© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

The 2020 edition of the series is coming up quick. Register here: REGISTER

The 2020 Vancouver Island Race Series is entering its 39th year, offering up eight races that are scheduled to go every-other-week starting on Sunday, January 12. The series includes the 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 7:00 or 8:00 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

Anthony Tomsich with Miles2Marathon in Vancouver, winning. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Athletics Illustrated

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 distance, 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 means 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 include 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.

Bruce Hawkes:

Bruce Hawkes at Gunner Shaw Cross Country Classic. Photo credit: Joseph Camilleri.

Some runners have taken in dozens and even hundreds of races over the years. Maurice Tarrant, now in his late 80s, has won his age group over 100 times through several decades. Bruce Hawkes has run 200 consecutive series events – the longest streak of all runners.

He is a member of the Sooke Trail and Road Runners club and CTRR is the primary club that he races for, he has also been a member of the Prairie Inn Harriers for 23 years.

Hawkes, who competes in the 70-74 age-group, will be honoured during the first race of the series with a trophy. He will be giving a speech to thank those around him in the running community and will be wearing the bib #200 for the entire series.

The events

Race # 1 – Pioneer 8K

For 2020, 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 8K best (8K is not record worthy according to World Athletics) with that performance she 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 Anthony Tomsich with Miles2Marathon in Vancouver. He won in the time of 24:44 in ideal conditions.

Wodak won again in the time of 26:04. She also won in 2016 in the time of 26:31.

Plenty of Athletics Canada athletes based in Victoria, as well as Vic City Elite and University of Victoria Vikes take in the races. Some national triathlon members make it out as well.

Faces in the crowd:
Lucy Smith who now competes in the 50-54 age-group is a 19-time Canadian champion in road, cross-country, track, and triathlon. She is a two-time world silver medallist in the 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 Maurice Tarrant in his late 80s has won races in his age-group over 250 times. He is in the 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 2019 winner was Andrew Russell of Victoria. He is a prolific trail runner and former triathlete. The Prairie Inn Harrier Club member finished Cobble Hill in exactly 32:22 in 2019 over a strong field which included former winner Shelby Drope of Naniamo, Andrew McCartney, Nick Walker, Matthew Winkler, Kyle Irvine and Nick Walker. Russell won the masters division (over-30) at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships.

Fifty-kilometre ultramarathon specialist Catrin Jones won in 2019 at the time of 36:43. Jen Millar and Patricia Roney went 2-3.

Faces in the crowd: Tyler Heisterman father of two of the fastest junior runners in Canada, Keaton and Madeline, was racing for the first time in many years. He was trying to get within 10-minutes of his lifetime personal best and did with a 42:18 finish time.

Race # 3 – Hatley 8K

The third race is another 8K but includes a massive hill and some off-road stretches.

Former UVic Vike Matt Noseworthy won in the time of 26:51.

The first female was also a former Vike Julia Tschanz who finished in 30:19.

The backdrop on one side is the beautiful Olympic Mountain range, on the other is the stately Hatley Castle. The course includes elements of cross-country, road and big hills.

Race #4 – Cedar 12K

The Cedar 12K was always a fast course with one significant hill at approximately 8K. A detour was created a few years ago, to get around a down tree that was blocking the road. The route became faster as the big hill was avoided.

Andrew Russell and Matt Noseworthy went 1-2 in this race, while former Vike Ian Searle finished third. They finished the quirky distance in the times of 38:56, 39:11 and 40:20, respectively.

Prairie Inn Harrier Catrin Jones again won. She finished in 45:20. She is also an over-40 masters runner. Heather Hillsburg crossed the final timing mat in 48:04, while Aislinn Deenihan with the Comox Valley Road Runners finished in 49:49, for bronze.

Faces in the crowd:

Rob Hare who is the Bazan Bay 5K manager was in the race. He competes in the 60-64 category. Seventy-six-year-old Frank Towler won his age group with a sub-60-minute run. Meanwhile, Roslyn Smith with the CVRR won her 70-74 age in 60:43.

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 city councillors and the mayor and Chamber members; it is a real community event.

Jackson Isnor with Bastion Running Club of Nanaimo won in 2019. He ran a fast 55:05 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.

Hot on the 18-year-old Isnor was 45-49 age-group competitor Jerry Loeb, just 12 seconds back. Loeb was running for the Beaver Lodge Bear Bait club. Eric White finished third.

Jessica McKierahan with Bastion won the women’s race in 64:37, Yana Hempler of Victoria finished in 65:27 and Marion Bryan with CVRR finished as third overall and first master in 66:53.

Faces in the crowd: Joseph Camilleri at age 68 beat all but 23 finishers. The photographer represented the Prairie Inn Harriers and crossed the finish line in 65:16.

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 fast masters-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 Vike was back at it again winning in the time of 69:28.

Former Vike Ian Searle, the defending champion finished second in 75:03 – not the race he was looking for. Antone Minfray in competing in the 16-19 age group was just 34 seconds back for the bronze and age-group win.

Marilyn Arsenault of Victoria won the 50-54 age-group and beat all other women of all ages. The former GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon record holder finished in 1:21:18.

Vancouver’s Karen Thibodeau wasn’t far behind at 1:22:09 – she is a 40-44 masters runner. Catrin Jones finished just 28 seconds back to finished 10th overall and third female.

Faces in the crowd: Legendary Bastion Run Club member of Nanaimo Bob Cook was in the race. The bearded, smiling Cook competes in the 70-74 age group. He won in the time of 1:50:49 – making it look easy.

Just as impressive was Gloria Sherwood of Victoria at 77-years-of-age. She beat seven athletes that were all younger than her, except for Eric Sherwood.

Race # 7 – TriStars Sooke 10K

It was the Russell – Noseworthy showdown in Sooke. They went 32:03 and 32:23, respectively, but they were together through to approximately 7.5K. The course is very rolly, but the final 2K is downhill. Russell may have had better tactics on the day. Nick Walker, owner of sponsor Frontrunners Footwear and former Vike finished third in 33:41.

Tschanz was back for another win in 37:00. Jones finished second and first master in 37:37 and Dayna Jones finished third in 41:00.

Faces in the crowd: The performance of the day may have been from 11-year-old Tor Rabien who stopped the clock at 45:26.

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 do it 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.

The top three finishers from 2019 ran 14:45, 15:07 and 15:10. They were Martin Sobey, Aiden Longcroft-Harris and Jonathan Toombs with the Vikes.

Tschanz again won going 1726, while Dana De Jong finished second in 17:41, while Caitlin Vail from Edmonton – a prospective Vike’s athlete finished third in the time of 17:44.

The men’s course record is 14:11 by Geoff Martinson.

The 2019 edition had 35 finish under 18-minutes including four women.

Face in the crowd: Multi-time world X-Terra Champion Melanie McQuaid competed in the 45-49 age-group. She finished in 18:14 and 43th overall. From the 1994 Commonwealth Games team, Gord Christie raced in the 55-59 age-group and finished in a strong 18:47.

The 2020 edition of the series is coming up quick. Register here: REGISTER


  1. Just a heads-up regarding the following passage:
    “Tschanz again won going 1726, while Dana De Jong finished second in 17:41, while Caitlin Vail from Edmonton – a prospective Vike’s athlete finished third in the time of 17:44.”

    I’m Dana de Jong, and definitely did not place second, considering that I’m a guy (search my name in raceday timing services for the event, and you’ll see that I’m registered in the “M25-29” category).

    I wish I was that competitive for my gender though!


Comments are closed.