Rene Unser has a passion for running that spans beyond pavement and to the trails meandering throughout the Okanagan.
Born and raised in Kelowna, she's developed a trail race series called PACE.
The series hosts four different races including the Wandering Moose at Myra Bellevue (with 12-km, 25-km and 42-km distances), the Broken Goat in Rossland, B.C. (with 12-km, 25-km and 42-km distances), the Nimble Bear in Rose Valley (with 10-km, 25-km and 50-km distances) and the newest addition: the Wildhorse Traverse, a 50-km race from Kelowna to Naramata.
Unser said she started the first race in 2013 after coaching a running clinic for a specific race.
"I was coaching my fall training running clinic that helped prepare participants for a particular race in Vancouver," said Unser.
But three weeks before the race, the organizers switched the dates and most of Unser's runners couldn't adjust their travel schedule on such short notice.
"I felt awful and wanted my athletes to have the race experience they worked so hard to prepare for so I set up a race course on our local trails and ran a free “training” race for them," she said.
Unser said that one experience was not only rewarding and fun for her athletes, but for her as well. As she put it, the rest was history.
She's just launched the fourth race in the series, the Wild Horse Traverse 50k.
The traverse starts in Kelowna and ends in Naramata, winding through lesser traveled trails of the Okanagan.
The race took place last weekend and saw 137 competitors, with more than 100 racers coming from outside the Okanagan.
Unser said she's seen a growing demand for trail races and ultra runs.
"The trail running industry continues to grow, which results in more people trying the sport and looking for opportunities to challenge themselves or simply visit new places to run. Kelowna has so many beautiful places to trail run," she said.
In the 1990s, several adventure race companies were in business, running huge, seven-day events all over the world. The money and insurance to keep the high-risk adventure racing sport alive, took its toll. Trail racing has become a safer and cheaper option in the adventure sport vein.
"Adventure racing is more complex and harder for folks to jump into," said Unser. "For example, you need to have navigation skills, specific gear and often the ability to bike, paddle, rappel and run, usually in a team setting. Trail races, on the contrary, are individual events, less costly yet often involve remote marked courses which provide participants with the opportunity to explore with less commitment."
The first 50-km Wildhorse Traverse took place in Naramata last weekend and had 137 participants come out, with 100 of the racers coming from outside the Okanagan.
As far as who makes up the PACE demographic, Unser said it's anyone and everyone.
"We have a wide range in demographics. We have folks training with PACE as young as 19 years and up to 65 years of age. The majority of folks are in their 30’s or early 40’s. We also have a large demographics of women participating in a variety of ages," said Unser.
Unser said the goal of PACE is to bring like minded people together in a positive, supportive & motivating environment that not only teaches them about trail running and showcases all the trail networks in our area, but where people can make new friends.
"PACE participants often refer to their connection with PACE as being part of the 'PACE Family'," she added.
With a passion for coaching, it's not surprising that Unser's passion for running has taken her around the world competing in the Alps through Austria and Switzerland.
"For the last six years I have been participating in one of the world's hardest international stage races called The Gore-Tex Transalpine Run, which starts in the southern German Alps and traverses through Austria, Switzerland and Italy, averaging 280 kilometres with 16,000 metres of elevation gain over seven days."
She placed third in the first stage with running partner, Carrie Karsgaard in 2015 and finished 3rd overall in 2016 with her running partner, Sarah MacLeod. She's racing again this year and it will be her seventh consecutive race.
She's also raised more than $60,000 for two of her favourite charities, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Kelowna Mental Health Association.
PACE hosts trail running clinics, mountain running camps, charity events and coaching.
The next race in the series is the Broken Goat in Rossland, B.C. and happening in July. It already has 200 runners registered.
For more information on the PACE race series, visit website.