Since my X-Alps selection, life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. I’m not used to being asked ‘how’s your training going?’ every time I’m on site or at an event. When I was selected for the World Championships I don’t think anybody asked me that question, but the X-Alps is of a different profile altogether.
I was feeling extremely nervous coming into the summer paragliding season. I’ve been working hard on my (non paragliding related) business for the past couple of years so flying hasn’t been on my radar much of the time. The first competition of the season in Canungra was very difficult for me. I excelled in the first two tasks and was sitting in second place coming into the last task. I felt the pressure to perform and ended up racing myself to the ground very early on in the day. I left the competition wondering if I still had what it takes to be competitive in flying.
After Canungra, I was very busy with work. I found out I was selected for the X-Alps and started physical training. Whilst there was a huge amount of excitement and anticipation, I was feeling the pressure to perform and questioning my ability again. These feelings meant that I started to look into the mental aspects of flying and competition more deeply. I started reading books on performance mindset, speaking to other pilots and athletes, and just generally putting it out there that I wasn’t feeling like a bulletproof X-Alps athlete. Speaking to athletes who had been involved in the X-Alps before was a huge step. The X-Alps creates a lot of media attention and hype; therefore, what is portrayed on the screen is not necessarily what things are like in reality. For me, this insight was key in breaking down such an event into something I think I could tackle.
Like any large project, if you focus on it as a whole it can be overwhelming, so my approach to the X-Alps has been to break it down into key critical components that I can take on in sequential order. One insight came from a mate who had been mountaineering recently and wrote to me. He said if you think about how many metres you need to climb it just doesn’t seem manageable, but if you break it down to just the section you need to take on right now, it’s a lot easier.
I took this approach into the competitions in Bright and Corryong. I was going in with a huge amount of performance anxiety due to my past results and X-Alps selection. I knew my tendency would be to get impatient and push hard in an effort to just get the job done quickly. I needed exactly the opposite. I needed to relax, take my time and just be in the air and be patient. This strategy was extremely successful for me during these events. It was not that I didn’t make any mistakes, there were plenty, but I was able to slow down and recover from most and still pull good results. The mistakes I didn’t get away with, I could recognise and learn from quite easily.
After the three competitions of the Australian season, I ended up in third place on the ladder. Knowing I had come back from a three-year break from competition and that there were a number of mistakes that could be ironed out with further mental and physical training, I decided to take this as a win.
Following the competitions, I managed a 300km cross-country flight in Manilla, which has certainly helped to bring my confidence back in the air. It also comes with the realisation once again that a 300km and 50km flight are not all that different. They both require the same basic process repeated over and over, only one is longer. The key is minimising mistakes during the process.
So what now for me? It’s a long road to the X-Alps, with hard physical training and equal importance on mental training and focus. More flying would be fantastic, but the focus is on being patient, taking what I can get and knowing that my flying training in the Alps will come in June, when the team heads over for pre-race training and route reconnaissance.
If I could offer any words of advice for those looking to tackle some new challenges in paragliding, I’d say don’t believe the hype. Break down your project into manageable chunks and focus on what’s at hand; there are many steps to achieving your goal.