It’s a run course so daunting, even the race directors hadn’t completed it when they announced the event.
The Bear Mountain 10K, famed for being the toughest 10 kilometre road race in Canada, has added a 21.1 km half-marathon route around the two scenic but notoriously hilly golf courses at the Langford-based resort.
“We’ve run the half-marathon course twice, and haven’t finished it all,” laughs Mark Nelson, the race director with Nick Walker. “The downhill pounds the legs, the uphill pounds the legs. It’s crazy how hard the course is.”
This is coming from guys who are among the elite trail runners of Victoria. Walker is the two-time defending champion of the Xterra 10 km trail run held in Maui. Last year Nelson ran 200 kilometres through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
The owners of Langford Frontrunners said the time was right to expand the Bear Mountain 10K. Last year registration was capped at 500, but sheer demand pushed it to 650. This year it’s open to 750 runners for the 10 km route, and 250 for the half-marathon.
“Since they built the Valley course, we’ve always joked about doing a half-marathon,” Nelson says. “It was always on the back burner until we want to make sure we had high enough registration. We didn’t want too thin a field.”
The organizers stand by the assertion that the Bear Mountain 10K is the hardest road race in Canada, and by extension so is the half marathon. There’s a good reason why golfers can’t walk the undulating Mountain and Valley courses and are required to use golf carts. Walker pointed out no city would build roads with such steep grades and sharp switchbacks.
“This is one of North America’s toughest golf courses to play,” Walker said. “As far as a road race goes, this is definitely the hardest.”
They’ve tried to soften the reputation of the Mountain course route by using names like Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear to label three distinct lung-busting hills. Papa Bear, for instance, has a 130 metre elevation change over 1.6 kilometres, and gets steeper near the top.
They describe the Valley course as having slightly less fearsome slopes and five kilometres of relative flatness, until the approach back to the Westin Bear Mountain hotel.
“That last two kilometres (of the half marathon), that part of the race where you really start getting tired, will be a real grind to get back up here,” Nelson observed.
As Walker and Nelson launch a new era of the race this year, they admit last November’s bitterly cold snow storm threatened to sink the event, possibly for good. If forced to refund entry fees, the race would have been deep in the red, about $30,000.
But Bear Mountain staff cleared snow drifts and salted 6.5 km of golf cart paths for a shorter run fraught with icy slopes and freezing wind.
“If we had to cancel the event, there would be huge repercussions,” Nelson says. “We try to do a good job on expenses for the event. There’s not a lot of sponsor money. We pay fair price for services we bring in.”
“We put all the money out for an event whether there’s an event or not,” Walker says.
This year they plan to up the ante and bring in more hot tubs at the athletic club for post-race recovery, more food and a more festive atmosphere at the finish chute.
“People like the challenge of this race. It’s a run were you feel you’ve accomplished something,” Nelson says. “The idea behind the event is not getting a personal best, but having a fun weekend and getting away.”
The Bear Mountain half marathon and 10K run is on Nov. 26. See www.bearmountain10k.ca.