Runner to Divide and Conquer 

Helmets on for extreme relay race with altitude

For the past few months Whistler’s Duncan Munro has been training to run seven miles.

As a veteran long-distance trail runner with events like the 25 km Half Knacker and 22.l km, Red Bull Giants of Rio events under his belt, seven miles or 11.3 km seems like a short distance.

But this is no ordinary seven miles. As the first stage of the annual Red Bull Divide and Conquer race, the top runner in last year’s event took an hour and a half to complete the route. The slowest runner took close to three hours.

The website describes the course as "narrow singletrack, endless switchbacks, craggy mining roads, snow packed fields and rocky ascents." This year, there’s more snow than in previous years so the times are actually expected to be slower.

There is also a total altitude gain of 4,125 feet, or a vertical gain of 589 feet for every mile, making it one of the toughest running routes in the world. Helmets are mandatory, and runners have to be able to clip into rappel lines on certain sections of the course. Some sections are so steep that they have to be climbed using both hands and feet.

"I’m starting to get a little anxious, the nerves are definitely playing up, but I know when the gun goes off and everybody is going crazy I’m going to be going as hard as I can," said Munro, one of the co-founders of Whistler Running Experience.

"The plan is to leave everything on the course. I’m doing the full knacker at the end of the summer, but for me this is the big one. It’s such an amazing opportunity."

After the running section, Munro will pass on the baton – a heavy hunk of silver, to the next member of his team, a paraglider who will in turn pass the baton to a kayaker, followed by a mountain biker. Munro’s team, the Red Bull Rocky Mountain Oysters, is being put together by American downhill mountain bike legend Marla Streb, who will take on the bike leg.

The race takes place on June 18 out of Durango, Colorado. Munro is leaving three days earlier to acclimatize to the altitude and will do some light workouts to get his lungs ready.

He’s also been sleeping in a hypoxia tent which simulates higher altitudes, which has taken some getting used to. He still gets headaches, but keeping a water bottle handy has helped with the dehydration.

"The altitude is probably going to be the biggest factor out there, so locals will definitely have the advantage. Right now I’m really hoping to finish in the top half of the field, that’s what I’m training for, but it’s really going to have to be mind over body for me."

Munro’s last major event was the Half Knacker on May 29, where he finished 16 th out of over 350 runners. While he was happy with the result, he wonders what would have happened if he took the Half Knacker seriously – he went for a long mountain bike ride in plus-30 weather the day before the race, entered a fun running and paddling relay hosted by friends, had a few beers he regretted the next day, and got about six hours sleep.

"Let’s chalk that one up to a learning experience, I definitely should have rested up a little more," he admitted. "For this race (the Divide and Conquer) I’m already following a program, my workouts are tapering off. I’ve been doing a lot of tempo and speed work with (trainer) Val Burke, and getting rest whenever I can. I’m down to 15 hours a week, and by next week I’ll be doing next to nothing."

Munro was selected to the Red Bull team by company representative Patrick Harper, who first put Munro on a team for the Red Bull Giants of Rio. Munro’s entire team had trouble on that race, and by the time he started the last leg, a 22 km beach run, he already had early symptoms of sun stroke. He threw up several times on the route and at the finish, but still managed a time in the middle of the pack.

"If I have to puke again (at Divide and Conquer), I’ll puke. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity from Red Bull to see what I can do and compete in an incredible event against all these great athletes. I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team," said Munro.

Details on the Divide and Conquer are at www.redbulldivideandconquer.com.

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