WhistlerÕs Duncan Munro held the lead for the first three kilometres of the trail running leg of SaturdayÕs second annual Red Bull Divide and Conquer race out of Durango, Colorado. After that the course changed, with steep runs up and down shale slopes and couloirs, and four icy glaciers with ropes to prevent athletes from slipping to their deaths.
Runners who have been training at high altitudes, including ultra running athletes practicing for the Rocky Mountain 100 mile race, overtook Munro on the climbs.
"It was the hardest race IÕve ever done," he said. "ItÕs funny because they call it a trail run but after the first three kilometres itÕs basically speed mountaineering. There were spots on the glacier that if you fell and let go of the rope youÕd slide about 500 feet down and off a cliff."
A total of 24 teams were registered, 16 of which finished the relay, which included the trail run, a paragliding course, a kayak course, and a mountain bike course.
Altitude was a huge factor for athletes. Although Munro slept in an altitude tent for two weeks before the race it wasnÕt enough to make a difference. "You really have to train at that altitude," he said.
"I was fine, feeling really good until the first really steep climb after the run and it just hit me. It felt like running a marathon while trying to breathe through a straw."
The route was just seven miles, but started at 9,300 feet and finished at 12,200 feet for a total altitude gain of 4,125 feet, or over 1,200 metres. The top runner, Bernie Boettcher, finished the route in one hour, 39 minutes and 59 seconds.
MunroÕs time of 2:17:04 was well off the pace, but he was still happy with his run. "There was a time when my body was shutting down and I just wanted to quit but then I though about my friends back home who have been supporting me and my teammates, and I just pushed through it to get to the finish line.
"I was off the pace, but I couldnÕt feel too bad when there were guys like Karl Meltzler, who holds the record in the Rocky Mountain 100, who were saying it was the hardest thing theyÕve ever done," said Munro, who was sponsored by Red Bull and invited to the Rocky Mountain Oysters team by mountain bike legend Marla Streb. The other members of the team were Abe Laguna, one of the top paragliders in the world, and Tao Berman, a young kayaker who is already among the top paddlers in his sport. The team finished 11 th overall with a combined time of 9:22:44.
The winners were Specialized/Riversports in 7:37:34, followed by Adventure Sports Magazine in 7:45:16 and The Bull Riders in 8:07:38.
MunroÕs next big race is the July 9 Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, a 50 km trail race from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. The following day heÕll be swimming the first leg of the Squamish Triathlon with the Whistler Fire Services team. After that he plans to take a break for a little while to recover.