Muddy Kit obstacle course racer and nabber of podium spots, Nicola Callison, is well-known for her gritty endurance on long-distance obstacle course events (often in excess of 20-miles and 8 hours of racing). But how would she fare in a totally different beast – one that’s just 400 metres long, but up a 37% incline ski jump? Here, Nicola shares her experience of last year’s Red Bull 400 uphill running event in Basel, Germany.
SUN, FREE FOOD AND RED BULL
After two flights to get to Basel, the morning of the race arrived. We were very lucky with the weather as it was around 28 degrees and sunny the entire time (not ideal racing conditions for UK folk who are used to cold temps, but it made for a great holiday!)
At the venue there was an event village with food stands and merchandise (the usual stuff you find at races) however Red Bull give their participants free food and drinks tokens so you don’t have to spend a penny if you don’t want to – we enjoyed free Red Bull, water, 4 beers and a post-race meal. This was located at the side of the ski jump which was perfect for spectating all of the heats.
NERVES KICKING IN
I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been before a race, even though we’d booked it just for the experience! I think this was because we’d walked up the ski jump the day before and I was sufficiently out of breath by about half-way up the 400 metres, so I was fully expecting to come somewhere close to last place on the day.
There were no heats before mine – I was in the first heat! This made the nerves even worse. Watching people’s tactics in heats before you race yourself generally gives you a better idea of how to approach something like this, and with it being such a crazy, unique race I just had no idea how fast to go from the start.
RACE TIME: PAIN, LACTIC ACID AND EXHILARATION
The first race was surreal! I started with about a 60% effort run as I didn’t want to sprint off the blocks and tire myself out before reaching the steepest point. Plus, I had no idea what to expect in the race. Around a third of the way up, I dropped to a bear crawl as the incline gets so steep that you physically can’t run up the slope anymore! It was at this point I looked around at everyone else and realised I was one of the front runners, which definitely gave me the extra boost I needed – the lactic build up gets so horrific that if you were to stop at any point you’d likely just roll back down the slope.
At the top of the slope they had a crash mat in a hut which was the finish line. I just remember a marshal pulling me across the mat and rolling me off to the side as I couldn’t physically stand up straight after finishing. It took my calves a good 10 minutes, post-race, to ease off before I could stand up and walk again. I was almost in tears at the top from the pain – I’d never experienced anything like it before!
I think the race in total took around 6 minutes, and the pain endured in those 6 minutes purely from lactic acid was worse than any of the hardest OCRs I’ve done – even The Suffering 27 miles (universally acknowledged to be one of the toughest OCR races in the UK) didn’t hurt as much as that 400 metres. But I did surprise myself by coming in 5th – it’s amazing what your body can do when your adrenaline is pumping!
GETTING TO THE WOMEN’S FINAL
In the women’s heats, the top 40 from each heat were put through to the final (two heats in total). I placed 5th in my heat so as much as I was excited about a good placing, I was also dreading having to do it all over again!
I had about 3 hours to recover between races (the whole time spent with my nerves on high alert!) I also thought to myself, “I’ve already done this and done it well; I could just give up if it hurts too much this time”, but I’m a super competitive person so I made sure I was jogging, stretching, refuelling and hydrating the whole time before the final.
In the final I came 8th female and I couldn’t believe it. There are some amazing athletes across Europe, not to mention the fact I am not the greatest runner or sprinter by any means!
Would I do it again? Yes, I would love to run Red Bull 400 again, hopefully in 2018.
RED BULL 400 TRAINING TIPS
In prep for the race, I took advantage of living in Scotland and did a few training runs up the side of Arthurs Seat, which mimicked the incline pretty well – I was having to grab onto the grass most of the way up (and regretting every moment of signing up for the race at this point!)
My training in general incorporates Ankorr training, which is essentially a harness on a bungee cord which you strap to bars on a wall. Using this was probably what prepared me most for the challenge as it mimics the feeling you get trying to crawl up the slope – doing lots of bear crawls at full speed and trying to control your breathing and push through the lactic acid is the best training I could suggest for this race.
I wore shorts and calf compressions. I would have worn my Muddy Kit team top but Red Bull have a policy that you wear their branded t-shirts during the race. This was fine, however, as the tops were a good, breathable material.
I think different locations call for different shoes – in Germany I wore Salomon Speedcross which performed perfectly as there was a lot of grass up the slope. However, for around 50 metres at the end the slope it went from grass to concrete so it was a little difficult at that point, but not a major setback. I didn’t wear gloves but I’d probably recommend wearing fingerless ones to protect your palms, as there were nettle patches and bits on the grass that were quite sharp (not that you notice this when you are focussed on racing, but it would be an advantage!)
For more info and to sign up, visit www.redbull400.com