Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 20, 2015

Red Bull X-Alps Fan FAQ


Everything you ever wanted to know about the world's toughest adventure race. What is it, when is it, why's it so tough – and why you need to follow live!

The toughest huh? Really?
Shoulder a 10kg rucksack, hike 2,000m up a mountain, fly for several hours through complicated weather systems and over treacherous terrain. Land, now run for 30km and climb another 1,000m. Repeat every day for almost two weeks. Tough? We think so for this reason – no other race is as physically demanding and also requires such a high level of expert technical skill for such a sustained length of time.

Ok, we believe you! What are the details?Athletes hike and fly across the Alps from Salzburg to Monaco, navigating their way up and over the mountains via 10 set Turnpoints. It's a straightline distance of 1,038km but athletes can expect to cover double that during the race. One thing that is fixed: every kilometer must be covered either on foot or by paraglider.

Not a walk in the park then? 
It's a formidable challenge that requires expert paragliding skill, years of mountaineering experience and an extraordinary level of endurance fitness. It's not uncommon for athletes to hike up to 100 km in a single day. On top of that athletes must be mentally strong to make good decisions under stress, when they're tired and in difficult mountain situations. 

Woh! So not everyone can do it? Absolutely not. The athletes who take part are the toughest, fittest, most talented and daring adventurers and paraglider pilots of their generation. These are men and women who know when it's time to put the foot on the gas and when it's right to come back another day. To take part, they go through a rigorous selection process.

What's faster, flying or hiking?It all depends on the weather. In 2013, incredible flying conditions meant top pilots could fly 80% of the distance and a new record time was set as well as a record number of athletes making Monaco. But when there's bad weather, that means hiking and running. You can still do well on foot though. In 2011 the Romanian running legend Toma Coconea managed to come 2nd, despite hiking over 50% of the way.

Do most athletes reach Monaco? No! 2013 was a record year, seeing 10 competitors (a third of the lineup) make it to goal, but on average only 12% of competitors make it to the float in the Mediterranean sea, the traditional finish.

What must they carry?Athletes must carry their paraglider and mandatory equipment at all times. That consists of an emergency parachute, helmet, mobile phone, GPS tracking device and a distress flare as well as other items. Add to that emergency mountain weather clothing, food and water and that equals a rucksack weight of around 10kg that has to be carried at all times.

Sounds tiring?Yes. In the early days athletes could race non-stop but since 2011, a mandatory rest period was introduced between 23:00 and 04:00 to let them sleep. In 2013, the break was extended by 1.5 hours, from 22:30 to 05:00 for safety reasons. Anyone caught trying to gain ground in those hours is subject to a 24-hour time penalty.

Any exceptions?Yes. 2013 saw the introduction of a ‘Night Pass’, which allows athletes one opportunity to hike through the night. It can provide a strategic advantage, but all depends on when athletes choose to use it.

Official supporters are just cheering them on right?Wrong. Every athlete has an official supporter and they are the unsung heroes of the race whose job is almost as challenging as doing the race itself. Job description includes driver, chef, nurse, psychologist, meteorologist, race strategist, coach, mentor and probably a few others as well...

Where does the race go?The route traditionally begins in Salzburg and crosses the Alpine regions of Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France before ending in Monaco. Every edition sees a different route across the Alps. This year's can be seen here.

Okay, so first to Monaco wins?Yes. The first athlete to touch down in Monaco wins. The race then officially ends 48 hours later but not before 12:00 local time on July 17th. Athletes who have not reached goal before the clock stops are ranked according to the distance left to Monaco. Confused? Check out the rules.

So all the action's at the front?Actually no. The 'battle at the back' can be just as fierce as athletes seek to avoid elimination. After three days and then every 48 hours the last team is pulled from the race.

How dangerous is it?While every effort is made to ensure the Red Bull X-Alps is a safe race, every athlete has to appreciate the race takes place in the mountains and accept that inherent risks are involved. Thankfully there have been no major disasters. At the start of 2013, Japanese athlete Kaoru Ogisawa crashed into a tree shortly after take-off. Fortunately most of the damage was just to his pride.

Who’s the mastermind behind all of this?That would be Austrian pilot, Red Bull Air race champion, BASE jumper, mountaineer and adventurer Hannes Arch. He developed the concept for the Red Bull X-Alps when he saw a TV documentary in which German pilot Toni Bender hiked and glided his way across the Alps. The first Red Bull X-Alps was held in 2003.

How did it go?Seventeen athletes braved the 800km journey from Austria’s Dachstein glacier, but only three managed to make it all the way to the finish in Monaco. Kaspar Henny, a 35-year-old Swiss grabbed an early lead and held onto it for 11 days and 23 hours for the win.

The Swiss seem to have a knack for this thing?Seems so. Swiss domination has continued ever since, with Alex Hofer claiming victory in 2005 and 2007 and then Chrigel Maurer in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

So who is this Chrigel guy?Christian Maurer, known by everyone as Chrigel (and by fans as Chrigel 'the Eagle') is a three-time Red Bull X-Alps winner and by far the most accomplished athlete the competition has ever seen. Famed for his meticulous planning and Swiss efficiency, he set a new course record of 6d 23h 40m in 2013, averaging an incredible 263km in the air every day. 

Who else should I look out for?As Chrigel himself acknowledges, anything can happen in a race of this magnitude. Look our for Frenchmen Clément Latour and Antoine Girard. Their battle for 2nd place in 2013, in which they swopped leads for almost nine days straight was a gripping highlight of the race. Austrian Paul Guschlbauer is another contender. Fan favorite is the Romanian running legend Toma Coconea. Famed for his ability to clock incredible running distances – in 2011 he hiked and ran 981km – he has competed in every single edition of the Red Bull X-Alps.

What about the girls?Yes, for the first time in a decade there are some female athletes, Yvonne Dathe (GER2) and Dawn Westrum (USA3).

What are their chances?“Paragliding and long distance trekking are two sports where men and women can compete almost equally.” So says Dawn. A former US soldier with over 500 races under her belt, Dawn is going into the race as a rookie but anything's possible. As for Yvonne, she's been flying nearly every day for the last eight years. We wouldn’t bet against them. Check out their profiles here and draw your own conclusions.

Anything else new this year?Yes, for the first time in Red Bull X-Alps history there will a one-day Prologue around the mountains and lakes of Fuschl am See, Austria – an area instantly recognizable to fans of the Sound of Music, which was filmed here. The first three athletes will each gain five-minutes on the main race start and an additional Nightpass to use during the race.

How can I follow the action?The Red Bull X-Alps is uniquely suited to following live. Thanks to Live Tracking, you can see all the action unfold as it happens, follow your favorite athlete, check out their distances, rankings, 3D flight tracks and more from July 2nd.

Ok sign me up!To ensure you don't miss a beat of the action, head over and like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the newsletter on our homepage. And put July 5th in your diary now. That's when the start gun fires.

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