Area runners shoot up to top Red Bull 400 

Squamish's Dawson, North Vancouver's Crichton win first race in Canada

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Whale of a run Men's runner-up Shaun Stephens-Whale completes the final few metres of his qualifying heat during the Red Bull 400 at Whistler Olympic Park on July 19.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Whale of a run Men's runner-up Shaun Stephens-Whale completes the final few metres of his qualifying heat during the Red Bull 400 at Whistler Olympic Park on July 19.

Completing the treacherous Red Bull 400 course just one time was plenty for the bulk of the race's competitors.

Brandon Crichton and Zoe Dawson, however, tore up the course a second time around as well.

Crichton, from North Vancouver, and Dawson, from Squamish, captured the respective solo finals at the first-ever Red Bull 400 held in Canada, with both actually improving their times in the second run.

The race forced runners up the ski jumps at Whistler Olympic Park.

By virtue of their victories, both runners also qualified for the Red Bull 400 global finals at a top-secret location in Europe unknown to even race director Geoff Langford after the race.

Crichton, a former professional cyclist, had competed in his first running race the weekend prior to the steep run, finding victory there as well. Crichton posted the best time by over four minutes in the O2X Summit Challenge at Grouse Mountain.

In the much shorter Red Bull race, after qualifying with a blistering time of four minutes and seven seconds (4:07), he shaved another 14 seconds off that time in a neck-and-neck final with Shaun Stephens-Whale, who was just two seconds back. Michael Simpson placed third in the final with a time of 4:01.

"There is no how. I have no idea," Crichton said when asked how he improved his time from the first heat to the final. "I'm an endurance athlete on the road cycling side of thing. It's totally different from something like this. It's so hard to train for something like this.

"I've been spending countless mornings and evenings on the Grouse Grind, trying to pick the streets in North Vancouver that are the steepest and doing wind sprints."

While a cycling background certainly aided Crichton's general fitness, it also informed his mindset of how to approach a course he may have had to take on twice. He looked back to a Quebec stage race called the Tour de Beauce.

"Halfway through the race, Stage 4, was a time trial. My director told me to sandbag it, 'Go nice and slow — we need you to save energy for the following days,'" Crichton recalled. "It turns out I went too slow and didn't make the time cut and I couldn't continue on racing anymore.

"I took that learning lesson of 'leave it all out there' and just gutted myself on the first run."

Additionally, Crichton said pain management is a major key to biking success that came in handy.

"If you can shut the legs off from your mind, that's where you'll win in something like this," he said. "I felt it going up the last 50 metres.

"The winners are able to shut the pain meter off."

While he observed several competitors taking giant gallops to cover ground, Crichton focused on taking "baby steps" up the incline to keep lactic acid from building up. He also noted it was difficult to discern one's standing through the first three-quarters of the race until the course narrowed for the final dash.

While Crichton has had the race on his mind for the past two months, women's winner Dawson took a decidedly different approach. The Squamish resident by way of Australia snagged one of the final registration slots after opting to compete last minute.

Dawson also improved her time in the final, trimming down to 5:08 after qualifying with a 5:26. Chantelle Groenewoud and Tiffany Phillips each crossed the line about five seconds after Dawson.

"It's kind of nice that in a way, you knew what to expect, but you also knew you were going to hurt a lot," she said. "I pretty much did the same thing and it kind of worked. Keep a steady pace. And I had a friend there at the side telling me to pace myself and not go too nuts. It's tempting, the last one of the day, to push it."

Groenewoud held the advantage in the final stretch, but though Dawson actually found something deep within her to win, was actually resigned to finishing as the runner-up.

"I was thinking 'Second's pretty cool. I'm OK with second,'" Dawson said. "I felt a second wind come through and she started to drop off.

"I gave it everything I've got."

Dawson has a varied athletic background, placing her attention on whatever she finds to be fun in and around the Sea to Sky corridor — anything from trail running to mountain biking and skiing to kiteboarding.

In the relay, Whistler Core won in a blazing time of 3:15.

Organizers, meanwhile, were pleased with how the race went off. Langford said all 400 spots were filled and when the race is held next year, they will look to accommodate more athletes who are interested in taking part.

"We had full heats and everyone had a blast," Langford said. "We couldn't have asked for better weather and things ran smoothly. Everybody seemed not so happy at the top of the run but happy after they recovered."

Red Bull 400 creator Andreas Berger was glad to see how the race has expanded in the four years since the first event was held in Austria. He said the first race had 300 participants before expanding to 1,200, with 700 on the waiting list, this year.

"It keeps growing and growing, and I expect the same here," he said.

Full results are available on



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