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Chasing the Eagle across the Alps

SuuntoRun — 10 May 2019

Adventurer and paragliding pro Paul Guschlbauer is preparing for his fifth appearance in Red Bull X-Alps, touted the toughest race in the world. His aim: to catch the Eagle.

© Ulrich Grill / Red Bull Content Pool

With the ninth edition of Red Bull X-Alps only a month away, Paul Guschlbauer is doing the hard yards to prepare. “I’m trying to get my body prepared,” the 35-year-old Austrian says. “I’m carrying my paraglider pack and doing long walks on the flat, then combining it with climbing mountains and flying. I’m always trying to keep it fun because I hate to have a schedule that is just about ‘training’. It’s not my style.”

Conditioning his body for long days of walking with a heavy pack is essential to seriously compete in Red Bull X-Alps, a 1138 km hiking and paragliding race that spans the length of the European Alps. On average, athletes hike about 40 to 50 km a day, and when the weather conditions aren’t flyable, that can increase to 100 km, or even more. “Every day we have on average between 2500 and 3500 m of vertical climbing on top of that distance,” Paul says. “Your body has to be really resistant to this kind of punishment.”

Paul’s long history in outdoor endurance sports gives him confidence he’s ready. Tracking his workouts with his Suunto 9 Baro also gives him confidence. “Having the right mindset for the race is very important and if you go there and don’t think you are strong enough it’s not a good feeling,” he says. “And sometimes I feel like I haven’t trained enough and then I look at the data my Suunto captured and I can see I did.”

There are only 1138 Suunto 9 Baro Red Bull X-Alps Limited Edition pieces. One for every kilometer of the race!

Growing up in Graz, Paul’s first adventure sport was mountain biking. He won competitions and became semi professional. But biking didn’t satisfy his longing for epic adventure. When he was 18, he got bored of mountain biking and decided to move on. He started mountaineering and paragliding, and felt he was on the right path. Then he found out about Red Bull X-Alps, and set his sights on it. Five years later, in 2011, he applied for a wildcard entry, and got it. “I came third,” he says, “surprising me and everyone else. Since then I’ve been focused on this. Now it’s going to be my fifth Red Bull X-Alps. I can hardly believe it.”

Suunto is delighted to once again be a main race partner for the 2019 edition. Each of the 32 athletes from 20 nations around the world competing this year will be tracking his or her journey with a Suunto 9 Baro, helping to pace their efforts, and find their way. Paul is excited about using his watch for route finding. “I started using the Suunto app with the planning and then transferring the track to the watch so I can just go left and right, as it tells me,” Paul explains. “That’s pretty cool. It will be handy during the race.”

© Sebastian Marko / Red Bull Content Pool

Paul placed third again in the 2017 and 2015 editions, and ninth in the 2013 edition. Since 2009 one man has won every edition: Swiss legend Chrigel Maurer, nicknamed Chrigel the Eagle. Paul has got tantalising close to him, but the Eagle is a once in a generation talent, a kind of Kilian Jornet of the air, in the hike and fly scene. Beating him has proven impossible for everyone. But Paul isn’t giving up.

Developed by Austrian pilot Hannes Arch, the first edition of Red Bull X-Alps was in 2003. The race starts in Salzburg, Austria and ends – after crossing five alpine nations – in Monaco. When the weather is permitting, the athletes fly as far and as fast as they can. When the weather is inclement, they continue on by foot. Each athlete is allowed one main supporter, who helps with route planning, cooking, health care and other things.

The race has a massive following, with many alpine villages coming out to cheer the athletes as they pass through, and thousands of other who watch the race via its live tracking system online.

Stay tuned for more action from Red Bull X-Alps 2019!

Lead image: © Sebastian Marko / Red Bull Content Pool