Part of my preparations is to learn as much as possible about each of my competitors. Some are amazing XC pilots, others are great runners, a few are both. It's important to know which is which.
This serves several purposes. Training-wise, it helps me understand how I'm doing relative to the others. It's hard to find training partners with sufficient fitness so comparing myself "virtually" to the other athletes helps me understand my progress and motivates me to do more. Running long and hard is surprisingly easy if you picture Chrigel Maurer (SUI3) landing a couple of kilometres in front of you!
During the race, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the other athletes will help Alex and me understand their strategy decisions and plan ours. Come the final sprint from Mont Blanc to Monaco, you're unlikely to outpace Coconea (ROM) over the ground so if he's ahead of you you'll probably best off looking for an opportunity to out-fly him as Hofer (SUI1) did in 2007. But if it's Hofer ahead of you then you might be able to beat him by running if the weather prevents him from flying. Running can be a hard but relatively reliable way to gain places: witness how Coconea relentlessly reeled in the leaders during the bad weather in Switzerland in 2007.
Two thirds of the 2009 X-Alps athletes have competed in the event before, so there's lots of information to be gleaned from their previous performances. Of course, this year they'll be more experienced, fitter, and better prepared! The "newbies" like myself are still unproven and unknown. A few are competing in the Paragliding World Championships in Valle de Bravo, Mexico which I'm following in detail (alongside thousands of other Internet spectators) on ParaglidingForum.com. For the other competitors I'm following their blogs: see the list of "Athletes' Sites" in the right hand column here.
The flying isn't great here in Geneva at the moment so I'm compensating by training on the ground: if I can't fly then I'd better go running! After a month and a half of base training, I'm now starting to ramp up the weekly mileage. The goal here is to condition my body to day after day pounding pavement. Several athletes were forced to retire in 2007 due to foot and leg problems, including Vincent Sprungli (FRA2) who walked too hard after a 200km flight. As described in my earlier blog post, you're unlikely to win on the ground alone, but it's important both physically and psychologically to know that you can complete the course without taking your glider out of the bag. To give you an idea, I'm currently doing 30km runs in about 2h15m and am aiming to do a sub 3-hour marathon sometime in the Spring. If anyone knows Maurer's marathon time then please email me at twpayne at gmail dot com. Thanks!