In the literal sense, this weekend's Red Bull 400 will be the furthest thing from a level playing field.
But figuratively, it'll be as flat as a pancake on a prairie tabletop.
The race, which is slated for this Sunday (July 19) at Whistler Olympic Park, has participants scrambling 400 metres up the ski jumps at the park. The jumps, by the way, are a 37-degree incline at the steepest points.
With this being the race's North American debut — it has regularly been held in Europe since 2011 — officials observed only one registered competitor who had done a previous Red Bull 400.
Ian Robertson lives in Vancouver's Olympic Village and is on-board to take part in a race in another Olympic legacy. He's looking forward to pushing his limits as part of the race.
"I think it'll definitely be a challenging race for everybody," he said. "It's an interesting format with multiple heats and then the final. It's going to have an element of strategy involved — how fast you go in the first round and did you keep enough for the second round?"
While Robertson is well versed with the format from cycling, he said it's an approach rarely seen in running events like this.
"For a lot of people, it's going to be outside of their comfort zone — this whole multi-stage race, effectively," he said.
Robertson has competed in steep events somewhat similar to the Red Bull 400, completing the O2X Grouse Mountain Summit Challenge on July 11 and Squamish's Sea to Sky Scramble on June 27.
Vancouver's Michael Simpson has competed at and enjoyed Red Bull-organized events in the past and expects the 400 to be similarly run.
"They've always been very well organized and a lot of fun and make you feel like you're really a part of stuff," he said.
Simpson has completed climbs before, having traversed the Grouse Grind, a 2.9-kilometre long course with over 850 metres of elevation gain, but doesn't anticipate anything he's done will translate directly to success this weekend.
"I've never done anything like this. This will be a really, really tough race," he said. "I've tailored about 60 per cent of my training to be aerobics and the other 40 per cent on anaerobics, on power. It has been a lot of short, high-intensity intervals on things like the Grouse Grind, any kind of steep hill I can find.
"I'm doing a lot of short biking intervals as well."
The race record was set in 2013 by Turkish racer Ahmet Arslan, who completed the course in four minutes and 57 seconds (4:57). Several other posted times clocked in around the five-minute mark as well.
Race director Geoff Langford is pleased with the response to the event, as all 300 solo entries have been reserved with 230 men and 70 women having signed up. Another 100 entries were reserved for relay teams, and spots still remained at press time.
Langford said several competitors would be travelling to attend the race, most notably South African runner Ryan Sandes, who has won all four of the 4 Deserts races (located in Chile, China, Egypt and Antarctica). Langford also noted top B.C. runners like Mike Murphy and Shaun Stephens-Whale are slated to compete.
Langford said heats will run with 35 to 40 people each. The top 40 men and top 20 women will advance to the finals.
"(To determine the finals), we're working with the timing company and (looking at) historical approaches to this event, because it has been different, not just time (-based), depending on the numbers at each event," he said
The relay, meanwhile, will be completed in one heat.
Spectators are welcome to come watch the proceedings, which kick off at 8 a.m. Admission is free.
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