Red Bull X-Alps

How to Prepare for the World's Toughest Adventure Race

The athletes share their training routines for Red Bull X-Alps 2017, as they get ready to hike and fly 1,000km across the Alps.

© zooom / Ulrich Grill
 © zooom / Felix Wölk
 © zooom / Felix Wölk
 © zooom / Felix Wölk
 © zooom / Vitek Ludvik

Competing in the Red Bull X-Alps is arguably as tactical as it is exhausting. Endurance, mountaineering experience and paragliding skills aren't enough. They must also have the physical and mental strength to push themselves day after day.

So, how does one prepare for the almost superhuman strength and determination required to compete? 

Take Austrian pilot Paul Guschlbauer for example. His planning for this year’s race appears to be closely linked to intuition. He says that when training, he likes to take advantage of whatever nature provides. Guschlbauer goes ski touring if it snows and takes to the air as soon as the thermals start. He also explains that he eats only what his body feels it needs and currently has no diet plan. “I think that having fun in what you do is essential for being in good mental and physical shape,” he says. 

Gavin McClurg of the USA on the other hand is much more meticulous in his preparation. Following an impressive 8th place debut at Red Bull X-Alps 2015, McClurg’s brutal preparation is well under way. For physicial preparation, he turns to intense interval workouts and anaerobic threshold training to build up strength. He also manages to fit in cycling and ski touring several days a week to improve his endurance. “The goal is to make the body super resilient so it can handle the abuse,” he explains. In addition, he follows a strict diet plan developed by a professional nutritionist, which includes natural supplements such as fish oils and collagen powders.

Former German champion Manuel Nübel broke his kneecap just four months before Red Bull X-Alps 2015. Despite his injury, he went on to shock everyone with a grueling 9th place finish and will be hungry for more in 2017. He says; “I am already in better shape than last time and the next four months will boost my endurance for sure.” Like most, Nübel’s preparation includes mountain running, XC skiing and cycling. He has also been working on taking off in strong winds and packing his gear as fast as possible, which may give him an advantage during the race. Will he be capable of pushing for the podium now that he’s returning to full health?

Red Bull X-Alps rookie and 2017’s youngest competitor Tobias Grossrubatscher from Italy has a completely different set of factors to contend with. He needs both the physical preparation and careful planning to help him through the biggest race of his career. The highly motivated Italian has been training five to six times a week from hiking and flying, to ski touring and trail running. He is also working on a diet plan and has been studying the areas around Dachstein, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. He says; “All preparation is on schedule, so we can concentrate on planning the routes and strategies.”

In contrast to Grossrubatscher, Swiss flying ace and reigning champion Christian ‘Chrigel’ Maurer is able to draw on many more years of experience. The four-time consecutive winner of Red Bull X-Alps is currently planning to do 30,000m of vertical ascents each month until the start of the race. He also says that eating as much as possible is more important than a specific diet plan. For the first time however, Chrigel will be replacing his long-time teammate Thomas Theurillat with a new supporter, which may raise questions about whether he can retain the title. “At the start line, I know I can make it, but on the other hand every edition is new and different. This is what motivates me to do it again,” he says confidently.

Whatever the strategy, the constantly changing conditions make it impossible to predict how things will work out on race day. Mental preparation alone won’t be enough to win Red Bull X-Alps 2017. Tactical planning is nothing without physical fitness and unparalleled resilience; for this is set to be a whole new level of adventure.