For Invermere residents Max Fanderl and Penny Powers, their relationship will play a key part when they take part in the Red Bull X-Alps adventure race together for the third time as a team next July.
“I would say about 30 to 40 per cent of teams, they don’t look eye-to-eye the same way as when they started,” Fanderl, a native of Germany explained. “You get right down, you start to hallucinate, that’s the kind of exhaustion you get. When you get to this point and you don’t really achieve what you wanted to achieve, then it’s easy to point the finger at somebody else.”
“It strengthens you for sure,” Powers agreed. “When you’re relying on each other to do such intense situations… you’re putting everything on the line for each other.”
The Red Bull X-Alps is known as one of the toughest adventure races in the world, and for good reason. 31 teams from 21 different countries will take to the air and to the mountains in July of 2013, as they attempt to cover 900 km of mountainous terrain from Salzburg in Austria to Monaco as quickly as they can. Participants must cover every kilometre either by foot or by paragliding, and the race ends 48 hours after the first competitor finishes. All participants are required to enter as a team of up to three, with one athlete and no less than one supporter. Fanderl has participated in the last three consecutive events (2007, 2009 and 2011), while Powers accompanied him in 2009 and in 2011.
“It’s phenomenal,” Fanderl said. “For me, it’s almost like a mental break, because we stimulate our minds all the time with music, television or whatever, and when you are in that race you don’t need any music. Even if you hike for this amount of time, you’re completely focused on what you have to do.”
Fanderl, a paraglider of over 25 years first heard of the race through friends, and initially had no idea he would ever take part. After a Canadian pilot was forced to withdraw due to injuries, Fanderl was convinced to put his name forward, and to his surprise he was invited to take part. Fanderl had only three months to prepare for the race, and after eight days of flying and hiking was forced to withdraw. For some people, that might be the last time they would ever participate in something as risky as the Red Bull X-Alps, but not for Fanderl.
“I thought, “wow, I can do way better,” Fanderl said. “I wanted to show myself, and prove to myself that I can do better.”
Another contributing factor to Fanderl returning to the race was Powers, as the pair had a 10-month old child at the time of the first race, leaving her unable to participate. An adventure enthusiast herself, Powers asked Fanderl if he wanted to do the race again.
“… Because I wanted to do it so badly,” Powers laughed.
The pair would participate in the 2009 edition of the race, finishing in 13th place, 297 km from the finish. Two years later, the pair would once again compete, this time finishing in a tie for 14 with 305 km to go.
This time, Fanderl would ideally like to finish the race by reaching Monaco, however only a total of four teams have reached Monaco in the last two races combined — the reigning champion, Switzerland’s Christian Maurer has come in first in each of those years, and Alex Hofer of Switzerland and Toma Coconea of Romania are the only other athletes to reach Monaco in that time.
If Fanderl doesn’t reach Monaco, he said he would like to at least finish in the top 10 this year, which will very likely be his and Power’s final X-Alps event.
“I have to say, I’m really one of the most conservative (competitors),” Fanderl said. “I’d rather do my walking, lose a couple ranks and still be able to come home again.”
There are a couple different strategies that the top athletes use in order to shave valuable hours off of their total times. Risk-taking is a major factor especially when it comes to paragliding, as some participants will take to the skies even in terrible weather in an attempt to make up time.
Other athletes have been known to forgo the flying as much as they can and simply run the entire course — up to 1,000 km in a single week.
Fanderl doesn’t run and prefers flying to hiking, and so he has come up with his own strategy for the race.
“They have to run around these mountains, and what I do is I just go straight,” Fanderl explained.
The pair wakes up around 3 a.m. each morning during the race, and plan out their route for the day.
While some competitors follow the roads around the mountains, Fanderl and Powers instead spend the morning hiking to the highest elevation they can find.
Once at the top of a mountain or similar feature, Fanderl unpacks his paraglider and attempts to ride the thermals as far as he can. Powers then hikes back down the mountain, carrying all of the extra gear, gets in her car and then meets Fanderl wherever he has landed, and they do the whole thing again the next morning. Between flying and hiking, the pair can can cover up to 100 km per day.
“The most important part for me, is actually living the moment,” Fanderl said. “When you hike, and it’s exhausting and painful to some extent; just enjoy that moment, because you will never get that moment back.”
The course details will be released in the spring, and the pair plans on arriving a month before the competition to give them time to scout the region.
Fanderl said that they actually plan on running the entire race two weeks before the event at a reduced speed to further prepare themselves.
For more information on the event, and to track Fanderl and Powers as they compete, visit the X-Alps website at www.redbullxalps.com.