Keep Running Up That Hill: Examining The Red Bull 400

Joel Harvey

Running is hard. Compared to other ways to keep fit, it should really be the easiest. You don’t need a gym and you don’t need complicated routines. You just put on your running shoes, and well, you run. And yet somehow, it breaks you every time and you wish you were dead after just a short jog around the block.

In order to become someone who runs on a regular basis, you must break through that pain-barrier though. Once the bricks and mortar of torment are at your feet, you can glide through and apparently, running becomes quite enjoyable then. Converted runners will regale you with how running changed their life, and how you need to “just keep going” in order for it to all click into place.

Sure, but how exactly can you keep going when the blisters on your feet have become so numerous, they’ve formed their own little blister community? Complete with a blister local government, and a thriving blister economy? Who are you to destroy this new civilization that’s formed beneath your ankles, huh?

If you do choose to continue though, you’ll likely seek new challenges in running all the time. Be it a local half-marathon, a full-distance London marathon, or perhaps this b—ard of running, the Red Bull 400.


The first question you’ll be asking is: what is the Red Bull 400? Apart from a sneaky way to advertise a very famous energy drink, that is. Well, it’s a 400-metre race with a slight difference. And by slight, we mean very, very steep. Because the races take place on ski jumps, where runners have to run up gradients that simply weren’t designed to run up.


The Red Bull 400 made its first harrowing appearance in Austria in 2011. Since then, its been on a worldwide tour of countries and their ski slopes. Everywhere that it’s gone, there’s been a gaggle of mad runners who are willing to throw their bodies up a hill and break their lungs in the process. So popular is the race now, that this year they held the first World Championship on Germany’s largest natural ski jump in Titisee-Neustadt. The winners of this torturous tournament of running were Ahmet Arslan from Turkey for the men, and Yukari Tanaka from Japan for the women. For Arslan, this is his 15th Red Bull 400 race, and his 14th victory. Which makes us convinced that his real name is actually Hank, because he truly is the King of the Hill.


There’s no doubt that it takes a special type of individual to compete in the Red Bull 400. For one, you need to be fit. Ridiculously fit, because although 400m might not seem like a long distance, when it’s practically vertical it may as well be to the moon and back. When even professional triathletes say that it’s a tough experience, you know it’ll be a tough experience:

But the physical exertion is one thing, then there’s the mental pain too. Because you just need to take one look up a ski jump hill from the bottom and your brain will probably say “that’s it, I’m outta here”, before grabbing its coat and running out the door. If maintaining your mental strength in ordinary running is hard, then in the Red Bull 400 it must on be on a level that Professor X regularly plays on.


The most important question you need to ask yourself about the Red Bull 400 is this: why would you want to do this? A mountaineer named George Mallory could provide an answer, with the most famous quote ever about mountaineering (which can also be attributed to doing anything that’s difficult in life). When he was asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?”, he simply replied “Because it’s there”. Of course, Mallory would die attempting to climb Mount Everest, but that shouldn’t detract from the validity of his answer – you do something hard, simply because it’s right there in front of you.

For the Red Bull 400 runners, they run up that hill because Red Bull put it in front of them and said “go on then, do it”. And they did, and they continue to do so with such energy and determination that would make Olympians wince in pain and discomfort. Even 76-year-old runners take part, proving to themselves, and the world, that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Although it probably helps if you have the lung capacity of an African elephant as well.


If you think that you’re up to the challenge, and you are borderline insane, then Red Bull 400 races continue to take place globally until the end of October this year. And who knows, if you’re tough enough you could be challenging Ahmet “Hank” Arslan for his world title in 2018.

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