One reporter called the Red Bull 400 an annual painstorm.
That’s music to the ears of Ketchum’s Miles Fink-Debray, 31, who thrives on the task and the pain of speed-climbing on the 2002 Winter Olympics ski jump at Park City, Utah. On Saturday, Fink-Debray was a marked man but he captured his second consecutive Red Bull 400 race at Park City and broke his own course record set last September by five full sec-onds.
Eight-time Baldy Hill Climb king and four-time Hyndman Peak “Sufferfest” champion Fink-Debray came out of no-where last September and won the Park City 400-meter race by the slimmest of margins.
In that race, he rallied past U.S. Nordic Combined Team vet and three-time Olympic ski jumper Taylor Fletcher by 0.4 seconds. It was Fink-Debray’s first Red Bull 400 attempt and he won an epic battle.
Yet on Saturday, it wasn’t close at the finish—Fink-Debray (3:40.6) beating runner-up Fletcher (3:48.4) by nearly eight seconds in an event started by over 1,000 climbers but finished by just 58 after a series of qualifying heats.
“My strategy was to go to my limit. It was the most pain I’ve ever felt at the finish,” said Fink-Debray, who added he has been running up mountains his entire life.
“The pressure in my legs was indescribable. I was over-whelmed with excitement. My whole family was at Park City so it was real special for me.”
He won $1,000 for his first-place finish in the fifth annual Red Bull 400 at Park City. It is designed to emulate the tough-est uphill sprint section in any-one’s imagination.
Fink-Debray has now won three North America Red Bull 400s, starting at Park City last September and continuing May 11 with the Red Bull 400 Copper Peak, Mich.
Posing a strong challenge Saturday was the Utah Olym-pic Park ski jump with its 37-degree incline, 140-meter verti-cal gain and its starting point from highest elevation on the Red Bull 400 tour, at 6,870 feet.
But Fink-Debray felt it was in his wheelhouse—short, hard, steep and anaerobic.
Pacing himself in the early stages, Fink-Debray won his heat and posted the 10th-fastest qualifying time. Synthetic grass comprised the first part of the course. It flattened out at the transition area into the fi-nal ascent that is done up the wooden slats.
Fletcher was slightly ahead of Fink-Debray at the transi-tion area. There, Fink-Debray allowed himself to look up for the first time and see where his opponents were located. He saw Fletcher 20 meters ahead, dug deep and ran as hard as he could for the final climb.
And it’s a brutal climb, the heart rate racing at high levels, the leg muscles burning with lactic acid and intense pain flowing through veins.
Fink-Debray has set a goal of competing in and winning all three Red Bull 400 North American climbs in 2019, start-ing in Michigan and continuing at Park City.
His ultimate goal is the 2019 Red Bull 400 World Champion-ships at Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia, Canada July 13.
Whistler will be the first place outside of Europe to host the Red Bull 400 World Cham-pionships—the finale of a 20-race international circuit.
Among the athletes Fink-Debray expects to compete at Whistler Olympic Park are reigning world champion Erik Resell, 18, of Norway and mountain running legend Ah-met Arslan, 32, of Turkey. Ar-slan won the 2015 Red Bull 400 on the Park City hill.
The 2019 Red Bull 400 season started April 28 at Almaty, Ka-zakhstan with Arslan winning that event in 3:28. It visits ven-ues in Finland, Japan, Russia, Norway, Switzerland, Poland and other European sites be-fore finishing Sept. 28 at PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I’m highly inspired and motivated right now. There will be so many unbelievable athletes at Whistler,” he said.
Fink-Debray said he’s mak-ing a film documentary about his Red Bull 400 trifecta quest in 2019, with the help of part-time Sun Valley resident and New York University student Kelsey Selby, a filmmaker.
Saturday’s women’s winner at Park City was first-time competitor Maria Lamb, 33, an Olympic speed skater who placed 12th overall in 4:46.9. There were 23 women and 35 men in the 58-racer finals.
Lamb was nearly 10 seconds ahead of two-time Park City Red Bull 400 women’s cham-pion Liz Stephen, 32, from Vermont, a retired U.S. Nordic Ski Team competitor (4:56.3).
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation cross-country ski racer Sydney Palmer-Leger, 17, placed 27th overall and the sixth female in 5:40.8.
Top results Saturday:
1—Miles Fink-Debray, 31, Ketchum 3:40.6 (9:12 pace). 2—Taylor Fletcher, 29, Steam-boat Springs 3:48.4. 3—Tom Goth, 34, Salt Lake City 3:49.2. 4—Matthew Novakovich, 45, Anchorage, Alaska 4:01.8. 9—Drew Palmer-Leger, 20, Park City 4:31.6. 12—Maria Lamb, 33, Park City 4:46.9. 13—Liz Stephen, 32, East Montpelier, Vt. 4:56.3. 18—Amber Zimmerman, 26, Albuquerque, N.M. 5:15.5. 27—Sydney Palmer-Leger, 17, Ketchum 5:40.8.