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May 22nd, 2024

10 questions for…

… Dale Tiessen, Race Director ÖTILLÖ Whistler

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 1. How did you discover swimrun?

The first time I hear of swimrun was reading an article about Orcas Island event in which our Canadian Gold Medal Olympian Simon Whitfield competed. It immediately struck me as ‘oh wow, what a crazy endeavor. I love it!’ Here in Whistler, we had just completed a little fun day we named Big Day Out in which we did a 4k swim, an epic alpine MTB with 1700m of elevation gain and a run straight up Blackcomb Mountain and back down. So swimrun just clicked. We live in a valley that is marked with lakes from its south end to north. Great, so instead Ötillö or island to island, its sjö till sjö or lake to lake.

What is the swimrun community like in Canada?

I come from a background of cycling events and more recently off road triathlon. A few years ago I founded Whistler X Triathlon (now XTERRA Whistler) after Ironman Canada left Whistler. I felt an off road event was more fitting for the mountain town. It resonated with both locals and tourists coming to Whistler to experience the breathtaking alpine mountains and lush rainforests. When I first conjured up the idea of a Whistler SwimRun, it was meant to be a fun day with a few friends. And in fact we did this a couple of years ago with a couple of friends tracing a big part of what is now the Ötillö course.

After XTERRA Whistler, I thought ‘what next’? I am not an events person as a profession. Rather, events for me are a passion. It’s a way to give back to my community and a way to invite others to celebrate my town with me. I have been in contact with a few other local swimrun events. At present, I think swimrun in Canada is very grassroots. It does not have the same recognition or following as perhaps other places in US and Europe. Our triathlon body provincially, Triathlon BC, has stepped up to sanction the event – and hopefully assist in some promotion of this new event. But to give you some idea, I was recently at a 1 day swim clinic in Vancouver. I casually asked about 6 people about swimrun, and unanimously the answers were very limited or had no real awareness of the sport.

3. What does it mean for you to be part of the ÖTILLÖ family?

Being part of Ötillö is a game changer. Well, honestly, it’s the difference between putting on a world class event or not. In 2023, I tried to get a grassroots event off the ground – but ended up postponing due to a number of challenges. When it came around to 2024, I reached out to Lars and the Ötillö USA team to ask if they wanted to partner. I felt this was my greatest chance to build a sustainable event that would have global reach for participants. And I was right. Ötillö brings not only the global marketing reach and brand recognition, but also the know how and experience in running great events. Combined with my local knowledge of Whistler, for logistics, permitting, course routes, and such, this is a great partnership! Plus, I’m really hoping to learn from the Ötillö team and build my own expertise in events. And, I guess not so secretly now that I’m mentioning here, I’d love to travel and participate in an Europe event.

4. What can participants expect at the Swimrun Whistler?

Caveat, I do not have any experience in swimrun and cannot compare to other events, other than what I see in courses and commentary. But here is what I can say. Whistler is a ski resort town, that now has its summer months exceed tourism numbers compared to winter. We are in a temperate climate, a valley in a rainforest, surrounded by the Coast Mountain range, including Whistler Mountain. Keeping with the original intent, the World Series (and the Sprint to the extent possible) take athletes on an adventure through the entire Whistler valley over the day. You will swim in 5 different lakes. The runs will be a mix of mountain bike singletrack but also a generous portion of paved valley trail, which an accessible network of trails that run throughout the Valley. The lakes are glacier fed, but warm rapidly throughout the spring/summer. The runs will include portions of XTERRA Whistler and Ironman Canada courses. You’ll look up and see mountain peaks and glaciers while running through dense forests.

Whistler itself is built for tourism. Come for the event, but stay for adventure. The Peak to Peak is the longest unsupported gondola in the world spanning Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Zip line, ATV, alpine hiking/trail running, mountain biking, river rafting…all in a fully walkable village that includes world class cuisine and hotel accommodations.

5. What is the atmosphere like?

Whistler in the summer is buzzing. The beaches will be packed as the athletes jump in and out of the water. The town will be busy with tourists enjoying all aspects of the mountain surroundings. And at the event? My hope is to create a great vibe of adventure seeking, comradery and fun. I think this captures swimrun. I like to have have ‘getting after it’ as my friends say.

6. What do you think is the most challenging part of the course is for athletes?

I actually don’t think there is any massively tough part of the course. It should all be fun. The total elevation gains in the runs is not crazy as we are not running up into the alpine. For the WS athletes, the last run to finish is tough climb then undulating run back to Whistler.The upside is the stunning views of Green Lake and Rainbow Mountain and glacier across the valley.

7. What’s the highlight of this course?

For the WS course, the highlight will be swimming across Green Lake and then exiting into Parkhurst Ghost Town. Parkhurst is an abandoned logging town that was active till the 50’s then used as a hippy commune for some years. Remains of old cars and buildings are around and athletes run right though it.

For both WS and Sprint athletes, they will also get to run through Whistler Village. This is really a la running through Chamonix or the like. The town will just be awakening, and athletes will get to run through the town square.

8. A course in the mountains…what will the water temperature be in July?

Water temps will be a bit different in each lake, but in general early July will be ~18C in most lakes. Green Lake is colder and I expect 12-13C for that swim (and thankfully for the WS athletes it’s after a long hot 9.5k run). Air temps will be brisk in the morning, but as soon as the sun comes up over the mountains it warms up. Early July should be typically 20-25C midday.

9. how hard is the World Series distance?

LOL, so the story is that I had a course and Lars and Aaron from Ötillö USA told me ‘make it longer and harder’. So we did! The big difference is a long 9.5k run out to the north end of town and then a brisk swim in Green Lake (it’s by far the coldest lake) and then another challenging hilly run back to finish. The Wolds Series course is marathon length of swimming and running. So it’s not an archipelago in Sweden but it’ll be a challenging day. But I love course, and I truly hope the athletes do too. If folks want longer and harder in 2025, we are almost limitless here in Whistler 🙂

10. WHAT are your top three tips for beginner swimrun participants?

1. Don’t overthink it. While I’m not an experienced swimrun athlete, I went out to test the course last year in a waterski shorty wetsuit and a pair of runners with some holes drilled in bottoms. And for a 1st time participant, I don’t think you need to get fancy with specialized kit for either the Experience or Sprint courses.

2. But do practice with the kit you have. Make sure you can swim in whatever wetsuit you choose and also run in it. And ensure your shoes don’t give you blisters. Go out and practice some shorter swim and run transitions.

3. Think of it as an adventure, not a race. While there is a timer somewhere, does it really matter? Why are you competing? Probably, it’s because this zany new sport caught your attention and you wanted to try it out. So the challenge is enough. Have fun. Bring a phone in a case and take some fun pictures along the way. Chat with volunteers (and thank them). Soak in the majestic mountain views. Enjoy the experience.

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