Sunday, February 27, 2011

No connection...

No posts for a while, but fear not, training has continued a pace.  The reason for the internet silence is simply due to the fact I was on holiday with the family in Grindelwald, and the place we were staying had no internet connection (to mis-quote a famous film, it wouldn't be a holiday if it had).  I'm sure if I'd been motivated to I could have found a solution, but I wasn't, so there.

Coming back into Grindlewald on my 'little run'

Anyhow, we had mixed weather but plenty of opportunity for training, in between the obligatory skiing and snowboarding I found time to hike up the mountain twice (once with just trekking gear with it chuking it down with snow, and once with my snowboard on my back for the ride down) and for a run around the valley.

As always all 'moves' can be seen on  Keep an eye on the official Red Bull X-Alps website as well as there should be a lot more coming there soon!

That's it for now. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

As I walked out one mid-winters day…

Today was another glorious day – it seems like high pressure has dominated the Alps since Christmas, more or less.  Today I decided to take a true X-Alps approach to my training.  Out of the 32 competitors in the X-Alps this year I think only 12 of us are ‘rookies’.  This is really a ‘one of its kind’ race so there is a lot to learn about tactics and how to approach the race.

Today I certainly learnt a lot.  Let me tell you the story, and then I will explain what I learnt!

I left my house around 9am with my glider on my back.  Now, I don’t yet have my X-Alps gear (as followers of this blog will know) so my total equipment weighed in at around 16kg.  I set of in the direction of the mountain I can see from my house – the Voiron – it is around 12km to the bottom of it and then a 1200m walk up to the summit.  I’d never been up the Voiron before but had checked out the mountain on Google Earth and although mostly tree covered there looked like a clear patch on the summit ridge with a steep W facing slope that would be launchable.  The forecast for today was for light W wind, blue sky at the start of the day with veils of high cloud coming over later – certainly that turned out to be pretty much spot on although the cloud came in a bit earlier than expected.

Challenging Launch!

I had a good walk to the bottom of the hill – despite the 16kg I felt fine.  As I started ascending the lack of knowledge of the paths (coupled with lack of a map!) meant I am not sure if I took the most efficient route up through the trees to the summit.  Still, it was an enjoyable walk up.  At the top, there was no obvious place to launch – I walked south along the ridge and found a clearing on a steep slope but it had too many small trees and with virtually no wind this was not an option.  Besides it was not the spot I had spied on Google Earth.  Turning back and walking N along the ridge I found the place I was looking for.   The problem was that what looked like a clearing on the computer was actually full of approx 2m high pine trees!  By now the wind was cycling through with 5-10kmph straight up the slope.  After a lot of dithering I decided there were two possible launch spots – both tight.  The first was a steep slope, grassy but very narrow and dropping off extremely suddenly – easy enough to get off but committing and there was a dead tree just in front  - which would need to be flown around, just after getting in the air.  I decided this was too dangerous.  The second was a patch at the top of the slope full of 2m pine trees.  There was a narrow gap in between the trees could give me just the space I needed but it meant that the wing was on the path, virtually out of the little wind that there was and either side of me were trees and bushes.  This was insanely difficult, but not dangerous – I was only really risking getting tangled with some small trees, if it went wrong.
Looking back at take off from the air - spot the launch site!

It turned out to be just as difficult as I expected – the first time the glider came up slightly to the right – I corrected, momentarily forgetting I only had a narrow gap to aim for and I was now out of it - launch aborted.  There followed about 10mins of picking my glider out of trees!  To cut a long story short it took many attempts, and between picking the glider out of bushes and small trees and waiting for the few up slope breezes, it took me nearly 2 hours to finally get off!

I had planned to fly north and walk up another hill to a second launch before gliding back in the direction of my house and walking home, but as I had wasted so much time on take off I decided to just glide back in the direction of the house, and walk the last part.

