Monday, December 20, 2010

Building a winning team

Preparing for the X-alps is making me realise that the emotional attraction of the race and the reality are not the same.  What I mean to say is that whilst the race is about one pilot/athlete against the mountains and the elements, in order to succeed there needs to be an effective functioning team behind me.  And that team goes further than my supporter (who I have no doubt will be the best supporter ever – no pressure Dad!).  

Of course, during the race the only support allowed is from the official supporter in line with the rules, but when I talk about the team, I’m talking about the team involved in the preparation.  Last week I wrote about equipment, and the companies supporting me with gear (especially Ozone) are certainly a key part of the team – the right equipment will make a big difference on the day.  Moreover their knowledge and expertise in the race will help with the preparations beyond just the supply of the equipment.

Seeing how well Maurer’s winning team were prepared in the last race in 2009 got me thinking that Paragliding has come a long way in the 20 years I have been flying.  Whilst still a minority sport, events like the X-Alps now appeal far beyond the audience of people involved in the sport.  So I started to think in terms of preparing for a major sporting event rather than for a paragliding race.  In trying to understand how other sports prepare for major events I talked to John Doerr, a sailing guru, and former America’s Cup coach.  Fundamentally, preparation for major events comes down to managing time and that is consistent whatever the sport.  In fact, the more we talked, the more opportunity we saw, so I now have great pleasure in announcing that John is going to help team GBR2 prepare for this race. 

So we officially have a team coach!

Monday, December 13, 2010

X-Alps Equipment Selection

After a week of travelling for work and only boring running training I thought I’d post my initial thoughts and progress on equipment selection for the X-Alps.

First, and most importantly, the paraglider.  Of course, as every pilot knows, Ozone have dominated the competition scene this year with the amazing R10.2.  For the first season in many years I was not competing, if I had, I’d be flying one!  Many pilots choose to fly light-weighted comp wings in the X-Alps too.  It has a lot of merit, as every ounce of performance you can squeeze out of your wing is distance that you don’t need to cover on foot, but it is not the route I’m taking.

My point of view, from talking to previous X-Alps competitors and studying the type of flying and conditions in which the flying was done last year, is firstly that one of the most critical things in the X-Alps is simply being able to launch and land in some of the most unlikely places.  Secondly, even if there are epic cross country flying days, the ability to get the most out of the day will depend as much on the mental and physical fatigue of the pilot than on the speed and glide performance of the wing.  My experience of flying long XC’s in the Alps is that 8 hours in the harness is incredibly exhausting, and being on comp wing will add to that exhaustion (over the last 15 years I’ve flown both comp wings and serial class wings at different times).  All my flights that have ended prematurely have done so because of making a bad decision aided by fatigue rather than lack of performance.  So finally the choice for me is a high performing serial wing which is beautiful to fly.  I have every confidence that the Mantra M4, currently being developed by Ozone will be every bit that wing, given the performance of the Delta (EN C) and R10.2 (Comp) it stands to reason that the M4 will be equally impressive in its class.  The fantastic team at Ozone have offered me a wing made from lightweight materials to compete on.  How cool is that!  The only requirement which I will still need to look at with them once the wing is ready is the ability to pack and unpack the wing in a very short time.  Some athletes flew as many as 9 separate flights in a day in 2009, if you waste 10 mins packing and then 10 mins unpacking that is 3hrs of the day gone!  It needs to be possible to throw the wing out, fly and then stuff it away equally quickly!

As for the harness, I’m still working on that one! 

For the rest of the equipment lightweight is obviously the predominant requirement.  The lightest helmet (and apparently the leading choice amongst X-Alps competitors) is the Petzl Meteor.  Not actually a flying helmet, rather a mountaineering helmet it is none the less one of the lightest available at an amazing 235gr.  This time it is the UK importers, Lyon Equipment who have offered to provide this for the competition.  Thanks guys!  I already have a lightweight reserve (although I need to see if they have made them any lighter in the intervening 2 years since I bought this one!) so really the last big bit of flying kit to sort is the harness. 

