Saturday, October 27, 2007

Inferno Race Report: Part 1 - Pre-race

At this point I've yet to sign up for a race that takes as long to complete as my post-race reports do! So, without further ado, I bring you my Inferno race report!

For new readers, the Inferno is an ultra-distance multi-sport race in the Swiss Alps. For more background, please most posts on selecting the event, training for a mountain race in the Netherlands, and the final beckon.

August 17, 2007:

Race Day Eve was full of that typical pre-race air of confusion, stress, and anxiety -- with me sometimes feeling like a bull ready to burst out of the rodeo gate, tearing a destructive path up the Schilthorn and other times falling into a zen-like state of tranquility, quietness, and deep reflection. The night before, Becky and I had a conversation about how senseless it was to sign up for a race like this right in the middle of an international move, with a very heavy workload, and with a less-than-fitting flat terrain as my training ground. We concluded that yes, it was senseless ... it stressed both of us ... and it was far from logical. I concluded that its senselessness somehow made sense to me in that it was so senseless, that it was the exact way I wanted to start my courtship of the Alps, and that I had sacrificed too much of myself to prepare for the race to start having regrets. I'm sure that Becky's final conclusion was that her husband is often nuts.

Realizing that there was no turning back and that senselessness was water under the bridge at this point, we drove our rental car around the lakes near Interlaken and up the Lauterbrunnen valley to set up my gear in the three transition zones. During our drive, I discovered Swiss speed control cameras, so my first race picture isn't Jeff in a wetsuit at the swim start, but Jeff and Becky in a rented Audi speeding between transition areas!

I think that my American friends will especially appreciate my confusion at T1 (the Swim-to-road bike transition area). As a walked down to this area, I kept looking for the changing tent. In all the long distance triathlons I've done in the States, there is a big tent (one for women, one for men) where you run into, strip off your swim clothes, and suit up in your bike clothes. At the Inferno T1 I could only see rows of bike racks. Concluding that they must be waiting until the morning to setup the changing tent, I dropped my bag of bike clothes beside my now-racked bike and set off for T2 in the picturesque village of Grindelvald. We'll revisit this one later.Setting up T2 and T3 proved uneventful, except for the stunning scenery that continued to pierce my psyche and fill me with wave after wave of chill bumps. Yes, mountains touch my soul.
With a collection of gear and my two favorite bikes distributed around the Bernese Oberland region, we set off on the gondola ride up to the car-free village of Mürren, a town that hangs on a cliff edge with an in-your-face view of three of the most beautiful mountains in the Alps: Jungfrau, Mönch, and the famous mountaineering peak, the Eiger. (In English, virgin, monk, and ogre/monster.) The one and only time that I had visited Mürren was on a training run a month before the race. I remember running though town the first time thinking that this is the story-book Alp I had seen in photos but didn't believe could possibly exist: a small village of traditional chalets, covered with flower boxes and overlooking snow-capped peaks.
We made our way to the pre-race meeting, which we learned was to be given entirely in German. I was the only American doing the full race and one of only a handful of native English speakers. So, as the race director presented I laughed along when the crowd laughed, looked serious when others looked serious, and tried to appear analytical during times like the weather presentation -- which appeared to be the most detailed and technical meteorological pre-race briefing ever. Having lived in Switzerland for one week by that point and having never studied German, I had more than a few gaps in my understanding of this pre-race meeting. In short, my rough translation was that at some point I would encounter a large bus, which was being pushed up a hill by a motorcycle that was exactly 10 meters behind it. When that happened I was supposed to raise a French Horn and blow it, while listening to an ipod. Then the protocol was apparently to jump off the hillside and laugh while covering my ears. I know that the Swiss have lots of rules, but this one seemed a little excessive and I thought that I may need to record it on an index card, lest I forget an important step and find myself disqualified from the race because I blew the horn when the motorcycle was only 8 meters behind the bus and with my ipod on shuffle mode instead of playing a podcast on weather forecasting.

Following the meeting, I went to the English Q&A session because I really needed to understand how that motorcycle was supposed to push the bus and what I needed to do to get a French horn. At this enlightening Q&A, I learned that my translation skills were somehow far off of target and I also met a fellow English speaker from the UK. Becky and I joined David and his wife for dinner, where we enjoyed and admired his stories of racing with nearly 30 years of additional wisdom than me!

Retiring to our room, I was happy that I had learned of a bag-drop for cold weather clothes in Mürren. We heard that the temps on the Schilthorn were predicted to be around 0C/32F, so I had stashed an extra shirt, cap, and gloves at this stop along the run course. Thinking that the last exposed part of the run course in freezing temps and wind could be, well ... interesting to say the least, I drifted off to sleep before 10.

3AM arrived and soon we were groggily joined by other Inferno people at the hotel restaurant for a special breakfast. Following my now daily muesli and yogurt, we took the gondola back to Stechelberg and joined our fellow athletes and partners on a sleepy bus ride to the start town of Thun. It was at this point that I entered my pre-race zen mode. Nervousness left my body and I became very quiet and very centered. I suited up in my long-sleeved wet suit, which I hadn't worn since the 1997 Ironman Canada race and hoped that it wouldn't fall apart during the race. It had several cuts that were starting to spread open, nearly exposing skin. Just last for one more race, that's all I ask!
Minutes before the race started I escaped to a quiet place on the shore for a final bit of yoga and meditation -- facing the Schilthorn, thinking of the people who are the closest to me, and asking the mountains and valleys for safe and happy passage. I exited warrior pose, offered my namaste and a slight bow to the mountains and the lake, and entered the water.

To be continued ...


i8chocolate said...

Ah! At last, the long awaited race report. You already have me on the edge of my seat.......!

Martina said...

Hey Jeff
I had a lot of fun reading your report part one. Can't wait for part two!