. He finished in the time of 35:34. Not as serious as he used to be with his training, however, he can run well off of low mileage training. When he was serious he would finish road 10K races in approximately 30:00. Catherine Davies, former international triathlete was competing in her 55-59 age-group and finished in the time of 48:00.

Race # 3 – Cedar 12K

The third race is a unique distance. Rarely does one get torace a 12K road race, so a personal best is almost guaranteed. The Nanaimo-area event takes place just southeast of Nanaimo in Cedar and is managed by the Bastion Run Club.

The course is new this year taking out a big hill which was the curse of many participants. This will make the course fast. There is also a different finish line, not in the school field as in prior years, but on asphalt where the start line is.

Shelby Drope and Catrin Jones won the race in 2018. Drope was running on his home course and finished in the time of 40:05; Jones in 44:42. The route was changed at the last minute due to an accident which caused road closures. The new route proved to be popular which precipitated the organizers to permanently change the course to a flatter, faster route.

Faces in the crowd: Interestingly,there is a run team named Beaver Lodge Bear Bait. Former UVic Vikes athlete Mark Cryderman was their first finisher crossing the line in fourth place overall. Teammate John Vanderveen finished seventh in 41:59 and the third place BeaverLodge Bear Bait team member was Jerry Loeb, who finished 11th in43:10. No bears were seen on course, but all three are masters (40+).

Race #4 – Hatley Castle 8K

Hatley Castle 8K start. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

This race is run on the historic and stunning Royal Roads University grounds with the jaw-dropping views of Robert Dunsmuir’s Hatley Castle on one side and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State on the other.It is a must-do. Frontrunners Athletic Club puts this race on.

This is not a personal best course; however, is a good opportunity to be faster than competitors you would finish behind on a flat road course. Some runners just run well on trails with hills. Hatley Castle 8K offers several small rolling hills and one big one at 3K. The course offers gravel trail and asphalt road. The start includes a long downhill and flat section, as does the finish, but in between, it’s all tactics.

Faces in the crowd: Gary Duncan in the 60-64 age-category is always a “face in the crowd.” Known to race 30-60 times per year, he will even race multiple times in a single weekend and more than once in a single day. He is also known as the local course measurer –something that he painstakingly does with care. There is a certification forthat and a weird counter devise called a Jones Counter that must be use. Hefinished the tough course in the time of 32:48.

Race # 5 – Port Alberni Paper Chase 15K

The return three years ago of the Port Alberni Paper Chase 15K was a welcome one. This event ran for years as a 10K and was a constant fixture in the series. The local Chamber of Commerce brought the race back.

Runners will have lead and sweep cyclists with them that are councillors and the mayor and Chamber members; it is a real community event.

Dusty Spiller of Duncan won in 2018. He ran a fast 52:04 over the rolling, but stunning course. Again, this road distance is rare. In the US, the 15K is a more popular event and the USATF put on a national 15K championships every year.

Erin Burrett won the race last year in the time of 57:51. If her name sounds familiar she won the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon in 2016in the time of 2:39:17. She ran two minutes faster at the prestigious RotterdamMarathon the following year.

Faces in the crowd: There was an outstanding eight men competing in the 70-74 division, led by Victoria’s Frank Towler, who crossed the finish line in the time of 1:13:29. Michael Lax also of Victoria won the 60-64 age-group in the time of 1:01:03. He finished 21st overall.

Race # 6 – Comox Valley RV Half Marathon

This race has been around for a while. The Comox Valley Road Runners put this race on. This is a strong island club with plenty of fastmasters-age athletes.

The Comox Valley Half Marathon race at one time was 20K in distance, but since the half-marathon became popular, the change was made to 21.1K.

The course is guaranteed to provide personal best performances with one caveat, the right tactics are required to perform at one’s best. The first 6K needs to be run fast as the start is fairly flat with few corners. After 6K it is time to ease back on the gas pedal and run to the turn-around, over the big hill, then floor it to the finish. The final 10K “should be a race to see who has the guts to go,” said six-time Royal Victoria Marathon winner Kelvin Broad. Broad also won the Comox Valley event when it was a 20K race. For the not so competitive the Comox event is a wonderful opportunity to stay the night in the Comox Valley and perhaps go for an afternoon or evening ski up at Mt. Washington.

