Thursday, August 21, 2014

Davis man returns to race across the Alps

A paraglider soars over the Dolomites in Italy in the 2011 X-Alps race. This year's race starts Sunday, July 7, in Austria. RedBull/Courtesy photo

Athlete flying in front of the turnpoint Tre Cime at the Red Bull X-Alps in Italy on the 21th of july 2011 // Felix Woelk/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20120217-91740 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

Follow the race

The Red Bull X-Alps race can be followed on live tracking at starting Sunday, July 7.

By Margaret S. Burns

Who would train two years to race — paragliding and walking — across the top of the Alps from Salzburg, Austria, to the Mediterranean Sea in Monaco?

Ask Honza Rejmanek, a 37-year-old atmospheric scientist from Davis, who is about to do it for the fourth time.

“The last race was two years ago,” he says. “That is long enough to make you forget the pain and boredom of walking Alpine roads at night with a flashlight, the tiredness and constant pushing yourself in rain and cold.”

Rejmanek came in third in his second X-Alps race in 2009.

The Red Bull X-Alps race is the world’s toughest endurance adventure. This year, 32 athletes must walk or fly 640 miles, using no other mode of transportation or assistance, passing 10 designated turn-points such as Zugspitze, Interlaken, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. They go through Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France. First prize is 10,000 euros, not enough to inspire people to do it for the money.

The athletes carry all their equipment with them, about 25 pounds. Part of Rejmanek’s training consists of running with his young son, Martin, on his shoulders.

“We’ve done two 10K Turkey Trots in Davis,” he says. “Last November, we finished in 50 minutes. It is great training since he now weighs 35 pounds, more than my backpack.”

Each athlete may have two supporters, who are responsible for feeding, strategizing, advising and coddling the athletes, and act as “communication supporters.” The athlete and supporters must be available 24/7 for media requests.

Rejmanek’s two supporters are Luis Rosenkjer from Atlanta, a mountain guide experienced in Europe, and Jesse Williams, a trail runner from the Seattle area who will be the main logistics supporter.

“The team works well together,” Rejmanek says. “We recently did a run-up on the X-Alps over three days in the Owens Valley, covering 155 miles, including a punishing nearly 42 hours walking. I covered 97 miles in that stretch.”

Several simple rules must be followed. The race begins Sunday, July 7, at 11:30 a.m. when the athletes rush out the gate at Salzburg City Centre. Three days later, the team at the back of the pack will be eliminated. Every subsequent 48 hours, the slowest team is eliminated to improve safety, the main concern of the organizers.

The finish “line” is a raft in the Mediterranean off the beach in Monaco. If the weather is not flyable, the athlete must swim to it but for once they do not have to carry their backpack. After the first athlete reaches the raft, there is no further elimination; remaining competitors have only 48 hours more to finish.

Athletes must rest for 7 1/2 hours from 10:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. each day, and cannot move more than 150 yards from their initial stopping place. If the athletes ignore this rule there is a minimum penalty of a 24-hour rest period, which puts them behind other competitors. On one night during the competition the team can take a “night pass” and walk during the night.

“The danger in this is drifting off the next day when you are tired and flying,” Rejmanek explains of the night walk. “If you nod off at the wheel of a car, there are road bumps and noises that can jerk you awake. In a paraglider, there is no noise and no bumps. A bump could mean a mountain.”

The athletes carry a mobile phone and GPS tracking devices and are responsible for keeping them charged. Loss of tracking can result in a penalty of at least six hours. All athletes are obligated each day to submit one text blog, two photos and one video blog or face penalties. Invading forbidden zones such as airport space leads to disqualification.

The team has total freedom in selecting routes taken between turn-points. This is where skills, knowledge of flying and hiking conditions, and one’s personal strengths give autonomy to athletes in this race.

Rejmanek’s competitors include 19 athletes who have done this race at least once before. Their ages range from 27 to 54. Their flying experience is from eight to 25-plus years. Thirteen of the 32 athletes are either test pilots for paragliders or instructors. Others include a software engineer, firefighter, building contractor, teacher and mechanical engineer. They come from 21 countries, including Nepal, Korea and the Republic of South Africa.

Why is Rejmanek doing the X-Alps race for the fourth time?

“This is the perfect game,” he says. “The rules of the race are simple. I love flying and hiking in some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth, seeing it from a vantage point that few people are privileged to do.

“The race format pushes you to get through the tough parts. The very idea of this race is inspiring — a challenge to oneself. In the end, it is only you, your abilities, skills, stamina, mental strength, intuition and judgment that count in this race. To have two weeks to do nothing but focus on something you love — a rich and precious gift.”

The Red Bull X-Alps race can be followed on live tracking at starting July 7.



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