Top runners face fierce incline at Whistler's Red Bull 400

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      Mike Simpson accomplished something that most weekend hikers would think unimaginable. On his very first attempt at the Grouse Grind in 2005, he set a record. Then, in 2007, he achieved his all-time official fastest time in the BMO Grouse Grind Mountain Run, scaling the 2.9-kilometre trail in 26:19.

      Now 32 years old, he’s had a bunch of top-three finishes in the annual race. “My unofficial best time up the Grouse Grind is 24 minutes,” Simpson told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Simpson, who works at Haywood Securities, said he’s able to post such low times by slowing down ever so slightly on the steepest sections. He noted that this enables him to accelerate on more modest inclines along the route.

      “You have to back off,” he said. “I try to slow down and try to recover a little bit.”

      He said another key is keeping his weight down. Simpson revealed that he only carried 144 pounds on his 5-10 frame when he achieved his best time.

      He’s also not a Grouse Grind keener, estimating that he’s only gone up the trail about 100 times, which is far fewer than many of the regulars. Rather than training by going up and down Grouse, Simpson focuses more effort on cycling up nearby Cypress and Seymour mountains, which strengthens his glutes.

      “Actually doing the Grouse Grind over and over again doesn’t work to get your speed up,” he stated.

      Simpson has also had great success in other races, coming third last year at the Canadian Mountain Running Championships on Kicking Horse Mountain. That involved gaining more than 1,200 vertical metres over a 12-kilometre race.

      Now Simpson is ready for his next challenge. He’s going to compete in the world’s steepest 400-metre race, the Red Bull 400, which takes place on Sunday (July 19). It involves running from the bottom to the top of the ski jump at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.

      The Red Bull 400, previously held in locations such as Harrachov, Czech Republic, is described as the steepest race in the world.

      “The Red Bull race is probably one of the trickiest races I’ve ever trained for—the reason being that it’s almost like training for a four-minute mile, but you’ve got these huge steep elements,” Simpson explained. “It’s a lot of training of both your aerobic system and your anaerobic system, so it’s been a real balancing act. The Grouse Grind is purely aerobic.”

      Anaerobic exercise takes place with a high level of intensity over a short period of time, boosting the heart rate near peak levels. Aerobic exercise is less intense and takes place over a longer period of time.

      He’ll be competing against some top athletes, including Ryan Sandes, an ultramarathon runner from South Africa. Participants will have to make it through a qualifying race before the final heat. The sharp incline on the ski jump makes a walk up Grouse Mountain seem like a stroll through a meadow. Similar races have been held on ski hills in Europe.

      “Since you’re running up an Olympic [ski] jump, you can compare times all around the world, because it’s the same course, essentially,” Simpson said.

      For now, he’s not promising to set a world record in his first race. But he still has his eyes on a top-three finish.