In the altitude of whistler a mountain runner finds solace in the serenity of the mountains

Earlier in 2010, the eyes were set on British Columbia, as the throngs of sporting elite descended on this picturesque westernmost province of Canada. The country hosted the 21st Winter Olympics in February and shuttled events between the metropolitan city of Vancouver and the serene mountains of Whistler. Leading up to the games, the world got an inside view on the majestic beauty, from the Coast Mountains to the Inside Passage, that is up for offer in this part of Canada.

Bearing in mind the geographical advantage and easy access to trails, it is no surprise that this western province in Canada, is home to the majority of the Canadian mountain running community. This is where the story of one Kris Swanson begins. This the same Swanson who stormed the inaugural Commonwealth Championships to win a bronze medal in the Up-Only mountain race and led the Canadian men’s team to a bronze medal performance. 

Having run for almost all of his life, Swanson had not seriously taken up the sport until about eleven years back. Although his skills were noticed by his high school cross country coach at a Terry Fox run, he left the sport, and did not return to it until moving to BC. He goes down memory lane, “I did well in a school fitness test and was asked to join the track team there by our Phys Ed teacher.” He adds, “Thinking back to the Terry Fox run, I decided that I better not let the opportunity slip through my fingers again.  The next day I went to my first track practice.”


                                                                                           Kris Swanson

                                                                         Swanson at the Closing Ceremonies in Keswick

Running at a competitive level was not paramount at first for an athlete who had taken up the sport to see where it would take him. This activity has taken him to all ends of the world. Swanson has had the honour of wearing the national colours on several occasions running for Canada in international competitions. On reminiscing about his feelings, he says “Competing for your country always feels good.” This is a feeling that resonates with all the athletes that I have interviewed over the years.

I was curious on his thoughts of how does Swanson see mountain running fitting into the Commonwealth Games. In response he said, “The 2009 Commonwealth Championships in Keswick had respectable representation from many Commonwealth countries.  I can see the number of participating countries growing even more.  It was very encouraging to see that the interest and talent in mountain running was so wide spread.”

I have come across several mountain runners who prefer running in the trails and religiously stay away from the solid roads. I was intrigued if Swanson considers himself as predominantly a mountain runner or a hybrid between the roads and the trails. He game some insight into this, “I love racing on the road...but the serenity of the mountains or the busyness of the roads. I don’t see how the roads could possibly win that match up.” He goes on to put a philosophical spin to the question, “I’ve always said that I train for the roads but I run for the mountains.”

The mountain running community presents itself as very close knit. They do seem to support each other through the duration of the competition. I asked Swanson and he agreed, “I feel like we are very privileged in the mountain running world because the personalities in the mountain running community seem to always blend nicely.” He adds, “Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe it’s that serenity of the mountains that keeps everyone relaxed and so likable.”

The Canadian team brought some hardware back home from Keswick. The men’s team made the podium, in both mountain running disciplines, grabbing the bronze medals in the team competition. Swanson shared his feelings from the medal ceremony, “It always feels good when you know that you performed at the highest level that you could expect of yourself, regardless of the event.  However, to do it while wearing the red and white was extremely thrilling to say the least.”

Every event is unique in its own right and international calibre athletes travel round the world competing at different meets. Like many of his colleagues, Swanson had a short turnover, between the World Championships and the Commonwealths. I enquired about the dissimilarities between the two major competitions and he said, “The most obvious thing to me was that at Worlds we did everything as a team. At Commonwealth the team were smaller and of course so was the event.” Each event brings its own unique atmosphere to the mix that makes it exciting and entertaining.

Commonwealth Championships took the sport one step forward by introducing mountain running to their ultra running counterparts. Swanson shared his feelings, “It was really neat to support the ultra runners and have them support us.  Two completely different types of running yet both sides understood the motivation to compete in the other event.” He cracked up saying, “I found it funny because I heard that when a few of the ultra athletes saw us run downhill they thought we were crazy.  Us crazy?  They ran for 24 hours around a 1k loop, running downhill is the easy stuff.”

Swanson agrees that managing training with work is not easy and is always challenging. However, over the years he found a balance between the two and has found a happy medium between the two. This is important for any athlete to continue enjoy doing what they so often endeavour outside of work hours.

As of right now, Swanson has his mind set on qualifying for the World Championships in Slovenia. This should be a difficult task but if anyone can achieve this goal, it should be the wonder kid from British Columbia who brought home his country’s first individual medal from the Commonwealth Championships.


Nadeem Khan

Media and Communication Officer