Sidney’s Smith a contender in Sunday’s Pioneer 8K

Harriers Pioneer 8K kicks off the 2015 running series this Sunday.

Nanaimo runner Erin Burrett

A strong field of women leads the way in this Sunday’s opening race in the Frontrunners 2015 Island Race Series in Saanichton.

The Harriers Pioneer 8K jumps off the start line at 11 a.m. on Sun., Jan. 11. The race starts and finishes at the Saanich Fairgrounds on Stelly’s X Road. Louise Hodgson-Jones, media liaison for the Vancouver Islands Runners’ Association (VIRA), says there are around 450 people ready to race in what has become the series’ opening event of the year.

The 2014 winner of the female event, Erin Burrett of Nanaimo, returns this weekend and is joined by Natasha Wodak of Vancouver, who placed second last year. Wodak is a two-time Pioneer 8K winner — in 2011, and 2013 where she set the course record and a Canadian 8K record of 25:28. Other female racers to watch out for include Dayna Pidhoresky of Vancouver and Sidney’s own Lucy Smith, ranked as the top female Master.

Hodgson-Jones added the Master categories, men and women, are stronger than they have been for years. She said that’s because of the excellent runners who are getting older and are still racing. The newest category in the event this year, she continued, is the Masters 85-89. There are three or four people in this category, she said, including Maurice Tarrant. He’s expected to set a Canadian 8K age category record — the current record is 54:03 and in 2014, Tarrant ran the Pioneer 8K in 45:46.

“Tarrant has completed over 150 Island Series races in the last 30 years,” states a VIRA media release, “and has finished in first place in his age category an incredible 300 consecutive times.”

Tarrant has set 70 Canadian age class records, some of which stand to this day.

Among the male racers, Vancouver’s Theo Hunt is the top seed.

The race course, said Hodgson-Jones, starts and finishes at the fairgrounds.

“It’s quite a nice course, very rural of course,” she said. “It’s kind of an out-and-back route.”

The Pioneer 8K is also the first race of the Timex B.C. Road Running Series.

To enter, visit Frontrunners on Vancouver Street by Sat., Jan. 10 or do so on race day out in Saanichton. Visit vira.bc.ca for more information.

The Frontrunners Island Race Series consists of eight events. The next one is the Cobble Hill 10K on Jan. 25. The series returns to the Saanich Peninsula March 8 for the Bazan Bay 5K.