6 Months and Counting to the Red Bull X-Alps

In the 11th hour.  Photo Jody MacDonald

In the 11th hour of a 12 hour training day. Photo Jody MacDonald

The following is taken from a recent interview with Niviuk:

Niviuk pilot Gavin McClurg is having an amazing year.  He is one of the 2015 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year for his ground-breaking vol-biv across the Canadian Rockies with the legend mountain athlete Will Gadd, and he’s been selected to compete in this years edition of the hardest adventure race on Earth, the Red Bull X-Alps.  We sat down with Gavin recently to find out how his training is going, here’s what he had to say.

Gavin, there’s less than six months until the gun goes off in Salzburg, how is the training going?

Well in some ways I feel like I’ve been training for this race my whole life. It’s kind of everything I’m passionate about all rolled up into one. But when I found out I got accepted in September my stomach did a backflip. I was thrilled but also really nervous. When the weather is bad and we can’t fly covering 60 to 100 kilometers on the ground day after day with a pack is true suffering, and I’m no spring chicken, so I decided to get really serious about physical training. The physical training officially began October 1st, which will give me 9 months of solid prep before the race.

Just lunging around.  Photo Jody MacDonald

Just lunging around. Photo Jody MacDonald

What does the training look like?

My good friend Ben Abruzzo coordinates all my training. He owns a Cross Fit gym in New Mexico, is a former Army Ranger and just a total bad ass. He does Ultrathons (100 Mile races) for fun and trains high-end endurance athletes who compete in the hardest races in the world. He’s also becoming a great pilot and is really excited about the X-Alps. Because he’s done a lot of this kind of racing himself and has trained so many elite athletes he understands exactly where I need to get and has been very methodically kicking my butt. I wouldn’t be able to do it without him. Each week he puts up my training on Google Docs, we call it “Gavin’s X-Alps Domination!” The first three months were filled with a ton of strength and anaerobic training, mixed with a lot of miles of just walking fast with the pack. Each day is something totally different, which keeps it really fun. Rest and recovery and eating and hydration have been constant themes, and after every work out I spend a lot of time on mobility, making sure the muscles will be ready for the next day. Once the snow started falling we have been doing a TON of vertical training by ski touring here in my local mountains, to emulate the hikes to launch. I’ve gone up my local hill so many times I have memorized every single foot of that grade!

9 stations, 2 sets of ten at each station, 80 seconds to complete each station, go as heavy as possible = torture

9 stations, 2 sets of ten at each station, 80 seconds to complete each station, go as heavy as possible = torture

Since January 1st the training has switched more to heavy weight strength training using intervals and a lot of aerobic training, keeping the heart rate at 70% of max for very long periods. When the weather is good enough I do it outside, when it’s bad I literally live at the gym. We had our first “test” day this week to emulate a day of the race.  It was 12 straight hours with very fast transitions between the different work outs, with a lot of focus on keeping fueled and hydrated and keeping the feet happy- at 0600 a 10 km walk with my X-Alps pack, then a brutal Cross Fit type Leg crusher at the gym, then 2 hours of vertical training on the Elliptical with the heart rate above 150 with the pack, then 5 hours of alpine skiing at the local ski resort, then a 15 km walk back home, again with the pack. It went incredibly well, I was buzzing all day and felt great. It was a huge confidence boost, to see how well the training is paying off and literally watching my body morph into a machine capable of taking a lot of punishment.”

Footwear is a big piece of the puzzle. Thanks Salomon!

Footwear is a big piece of the puzzle, we have to change shoes every 2-3 hours during the race.  Salomon has been very kind to me, my footwear of choice after testing more than 10 manufacturers of running shoes. 

It almost sounds like you’re having fun?

I am! For quite a long time I was doing the training and loving it, but I was still dreading the race, and really questioning if my knees would be able to handle the pounding (I have bad knees from years of competitive ski racing). But now I’m feeling really confident. I have had no pain at all and my body seems to be responding really well to the training. I can’t wait to wake up each day, take a look at the domination schedule and go hard. Figuring out how to stay fueled and recover fast is a science, and it’s been really fun to figure out. I eat constantly and even with all the training have managed to gain a few pounds. With a combination of SFH protein shakes jacked up with kale, yoghurt, berries, sunflower butter and other goodies, a huge dose of Pocketfuel almond butters while I’m moving at regular intervals, and pure electrolytes added to my water I am able to charge hard for extended periods. It’s an incredible opportunity- to have very little to focus on outside of getting strong.  There is still a long ways to go, but I’ll be ready.

Row row row.  And then row some more.

Row row row. And then row some more.

Tell us about your gear selection for the race?

Well like everyone else in the race, I’m trying to shave ounces wherever I can. I’ve been making lists and refining my equipment for months. You can’t believe what goes into an endeavor like this. Helmet, radio, vario, maps, clothing, underwear, socks, shoes (I am currently breaking in 10 pairs of shoes!)- the list just goes on and on. I’ve decided on the Niviuk Peak 3 X-Alps (lightweight version) for my wing, and the SupAir XA-13 for my harness for training, which will be replaced by an even lighter SupAir harness before the race. The wing choice was something I lamented over for quite awhile. I’ve flown more on the Peak 3 than any other wing so this was the obvious choice. It’s incredibly forgiving, solid in rough conditions and I know it well. It was the wing I used for the Rockies Traverse and the wing I used to break the North American foot launch record (387 km) in really, really rowdy air here at my home site of Sun Valley. So for the X-Alps, when we will often have to fly in terrible conditions this will be a perfect wing. I think having a wing that you can land in tight places, be able to launch in sketchy conditions when you’re exhausted, and trust in strong wind and lee conditions is more important than having a glider with a better glide like the Icepeak 7. But knowing that Chrigel and some of the other athletes will be using wings with a higher aspect ratio makes me question this decision. I considered having Niviuk build me a light version of the IP 7, but after consulting a bunch of veterans of the race, they convinced me that the Peak 3 was definitely the choice.


Well Gavin, we wish you the best and we’ll let you get back to your training!

Thank you, and see you all in July!

Gavin on glide towards Mt Robson during the Rockies Traverse this August

Gavin on glide towards Mt Robson during the Rockies Traverse this August

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