This past weekend turned out NOTHING like I was expecting. I went to Whistler, a ski resort town in British Columbia, to compete in an notoriously difficult race, but mother nature had her own ideas. The race was the Red Bull 400, the steepest 400-meter running race on the planet. Why is it so steep? Because you’re running up an Olympic ski jump.
These ski jumps were built for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and normally they’re used in the winter, when jumpers reach speeds of 65 mph before launching themselves into the air.
But for this race, you run UP. First you run up the hill that they land on, and then you run up the crazy steep ramp that they use to pick up speed.
Sound hard? Oh yea, it is. Check out this video, from a Red Bull 400 in Europe, and get a sense of how agonizingly difficult this race is:
Red Bull hosts 14 of these races around the world, in 14 different countries. The only two in North America are this one, in Whistler, and one in Park City, Utah, which is held in the fall. I had friends that competed last year, and after seeing their social media posts afterwards, I knew I had to compete.
And that’s why I flew to Canada this past weekend. I wanted a chance to try something new – a heart-pounding, challenging vertical race that, while different from the nearly 50 stair races I’ve done, would allow me to use the same muscles, focus, and power that those races have given me.
But it wasn’t meant to be. British Columbia is on fire – literally. There are over 100 active wildfires across the province, some of which have been burning for a month. And while none of them are anywhere near Whistler, the wind has been blowing the smoke this way for weeks. Air quality is abysmal.
The folks at Red Bull held out as long as possible, conferred with experts, and waited for a last-minute shift in the wind that might blow the smoke away from their event. But, the night before, it became clear that the smoke wasn’t going anywhere, and around 6pm – about 14 hours before the event was supposed to start – they called it off.
The cancellation happened just as I was arriving at the hotel, after a flight to Vancouver and a 2-hour drive into the mountains. I logged into the hotel’s wifi, and the first email notification that came through on my phone was the cancellation. What a bummer.
I understand their decision. It sucks, but I understand. Even though we all sign waivers, Red Bull doesn’t want to take the risk of people suffering damage thanks to smoke inhalation at their event.
But I had come all this way. And my friend Tavi came along, and he too was excited to compete. So, on the morning of the race, even though it was cancelled, we went to the venue to check it out. We had come all this way… I wanted to see what I was missing out on!
As you can see from the photos I’ve already shared, it was a smoky, gray day. You could smell the smoke – the air smelled like the air around a campfire. A few Red Bull staffers were around, packing stuff up that they had set up in the days before.
The ski jump was right there, and it was tempting, but I decided that I didn’t want to run the hill until I was doing it in the race. But the hill was flanked by stairs on either side, and I love stairs… so we climbed them.
It was a long, uninterrupted flight of stairs, with hundreds of steps. It’s the longest single-flight stairway I’ve ever been on. And you could easily see how steep the hill is. The grade gets as steep as 37 degrees! (Think about that the next time you bump the incline up on the treadmill to 3 degrees!)
We got to the top of the landing hill, but they wouldn’t let us go any higher. So we didn’t make it all the way to the top, but it was still easy to see how ridiculously hard this race would be.
Most people are so exhausted by the time they get to the top that they’re on all fours when they cross the finish line.
I gotta say that even though I was disappointed that the race was cancelled, it was still really cool being at the venue, and climbing some stairs at the very same place where the world’s best athletes have shown their stuff.
And, even better, we continued to make the best of a crummy situation by filling the rest of the day with a physical challenge that ended up being much tougher than we expected. And for that story, you’ll have to wait…
…until my next blog post! CLIFFHANGER!
Keep it up, David!
PS: Remember my last post when I said I got a little poison oak? Turns out I spoke too soon. I got a lot of poison oak. Rashes popped up a day after I posted that, on my legs, torso, and forearms. It really is the worst. I’ve been coating myself with calamine and trying not to scratch. I may have another week of this ahead of me. Good times!
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