I Traveled 1,300 Miles to Compete in a Race… That was CANCELLED the Night Before!

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.

Two thumbs down for a cancelled race!

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.

RELATED CONTENT: Training like an Olympian: My workout at the same place where Apolo Ohno has trained!

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.

RELATED CONTENT: I may not be an Olympian, but I’ve done a stair race at an Olympic venue!

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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18 Responses to I Traveled 1,300 Miles to Compete in a Race… That was CANCELLED the Night Before!

  1. Choi says:

    damn too bad! the next race can’t be too far away though! thanks for sharing!

  2. Karen Geninatti says:

    Big thumbs up to you for making the best of the situation! Those steps made me smile!

  3. Jeff Dinkin says:

    How many flights?

    Bummer about the Poison Oak. As you know, I can empathize. Hope it resolves soon.

  4. Kris says:

    Grouse Grind???

  5. Dana says:

    Sorry you could not race but it sounds like you still had a great time. Its pretty hazy down here in Seattle and they say tomorrow is going to be the worse day. Yuck! I have not exercised at my usual level because they have been warning people to be careful while exercising with the current air quality.

    • David says:

      Be safe! I heard similar warnings in BC but I decided to brave it, because I wasn’t going to have prolonged exposure. That’s the good thing about a weekend trip – it doesn’t last that long!

  6. G.M. Grena says:

    I know this is 20/20 hindsight, but the Red Bull PR team should’ve had a contingency plan: offer air tanks+masks for participants that firefighters use. They could slap an RB sticker on each one to make it vaguely resemble a can of their signature product, then after the race donate them to firefighters. Instead of being a bummer-cancellation, it could’ve been a unique/memorable event. Anyway, I’m glad you were able to climb those cool-lookin’ staircases! Their gradually increasing slope reminds me of the Hollywood Bowl. I’d like to hear your opinion of how they compare to it–steeper, longer/shorter, harder/easier???

    • David says:

      I too wonder how many options, if any, the Red Bull team considered. As for the stairs, yep – they gradually get steeper. I’d say much harder than the Hollywood Bowl: no railings, no landings, and much narrower, and they’re all metal so they clang with each step – and although I’m sure they are perfectly safe, it’s a bit of a noisy climb that I had to get used to.

  7. John Waller says:

    Great article, thanks David, wow 50 stair climbs that’s awesome. I hope you use a Fitbit. I just hit 7,000 miles ob 5 and 1/4 years and should hit 14 million steps tomorrow.

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