A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon



Aug 31, 2014

A warm-up for sultry climes – Training for Ironman Malaysia 2014: Part 1

Eight-time Ironman finisher Gael Couturier explains why he chose Langkawi, Malaysia as his race destination and why he decided to be trained under a coach for the first time in his running career.


Gaël Couturier

Why Langkawi?

Why did I go for Ironman Malaysia, choose Langkawi and not another close-by destination (from India) like Japan or Taiwan or even any of those Australian & New Zealand races (Busselton, Melbourne, Port Macquarie, Cairns, Taupo)?

LANGKAWI-ISLANDS-2First things first, let’s talk about the history of that race. It’s interesting to note that it started in 2000 and was held by a licensee of the Ironman corporation that has its base in Florida for 10 years until it stopped. Why did it stop? Well, I couldn’t get a precise official answer from Ironman itself but after discussing with some European athletes who have been racing there in that era, was told that it was because of dearth in participation.

This September, the race is rising again from its ashes. I think it’s a good thing for Asia and the sport of triathlon since this region has witnessed development around the multi-discipline sport. Now, everybody knows that racing in Malaysia is hard because of the extreme heat and humidity. Sure, that’s an extra challenge if you haven’t trained in such an environment but I live and train in India and I generally like the heat so for me this doesn’t really matter. Also, the minute you use words like “hard” or “extra challenge” with me, I’ll say “I’m in!” almost instantly (blame my sports teacher mom and my military–industrial–congressional complex dad). Also, the surroundings will be stunning (TheLangkawi-4 website says we’ll see tons of monkeys on the roads – hey, we don’t have monkeys in France!), the water will be warm at around 30°C (I remember racing in Tempe, Arizona, USA, with 14°C water – I thought my brain would freeze and I’m sure I’ve lost some cells back there) and more globally, Malaysia seems to me like a super beautiful exotic destination, just like Bali in Indonesia or the whole of Thailand. Finally, it’s very close by from India where I (presently) live and the plane tickets are quite cheap (around Rs.35000 round trip last time I checked). What’s not to like?

For the first time in my life: I got myself a coach.

Yes, after finishing eight Ironman races (five-times Nice in hilly southern France, one-time Tempe in flat but hot Arizona and two-times super-hilly Embrun in the French Alps), and after twice finishing in the medical tent with heavy duty infusion, I decided it was time for me to get a coach. I’ve never been able to race an Ironman under 14h. This year, as I’m getting older (I’m 41) and grumpy (true French right?) I don’t like it anymore when my friends beat me. Walter, a good friend and training partner from Paris, just raced an astonishing 12h 04min this month (1:15:30, 5:05:19, 5:34:31) and, well, it pissed me off. My goal is to swim under 1h15’ (beat him), bike around 6h (Walter’s too strong a biker) and run a sub-4h marathon (beat him) for a global time of under 12h. To help me achieve my goal I’ve called in my friend Frederic Sultana, ex-navy officer, long-distance triathlon world champion in the master category (the old guys) and WTS official triathlon coach. He coaches me online. He tells me what to do, whether it’s a swim, a bike, a run but more importantly, he mentors me on the intensity to add. I own a
Garmin GPS watch, the Fenix 2 (400 US$) and I record and report on the Garmin website all the data from every training I do (my heart rate %, my pace, the elevation gain and loss, the temperatures). For that, I just wear a heart belt and my watch. Then, when I come back home, I plug my watch into my Mac, log on the Internet and the website automatically downloads the data from it. Then my coach, who has my login and username, reads and analyzes my data and orientates my next workout.

What do I think of that?

I hate it. No. I used to hate it. I used to hate swimming in lines, running with specific paces on targeted distances and bike at given speed and given distances. Understand me. I come from a sport background where you’re allowed to do whatever you want, wherever you want for as long as you want – surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding. I’m not used to being told what to do, at least not in sport. For this I have my job (and my mom – yes, I’m 41, I know). But these days, I enjoy being told what to do. My coach tells me to bike for 50 min at a 130 beat per minute (bpm) pace max and then go for 10 min run at 150-160 bpm. And repeat 2-3 times in the same training. Fine. I’m loving it, so far. I’m loving the fact that in my gym in south Delhi, everybody is looking at me like there’s something wrong with me. I love it because they have no good bikes 0192_26403available elsewhere. I sit for 3 hours in the cycling classroom and do my own training while normal cycling classes are going on and cycling students give me strange looks. I love it when at the end of the class the teacher comes and tells me he’s going to talk to the management because I am disturbing the class by being the only one not following his orders. I love it when I tell him that it’s not personal but I’m going to keep coming to his class and do my own stuff until someone in the management gives me a bike to train outside of this stupid classroom. I love to be considered a rebel like that. It gives me the feeling that I am training for something special, something not everybody can do. It gives me strength. Survivor, the band, crooned. It gives me the eye of tiger. Which is perfectly relevant since I’m in India. Tonight, coach said to go run 21 km. I’ll go in the park, by my house, in south Delhi. I’ll go with my headlamp and my iPod. And the “eye of tiger” blasting in my ears. Last week, I did 93 min of swimming, 370 min of cycling and 215 min of running. That’s 679 min, more than 11h30 min in total, my most consistent week since I’ve seriously started my training end of July. I told my coach. He said that was nothing. He said I soon would need to go up to 30h of training a week. That means I’ll have to go on holidays soon. Great, last week I loved my coach.


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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."



The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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