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Théo in Lake Garda, Italy Photo: Théo de Blic
Skills and learning

How to fly all day and stay focused

Sunday 5 April, 2020

By Théo de Blic, acro champion and Cross Country columnist

If you know me you know that I’m addicted to training. I need to be the first to take off, the last to land, the one who flies the most each day. It is not always easy, but on a good day I can spend over 10 hours in the sky. So, over the years I have developed a process that helps me stay focused for my acro runs while not wasting energy on the flying itself. 

1. The most obvious and yet the one you forget: drink before take-off and while you are flying. Beware about drinking too much though, otherwise you will need to pee more often than you would like. I cannot count the times I have landed to pee and found myself stuck on take-off because conditions were not good enough to climb back up.

2. Don’t forget to warm up! Many pilots might do a few stretches on the ground, but as soon as they are in the air they go full-on and destroy their arms after only a few hours. You have to warm up in the sky. I always have trouble during the first three runs of the day – my glider feels too fast, I feel dizzy – so I always use the first three runs to warm up. My routine is: first two runs I do as many twisters as I can because it is an easy trick for the arms, then I have one run of sat-to-helicos and helicos-to-sat to just enjoy the air and get some speed before moving on.

3. Dress properly. Better be a bit warm than too cold. Cold is exhausting. When it’s cold it is harder to focus and I tire faster. Also, when I go to rest I tend to rest for longer because I simply don’t want to get cold again. So dress properly and pack another jacket in your harness for when you top-land at sunset.

4. Rest is needed! I don’t like to rest much, yet you need to rest. Your brain needs to focus on something else, so you need to just top-land and enjoy a few moments of peace. I have discovered that I need to time my rest carefully: what I usually do is two hours flying and between 15 and 25 minutes resting. If I rest longer I get lazy, and don’t really want to push hard again. If I rest only 15 minutes then I am still warmed up and in the right mindset to train hard. I quite often see pilots going to rest for 15 minutes who end up chatting and chilling for two hours. Not recommended.

5. Adapt to the conditions. If you feel conditions are getting softer, or stronger or more turbulent just adapt; don’t push to perform tricks that you are not confident doing in turbulent air, you will just tire faster. When you see conditions are changing, adapt your training. For example, when I see conditions are getting softer and it gets more difficult to climb I just stop my runs higher, where climbing is still easy.

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6. Don’t waste your energy. While training acro one thing you don’t need to waste your energy on is thermalling. Don’t focus on being the first one up or squeezing every metre out of every thermal. Usually I just (again!) adapt to the flying conditions: if it’s good I think about something else while I climb, look around and save all the energy I can for the run. I climb instinctively and don’t mind if it takes me 30 seconds more to get up. Obviously when conditions are tricky, I focus on climbing. I also use this advice while doing long XC flights.

7. Some pilots use music while flying – it helps them pass the time and it entertains them during their transition to the box. If you are one of these people feel free to do so, but please use earpods. There is nothing more annoying than a pilot playing loud music on a speaker while you are thermalling. It is nicer for others if you keep your music to yourself. I personally think they look a lot like ice cream trucks….

8. Watch what others are doing. It is entertaining for a start – you never know what could happen. In a place like Organya there are an average of three rescues a day, sometimes five. That’s something you want to see: to make sure the pilot is OK and then because it is entertaining and educational. Other pilots in the air also give you good information about the conditions.

9. Treat yourself a little. It might sounds strange but when you fly all day and here comes the sunset session (or magic session) you deserve to have some fun. Enjoy the conditions – fly some synchro moves with your friend and look at the view. Obviously you are training but first of all you should be enjoying; if you don’t then there is no point doing it.

10. Last but not least, don’t miss the very last top-landing of the day. If I have done my job right I should have been the first to take off and the last to land. So obviously my car is parked at take-off. Get focused one last time because, believe me, landing at the bottom alone after the sunset session and having to walk up to get your car back is not fun. Not fun at all. Check the conditions on take-off before doing your last run and stop it way over take-off to make sure you won’t be too low, and then use all your skills for this last approach. The air is smooth, nightfall is coming, you are the last one up there, just enjoy it. Trust me, it creates the best memories.

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More journal than magazine, Cross Country has kept free flyers stoked with inspiration and information since 1988. Learn to fly better with technique, weather and safety articles, read the latest glider and gear reviews, and be inspired with adventure and flying stories in each of the ten issues you'll receive each year. Respected as independent and authoritative, Cross Country is a reader-supported publication read in over 100 countries.

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