Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 28, 2015

Meet the Girl Who's Taking on the Guys


Reposted from Red Bull X-Alps: 

Dawn Westrum is a former US soldier and, along with Yvonne Dathe, is the first woman in 10 years to compete in the Red Bull X-Alps. In this Q&A, she tells us what she has over the boys.

What have you been up to? Over January and February I was down in Colombia, where I competed in the FAI World Paragliding Championships, finishing seventh in my class. Then I did another month of free flying and trying to go for distance. I was also hiking 14.5km up to launch with my gear every two or three days. I flew about 85 hours down there so I got plenty of airtime! Since then I’ve been back at home in Utah. I'm running in a 50k race here in Moab in a couple of days.

Nervous? It’s been a dream of mine to do the Red Bull X-Alps since I first heard of the race. It’s the Olympics of paragliding, and I’m lucky enough to get an entry! I don’t have anything to prove – I just want to see what happens.

Can you really keep up with the boys?When I was competing in the 2012 Adidas Terrex Expedition Race, a five-day adventure race in Scotland, I came close to keeping up with my guy teammates. If a girl can do that, people say it’s time for her to find new teammates. I know the guys are going to kick my butt on the Prologue because they’re faster on the shorter races. But what I know is that I have the endurance to challenge them on the big race. I can do the long stuff and can prove women can just keep going and going. I’m not sure if I can do it, but I’d like to find out. The real challenge is the Alps are their backyard, not mine.

You have plans to fix that?I’m coming over late April to train and hope do a lot of flying between then and the race. That gives me a couple of months to work on everything, but the truth is it’s not enough time. I will do my best, but it’s not going to be enough. I’ve flown in a lot of different places now and realized that wind and clouds act like wind and clouds wherever you are. There are no massively crazy differences. If you can fly with that understanding, you can fly anywhere.

What about the complicated valley winds in the Alps?I flew in the Alps last June and July and someone there explained the valley winds to me. I have an understanding of them, but now I need to test that understanding, which is why the local training between April and the race will be important. I have also hiked and driven a lot in the Alps so there is some familiarity with them that will serve as a base. But the fact remains that I don’t have the home court advantage.

What advantages do you have?For this race I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I have the time, finances, and freedom in my life right now to train so I have the best chance of getting all the details correct. I don’t have any commitments this spring other than training for the Red Bull X-Alps. So I’m free to prepare and train as much as I am able. I know it’s very difficult to balance fitness with rest and recovery, the right mix of training with a healthy diet, getting all of the nutrients I need without bonking during training. I’m sure most of the other athletes can’t give the time to training and prep as I can. That’s my advantage.

We hear you're into mapsYes, my favorite part of the whole project is using maps to figure out which way I’ll go, and what alternative routes I’ll take depending on weather conditions. I’ve looked at the route online and will order paper maps in the coming days. For the first stage alone I’ll be ordering about 15 to 20 maps so I can get a close view of the route options I have.

How do you think your time in the US military has prepared you?It gave me my start in map reading and navigation! In the army you don’t get to say you’re tired and you don’t get to stop. You keep going until you get there, wherever “there” is, and then you set up camp and complete your mission. So along the way, it’s important to manage your energy reserves, take care of your feet, eat when you can, and sleep when you can. The army really taught me that I could go a lot further and do much more than I first believed.

What is your greatest fear for the race?Easy. Being eliminated. It would be terrible to train this hard and to race for three days only to get kicked out. I just want the chance to see how far I get in 12 days.

What’s your training schedule look like that the moment?For me, training is more about quality than quantity. If you go hard everyday you don’t give yourself the time to recover properly. I’m doing big back-to-back days, 10 to 12 hours on each, hiking with my pack. Then a week or so to recover, speed training, and more prep, and then another two big days. I’m also doing laps up and down my local training hill. It’s boring, but makes for good training, I can really dial in my gear and make sure that my transitions from flying to hiking and back again, are as fast as possible. Hopefully that will save me a lot of time in the race. There are also plenty of great hike and fly spots near my house. Then, I’m coming over to Europe in late April for more specific, local training.

Favorite inspirational quote?You can always do more than you think you can.

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