Former UVic Vikes athlete, Shawnigan Lake’s Ian Searle won the race in the time of 1:14:14. Burrett won this race too, finishing in the time of 1:21:11. She was coming back from injury. Her best performance would put her near first place overall. In 2016, she ran the Houston Half Marathon in1:14:49.

Faces in the crowd: Hazura Sangha took the 85-89 age-group record by running a 2:27:05 finish time.He took the old record by nearly seven minutes, which was previously owned byJim McLean at 2:34:17.

In 2005, three-time Olympian (UK) won the race in the record-setting time of 63:57. Victoria’s Jim Finlayson, no slouch himself, was second in the time of 65:42.

Race # 7 – TriStars Sooke 10K

John Vanderveen won this race in the time of 34:54. It is hilly, but not that hilly. The course record is owned by Steve Osaduik at30:30. This is another of those rolling courses that if run with good tactics,can result in decent finish times. It is a rural run that is beautiful andtypically lacks wind due to being a heavily treed area. The final two kilometres is downhill, with a little uphill blast over the final 100m.

For several years this race served as the series awards event where medals for points in age groups and club championships are handed out. For 2018 and 2019those awards are at the Bazan Bay 5K at the Mary Winspear Centre.

Faces in the crowd: Nancy Baxendale set the only age-group course record during the 2018 running of the event. In the 55-59 age-group, she finished in the time of 41:07. She took two-minutes and one second off of Susan Gordon’s previous record. It was as strong performance by Baxendale.

Race # 8 – Synergy Health Management Bazan Bay 5K

This is likely the fastest course of all of the races. It is flat and has one turn; the 180-degree turnaround at half-way. There is the ever-so-slight, almost imperceptible downhill finish that is perfect for fast running without the jarring effect of courses with big downhills.

It might even be the fastest 5K course in all of Canada and North America.

If you want to run your best 5K race, this is the one to doit on. The only issue people run into, is starting too fast and digging themselves into a hole that they cannot get out of because a 5K race is so short. Paced well, this is a personal best course for the taking.

Last year’s winner was UVic Vikes Ben Weir. He finished in the time of 15:08. The three top men were all Vikes. Second was Josh Kozelj in 15:10 and third wasDerrick Evans in 15:11.

Alison Irvine won this race in the time of 16:47. FellowVikes athlete Chloe Hegland (a Sidneysider) finished second in 17:10 and CatrinJones in 17:26 – pretty fast for a 50K specialist.

Fifteen boys and 16 girls in the 1-15 age-group competed in the race, which isa good number considering the weekends in Greater Victoria are usually reserved for soccer or hockey games.

Course records are held by former Vikes athlete and 2011 Daegu IAAF World Championships competitor Geoffrey Martinson who ran a 14:12 in 2015 and former Olympian Malindi Elmore of Kelowna who finished in 15:48 in 2013.

Face in the crowd: It was a record year! Elmore with her course record was accompanied by no less than six other new course record breakers including Desirae Ridenour of Nanaimo, a triathlete who set the new U-15 record of 18:22. Victoria’s Marilyn Arsenault ran a 16:54 taking down the 40-44 record, as did 19-time Canadian Champion Lucy Smith in the 45-49 age-category with her 17:01. Shawnigan Lake’s Nancy Baxendale ran an 18:35 new record as a 50-year-old, while Vikes athlete Dylan Haight took the20-24 record with his 14:48. Martinson set the 25-29 and overall course record at 14:20 before bettering it the following year.

Also: Hilary Stellingwerff of Saanich was second to Elmore. She finished in16:32. She later that year competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games in the 1500-meter distance.

If these 10 reasons has peaked your interested in running – the series registration is only $175 for all eight races. There is a special youth rate (under 19) which excludes the Comox Valley Half Marathon at just $100. Go to www.islandseries.org and register. Series registration closes on January 11, 2019.