When Brian Callender organized the first “No. 7 Challenge” three years ago, he saw it as an opportunity to create a unique destination race for runners. Inspired by a similar event while living in Australia, Callendar returned to his hometown, networked with the running community and held the first “race the train” run on Aug. 17, 2013.
Despite little advertising outside of Port Alberni, the race attracted about 40 participants who ran from the train station to McLean Mill alongside the steam train route. It was well-received and carried on for the next two years. Numbers dropped, but the potential for a signature race capturing the Valley’s historic icon, has captured the interest of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce. Bill Collette, executive director of the chamber, is spearheading a new marketing campaign for the No. 7 Challenge, but also has plans for multi-sport athletes to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in Port Alberni in 2017.
“I got wind of it being on the McLean Mill committee and decided to push it,” said Collette.
A number of strategies have already been put into place and he said marketing the idea will be key. Part of that included the purchase of a trade show booth skin with images of the train and McLean Mill.
“We brought a backdrop to the expo of the Victoria marathon,” Collette said. “The people who came through the booth were blown away by the concept of running against the train.”
A website was designed through a promotion held by the Heart of Vancouver Island Facebook page and the event’s own Facebook page was launched last October.
From that, 30 people registered for the May 1 race. And further word of mouth has meant registration is up over 100.
“I hope for 200,” Collette said. “I’m shooting high, but why not?”
Collette will be taking the advertising out of town by participating in all of the runs in the Vancouver Island Race Association series that started in January.
“By February, I will be pushing it hard,” he said.
“With the chamber moving forward with it, it has been given a real shot in the arm to reach a larger audience and to become a much bigger annual event,” Callender said.
Collette has run a marathon in Iceland and understands the attraction of including such events in travel plans.
“That led to the next idea and it is really exciting,” Collette said. “I’m pumped about it.”
Collette and a small group of volunteers plan on incorporating an ambitious event to help the city celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary on July 1, 2017. While he was in Victoria pushing the No. 7 Challenge, Collette was inspired by the interest and brainstormed ideas to make it bigger.
“I wondered how we could take it further, so I thought about a tri-concept,” he said.
That is when he came up with the proposed Iconic Challenge. Initial plans include a swim portion at Sproat Lake following the Canada Day parade. He had hoped swimmers would be able to swim out to the Martin Mars bombers as the first iconic attraction, but whether the Mars will be on the water by then is iffy.
“That is the tricky part because we’ve discussed the possibility of it being available but as that can’t be confirmed for some time we will be looking at various options,” Collette said.
That evening will be highlighted with fireworks at Harbour Quay.
“Friday, July 2 will be the really interesting day,” Collette said. “Now the icon becomes the Frances Barkley.” Mountain bike racers will start at Harbour Quay in an attempt to beat the vessel to Bamfield. He said it is possible because the boat will take about five and a half hours after a detour to Sechart Lodge. There will even be options for an Ironman distance by doing a return ride or a shorter distance to China Creek.
Athletes can look forward to a community barbecue that evening, which will also serve to fuel up runners for the annual No. 7 Challenge. By this point, the race will evolve to include half and full marathon routes to showcase the Valley’s trail networks. At the end point at McLean Mill, classic car enthusiasts can show off their rides in a car show.
“I think it is vital for a community to have events like this one (and others) to encourage visitors to come and spend time and money here,” Callender said.
“There are so many ways to participate,” Collette said. “We need to garner interest, find ways to promote it and get a major sponsor. We are taking a great idea and trying to make it more successful and make ourselves known even more for destination events.”