Once I have the flying stuff sorted I need to start thinking about equipping our team for the ground part of the race too.  More to come in a later blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Escalade video clip

Just to prove I really did run, here's a clip of me running when I finally managed to break free from the main crowd at the start of the 3rd lap.


In 1602 the city of Geneva successfully defended itself against an invasion from the Savoyarde army.  In order to celebrate the saving of the city thousands (in fact nearly 25,000) of runners take to the streets in the annual ‘escalade’ races.  This years event took place on Saturday.

Starting at 10am, for the school children, the races go on all day, culminating in a fancy dress race in the evening.  I’d entered the race as a bit of fun and to keep my X-Alps training on track.  At only 7.2km it is not a terribly long race (in fact I’ve not run a race less than 18km before) but it winds its way through the cobbled old town of Geneva, climbing out of the Parc des Bastions, up into the old town itself before weaving through the narrow streets, down then up, then finally down to the Parc de Bastions again.  3 laps of this circuit make up the full race.

Saturday was extremely cold with snow and ice still on the ground.  It had been about -5 deg C in the morning and was still well below zero as I was preparing to run with a 17:00 start time.  I warmed up and only went up to the start around 5 minutes before the gun as I did not want to get too cold.  This turned out to be an error – I pushed my way into the middle of the pack but as the gun went off I realised I was too far back and hemmed in.  I had naively thought that after half a lap or so people would be spaced out but it wasn’t the case – with the huge number of runners and the narrow streets there simply wasn’t place to get past.  I spent the whole first lap trying to get past people and was only getting into my stride as I passed through the Parc Des Bastions for the first time.  Into the second lap I was still cruising past people but now there was a little more space and it felt easier.  Darkness had fallen and with icey patches of snow still lurking at the side of the course it was sometimes a little dicey squeezing past people but nevertheless I felt I ran a strong lap and as I came through the Parc Des Bastions and headed up the hill for the last time I had to push hard to keep the pace up.  Through the old town, past the drummers at the cannons and finally the last uphill – short and sharp - I used this to power past people who were now tiring and started striding out down the hill for the finish, still I had to slow due to people in the way again (it was either that or side step onto ice whilst hurtling down the hill at full speed!).  I sprinted the whole final straight, and crossed the line in a time of 29:54 for the 7.25km.  My net time was 29:21, given it had taken so long to even get across the start line!

I was genuinely surprised how well this race went.  At nearly 15kmph average on such a hilly and windy course I ran much faster than I usually would.  I guess the training is paying off!

-          Escalade site:
-          Results:

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have been severely reprimanded by the owner of this blog for letting through yesterday’s post with a couple of errors in it. In my defence I would say that so eager was I to cast aside my blogging virginity that I did not read through the piece sufficiently well, that this should happen to me, the ultimate grammatical pedant........

But back to the plot, I read through (perhaps to annoy Jon I should have typed that as ‘ I red frew’) the Rules and Regulations of the Red Bull X-Alps race yesterday and whilst by and large the rules relating to the ‘physical’ side of the race seem straightforward there are quite a lot of technical things to take care of in the way of uploading of videos, online diaries, photos etc and keeping tracklog back-ups etc, I’ll have to shake off my natural Luddite tendencies. This should not be a problem because as Jon never fails to remind me I used to work in IT, trouble was this was in the dim and distant past when a computer the size of a small house possessed a total memory capacity of sometimes up to 16k.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Running in the snow

It has been dumping snow here in Geneva - about another 40cms today.  We've had snow since Saturday morning, but still it hasn't stopped the training - here is a photo of me heading out on a training run in the snow at the weekend!

A family affair

Well there are two of us in this blog now, never really thought that technology would creep up on me to the extent that I write blog entries for the whole world to see, but hey we'll give it ago.

I must admit to quite looking forward to the X-Alps, after competing in three ultra races myself over the last few years it will be nice to watch others suffering, sorry, that should read enjoying themselves. Still guess it's quite hard work now for both of us up to race start in July, just hope I do not disappoint