In total I walked 27km, climbed 1200m and flew around 8km.  A little frustrating at times, but still, I learnt a lot from today.  The key lessons were:

Landing - take off was on the mountain in the background!
1)      Just when you think you’ve got blisters fixed they come back and bite you.  I was wearing the same shoes and socks as I have been training with for the last few months but still after 10km I had a blister forming on my heal.  The difference?  I was walking with a pack and not running!
2)      Food and drink is very important.  I thought I had taken plenty on my trip (indeed the 1.5kg of isotonic drink added considerable weight to the pack) but it was only just enough and I did less than I was intending.  Having my supporter carrying this for me where possible and making sure I always have enough without having to carry much will be extremely important.
3)      Just because somewhere looks like a take off on google earth doesn’t mean it really is.  I think I’ll need to be more certain – so more research into possible launches on route is required and in case I need to rely on google earth then I should have a plan B in case the launch turns out to be rubbish!
4)      Carry spare line.  As pilots we are spoilt today.  Most alpine launches are either carpeted or nice grass.  If you pick a launch site at random then there is a chance there are brambles and roots which catch on lines and you can easily break a line.  I broke an upper C line today, just trying to pull the wing up.  This reminds me of the flying I was doing back in the early 90’s when this happened regularly as we didn’t have the manicured launches of today – in those days I carried some micro-line and a needle in my wallet to replace lines if needed.
5)      A positive lesson – even with the 2 hours wasted launching - I still reckon it was better to fly than to walk down as it would have probably taken me longer to descend the mountain on foot.

So there you go – we live and learn.  I plan to do more hike/fly days along the route as spring comes along, both to get used to the terrain but also to learn these kinds of lessons – planning the day properly and knowing what to look for when trying to find a launch site.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunny Chamonix

Rush hour on launch

Went to Chamonix today to take advantage of the, once again, spring like weather.  Our original plan was to fly from the Aiguille du Midi but the wind was too strong at altitude so instead we went to Plan Praz launch on the other side of the valley.  Unfortunately it was some what more stable than we had expected so we only got to float around a little in front of launch.  Still, it was a gorgeous day, with good company on a somewhat crowded launch.

Tandems ready to launch

Tom packing up below the Aiguille du Midi

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New Toys...

Suunto, one of the X-Alps sponsors have agreed to support 10 of us in our training.  For this we get a nice new Suunto t6d with a foot pod and bike pod (pictured is the t6d and the foot pod fitted to my road shoes)

The box arrived on Thursday morning and I already got to test out the gadget on my Thursday evening run up the Saleve and for Friday and today's training (which was a 23km run back from swimming with my kids!).  As part of the sponsorship we've agreed to download all our training sessions to so you can now see the gritty details of my training on my movescount page (  Only caveat is that I have not had chance to calibrate the foot pod yet so the distances might not be that accurate...

Anyone who wants to analyse the data and give me some constructive training advice is welcome!

My thanks to Suunto for the fantastic support!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Training with FRA3

Yesterday evening I met up with Tom Payne, Clement Latour and Sylvain D'Honneur (Clement and Sylvain are team FRA3) to do a little bit of evening training.  The evening training consisted of running from Sylvain's house at the bottom of the Saleve up to the summit and back down.  700m height gain and about an 11km round trip in a little under an hour and half.

We were then spoilt with endless pancakes courtesy of Syvains wife.  All in all an excellent evening (thanks guys), with a few X-Alps tactics discussed too...

Here we are ready to go out - L-R: Clement, me, Tom, Sylvain

Thursday, February 3, 2011


First off an apology for all of our followers out there in blogland, we don’t seem to have posted anything for a while, mainly I guess because work has kept Jon travelling around Europe. Still let’s put that right now. I’ve started running again, effectively for the first time since completing the Jungle Marathon in Brazil last October, I certainly have needed to because, well how can I put this, a certain amount of winter plummage needs shedding. Incidentally I’ve posted a picture of myself just before the jungle marathon started, now you may wonder why not a picture at the finish, well gentle reader the week of the race seemed to take it’s toll of me photographically so vanity means that the start picture is the one you get.

Following that train of thought it’s made me think about the benefit of resting well on multi-day endurance events and it’s no secret to say that my strategy will be to ensure that Jon gets as much comfortable sleep as possible during the compulsory night stop. Certainly on my ‘ultra’s this has not always been the case with the bed on the MDS being the hard desert floor, (no it’s not all soft sand as depicted in films!), a hammock prone to collapse during the Jungle Marathon and on the UTMB well who needs sleep on a race that only takes 38 hours!

It will however be interesting to see what a difference the new rules for 2011, that insist on a night stop, bring to the event. Previously the desire to ‘push on’ has meant that pilots have flown without perhaps the acumen needed to obtain the most successful cross country flights, 2011 could therefore bring a different pattern to the race, we’ll see.