“You have to be fit to be this stupid!”
I knew exactly what we were signing up for. Of all the challenges that I had set myself up for this summer, I knew this one was going to be one of the toughest. As we stood in line to register, the hill in front of us, I commented aloud “Aren’t we a bunch of idiots?” The people around me laughed. They thought I was joking.
It actually turned out to be a lot of fun. (Recall, you don’t need to have fun to have fun.) The sun rose from the northeast and cast it’s unrelenting heat down upon the hill, further drying the grass and soil we would be running up. For a few minutes cloud cover formed a reprieve from the heat, but it was as short-lived as the sprinters who went balls-out in the first 100m of the race.
This was Red Bull’s very first running of the Red Bull 400 in North America. In 2011 a bunch of weirdos in Austria thought it would be a good idea to race up the ski hill rather than glide down it. Red Bull thought so too and got the ball rolling. The field was divided into 9 heats of 40 people. The top 40 male times and the top 20 female times would qualify to race again in the afternoon to determine a winner. The winners would then travel to a secret location in Europe (all expenses paid by Red Bull) to compete against the winners from the 6 other locations in the world that this event is taking place in. Your author had no worries about running the course 2 times. Once would be enough!
With me, from Rocky Point Fitness, were Dakota, DJ, Gorilla and Doc Herberts. For a bunch of smart guys, Gorilla and myself excluded, you’d think that we could have found a better use of our Sunday morning. But here we were. The staff running the show were great. Registration was painless and quick, the Red Bull Wings were handing out Red Bulls (I had 2 more today than I did in the last 2 years), a DJ was spinning music on a sound system that could be heard 2 valleys over, the caterer was getting my pulled-pork sandwich ready for lunch. We spent some time walking up and down the practice course coming up with strategies. We all agreed that sprinting the first 100m would be as bright as pressing a ham against a pissed-off pitbull. A 400m Run pace to the base of the slope, then put it in 4-wheel low and try to maintain the pace. Sure, sounds easy.
Doc and DJ were the first to go in Heat #5. The ‘time of the day’ had been set in Heat #2 by a fellow who charged up the hill in 4:07. Is that a good time you wonder? Yeah, like really good. The course is simple, the first 100m is flat. You immediately start to climb a 37 degree pitch on slippery dry grass. At the 300m mark you clamber onto the ramp and start making your way to the very top. There are 2″ slats crossing the board every 24″. If you lose your grip on these you’re really going to annoy the people behind you as you tumble ass-over-teakettle to some point where you can arrest yourself.
I had DJ pegged as the one to lead the Rocky Point pack up the hill since he’s repeatedly run 5:35 miles at the gym. Of course, the pitch on this hill would make a mile run seem like pure luxury. I was perched at the 200m mark and watched, with some dismay, DJ picking his way up the hill mid-pack. Damn, if DJ is looking this taxed halfway I’m going to feel like a bag re-warmed shit when I go.
Hats off to Doc Herberts who, when he started at Rocky Point Fitness, fed the rats in the parking lot with his first 400m ballrun. There he was grinding up the hill! By the time I started in the 8th heat, he had ventured back down the hill to find me in the start gate and provide tips on footing and confirm that it was actually going to suck pretty bad for me.
Dakota came up on Heat #6, also in the middle of the pack. Here’s a guy who, last year at this time, was a skinny kid who could barely get through 75 wallballs without wanting to call his Mom to pick him up. Today he’s pounding up the hill with the kind of determination reserved for men on a mission from God.
I had to start getting warmed up for my Heat, so all I got to see of Gorilla was his first 100m run. Gorilla did great for a man of his advanced years. haahaha. Love ya Gorilla.
I marched up and down the practice hill a couple of times. My Achilles tendon feels like it’s going to burn through my sock when I extend it for long uphill jaunts. And I was just getting over a pulled hamstring from sprint practice earlier in the week. These were the excuses I was providing myself if I was just about to go off the rails. We loaded into the starting gate. My brain registered the situation before us and sent an order to the adrenal gland to dump everything it had into the bloodstream. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths to get my heart rate down to that of a resting hummingbird. Ready…Set….kablam.
I loped out, stretching out my heron-like legs the way I like to for a 400m run. Immediately my injured hamstring registered mild-to-serious pain. Lucky for me the hamstrings aren’t a major factor in climbing hills that require you to crawl at times.
Using the Doc’s advice I sought the footholds scraped into the dirt by the 7 heats before me. It was going well. I hit the 200m mark much sooner than expected. So far I could do nothing but look at the ground as I climbed, I paused for a moment, stood up and noted I was mid-pack. Alright. At the 300m mark the ground levels very briefly before getting onto the ski-jump proper. Any options for running this section were not available. I ambled up the ramp and began to crawl in earnest. I discovered a pace and technique that resembled mountain climbers (ahha! Now i know why they are called that!) and labored up the ramp. About 20M from the finish Gorilla, Dakota and DJ sat comfortably sipping water and eating bananas. Between bites they informed me I was almost there and to quit feeling sorry for myself.
Then it was over. I peered back the way I came and realized the only person crazier than I was to climb it, would be the person that strapped skiis to their feet and went down it. After a brief pause I found limited use of my legs and puttered up a small flight of steps to a room home to water, power bars, oranges and bananas. Gorilla joined me and loudly discovered a pile of barf on the floor. There was more than one.
This race was no joke. I was drawn to it because of it’s uniqueness. One of the mandates of our training is to get out there and try new sports. Challenge what we have learned and gained in the gym and apply it scenarios outside the gym. How would we fare with our regular Group Class training? Pretty good it turns out. DJ and I finished with times of 6:45 and 6:56 respectively. This put us in the top half of the field. Gorilla, Dakota and Doc were not far behind. I think that our training did what it was supposed to, provide a solid core of skills. With a little “specialist training”, such as hitting Dawes Hill 3 times a week in the month leading up to the event, we would have done very well. I’m pretty certain there will be a “next year”.