Very few runners or cyclists would claim that hills are their favourite type of terrain. Hills are usually the most dreaded part of a race, and “fast, flat course” has become a favorite marketing line for race directors and promoters.
But there is a special breed of athletes out there: those who salivate at the challenge of an epic hill and who thrive on the feeling of burning legs when the crest of a mountain is nowhere in sight. For these people, here are some of the steepest hill races in the world:
The Grouse Grind Mountain Run
Overlooking the north shore of Vancouver, British Columbia lies Grouse Mountain, home to ski runs, a grizzly bear sanctuary, and the infamous Grouse Grind hike. “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”, as it is fondly referred to, consists of a seemingly short 2.9 km trail (1.8 miles)—the catch is that the trail climbs 2,800 feet.
The Grouse Grind Mountain Run puts enthusiasts to the test to determine who can boast having the best Grind time of all. Local runner Sebastian Salas took the win in 2012—he also holds the record for the fastest Grouse Grind ever, clocking in at 23:48.
That’s exactly what the Red Bull 400, in Planica, Slovenia, is all about. The “400” represents the number of meters covered on the course. This might seem reasonably short—however, runners must ascent 200 meters (656 feet) in that same distance. Athletes spend much of the course literally crawling on their hands and knees.
The event launched in 2011 in Kulm, Austria, on the steepest ski jumping hill in Europe and one of the steepest slopes on Earth. The time to beat in last year’s race was 5:11, set by Slovanian Simon Alič.
The Fargo Street Hill Climb
With a grade of 33%, Fargo Street in Los Angeles is one of the steepest roads in the entire country. Since 1974, the Fargo Street Race has challenged cyclists to bike up the hill as fast as they can, without stopping.
As with all good stories, this one starts with a bet: somebody bet Darryl LeVesque that he couldn’t conquer the hill on his bike. Nearly three decades later, the challenge lives on.
Not everybody makes it to the top of the hill—many drop off along the way, with epic spills and tumbles being a common occurrence.
Simply making it to the top of the hill is not enough: repeat laps are required to claim the title. The record is a whopping 101 climbs in a single day.
The 2012 race saw 51 registrants (40 of whom made it up the hill). The race was called off early due to rain, but not before one participant tackled the course twice on a bike, three times on roller blades and three times on an EliptiGo.
The Baldwin Street Gutbuster
With a grade of 38%, Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, is the steepest public street in the world. Unlike most roads in the area, it is made of concrete—that’s because asphalt would literally melt and run down the street on a hot enough day.
Every September, one thousand runners partake in the race, which involves going both up and down the hill. The downhill is reportedly the hardest part.
The current record, set in 1994, is one minute and 56 seconds. But people aren’t the only thing racing down Baldwin Street…
The Cadbury Jaffa Race
Baldwin Street is also home to another race, this one a little more unusual!
North Americans might not be familiar with the Jaffa, tiny candy-coated orange chocolate balls made by Cadbury. But the people of Dunedin (home of the Cadbury chocolate factory) love their Jaffas so intensely that they have made a race centered around the delicacy.
Every year, thousands of Jaffas (yes, the little candy balls) are sent rolling down Baldwin Street. Each Jaffa is labeled with a number, and the first five little chocolate treats that roll down the hill the fastest are declared the winners.
Spectators cheer on “their” Jaffa (each candy is matched to a spectator via number), but the real winners are the charities that benefit from the funds raised at the event.
The Mount Tamalpais Hill Climb
Now in its 51st year , this cycling race in Marin Country, California, covers a distance of 12.2 miles with an elevation gain of 2,200 feet on Mount Tam (as the locals call it), including a 1,500 climb on Bolinas-Fairfax Rd. The final four miles tackle the Seven Sisters, a series of gruelling rollers with grades as steep as 12%– which you’ll definitely feel ten miles into this uphill race.
The time to beat? An impressive (and daunting) 37:26, set in 2004.