This year's Inferno write up will be a "short" one. Everything I learned from the past two years has been well documented in my previous race reports: 2015 & 2016. It's still worth sharing my thoughts on the race so here they are.
There wasn't much excitement around this year's race. There was no "olympic skier" competing, no social fundraising, and no announcement of a prize purse. It was super low-key with just a few announcements during the lead-up. I'm not sure why this was but need to talk to the RDs and see what was up. I ended up fundraising on my own because I really like the work that FOTR has done and is doing.
The lack of excitement and hike in entry fee may have deterred other elite racers from competing this year. It didn't feel like a deep field of competitors and my training over March wasn't Inferno-specific of ramped up like it normally is. There were many evenings where I normally would have gone for an extra run or bike but that drive wasn't there this year.
All that aside, once I started fund raising and organizing my gear for the race I did get more excited about the event. I did get in a good run, bike, skin, and ski day the Monday leading into the race and I knew I was strong but not sharp. Friday evening I picked up my Kayak from a friend, staged it, picked up my bike from Stan & Dan's, then went to registration at 6pm. I decided not to run the river since it was shortened to 3 miles this year (instead of 5) plus I was running late.
At home I quickly assembled my gear and transition bags which seemed way too easy compared to last year. Could I finally have the Inferno dialed? I even had skis, boots, and skins ready to go for Billy Hafferty who was racing for the first time. Unlike last year I wasn't stressed out and was able to sleep relatively well. But I was still up at 4:45 for a 5:15 departure. I was able to handle the kayak transition in 10 minutes and was done with the bike transition by 6:15. This left time for a bathroom break at the Irving and more than enough time to get set up for the start of the race.
Run: I got in my half mile warm up and felt fine. My kit felt warm enough but not like I'd be overheating. This was the first time I wore road flats this year though and that would come back to haunt me at mile 4. The race kicked off at 7am and I wanted to match my pace from last year (~6:15min/mi). I watched as Zach Switaj took out the lead and I pushed early to try and get a gap on the other solo competitors. I was working hard but with the climb in the first two miles you really don't have a choice. By the top of the climb I was alone and just rolled fast on the down. I had another team guy in front of me who was slowly gapping me. By the end of Jericho road I knew my calves might be an issue - first time in racing flats all year and the hill beat up my lower calves. Nothing I could do but grind it out. On the turn to 302 we had a stiff headwind as usual. At this point I really wish I had someone to draft off of. There was a guy in my rearview and he was steadily gaining on me. I settled into my own pace and focused on getting to Thorne Pond. Shout out to my Dad, brother, and Hilary for cheering me on at multiple points along the course. As I dropped down to Attitash a guy came along and passed right by me. I didn't try to hang on as he was another team racer. I made the turn off 302 and ran the quarter mile around the pond in the snow to the kayak transition area - always fun in road flats! Overall it was a good run performance but it dinged me up and I was hoping that my legs would tolerate the crammed kayak albeit a short paddle coming up.
Kayak: The run-to-paddle transition has always killed me. Mostly because there hasn't been anyone to help get the skirt on the boat which is incredibly hard to do mid race. In the past I've seen other racers get assistance but didn't think much of it. I was surprised this year to see Brian McIlvain (past runner up) at my Kayak ready to help me and the other racers. This made for a smooth transition and wasted very little time compared to the usual minute or so it takes or just giving up in general. I had a 14' touring boat that wasn't lightning fast but not too slow either. I was able to push a relatively good split given my ability which is a solid recreational level. I feel comfortable in the water but this is my one and only paddle of the year. The river was low but flowing well enough that I never got hung up on rocks. Water came over the bow in a few sections but I stayed warm and dry with my skirt and mitten shells. I was able to pass a team paddler heading under 302 and made my way to the pull out. This is where things took a slight turn - with no communication with the volunteer - he pulled my bow onto shore but failed to tell me what to do next. I didn't want to waste time so I tried to step out and just fell into the river, completely submerging my left side. This was incredibly frustrating because I had spent the past three miles working on staying dry for the bike and something as simple as exiting the kayak had turned into a potential big mistake. I shuffled up to my bike and threw my gear behind my bike and tried not to throw a fit.
Bike: Although wet, my feet and hands stayed warm in the winter conditions. This was a big concern because the race is infinitely harder if you losing feeling in your extremities and also becomes a big distraction. I doubled up on gloves and had toe caps on my shoes. Coming into Jericho road I passed the 2nd place team and then made the grind over Glen Ledge. After that climb you can relax a little knowing that although there's a lot more climbing left, it's fairly gradual. What you can't predict though is the gusting headwind as you ascend Pinkham Notch. This was no surprise to me but then it started flurrying. There's nothing you can do except embrace it and not fight it. I was by myself for the rest of the climb and kept looking at my computer - single digits on the fairly mellow grade. It was the toughest leg for sure.
Hike: Coming into Pinkham I was psyched to see Brian again ready to help me get set up for a good skin. I was able to get my boots on and even took the time to ditch the bike helmet for my ski helmet plus get rid of a pair of gloves. Another smooth transition and I was out running to the Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead. The skin was painful but I just settled into whatever pace I could hold at that point and didn't let up too much. I fended off some quad cramps and worked hard to HoJos. Racing up the TRT really isn't an enjoyable experience - there aren't many landmarks and it just goes seemingly forever. The hike section ended at HoJos which was a disappointment since they had set gates on Hillman's the night before but the weather was a typical Washington storm bubble - clear in the valley, winter on the Pig. Knowing that all I had left was the Sherbie was a relief though.
Ski: I came into the ski transition area exhausted and didn't say much as I just tried to keep moving. I ripped my skins off, locked in and was gone. Knowing there wasn't anyone in nearby I skied a conservative leg making sure I didn't blow it on the downhill. It was firm and fast but in control. The legs still felt good on the down but I was ready to be done. I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 15 minutes. It was a great win and on par with my previous efforts. Matty B got me a Tuckerman Pale Ale to celebrate.
Post-Race: I caught up with Tristan Williams who had run the hike leg and was ready for a ski. Hilary also joined us as we skinned a "cool down" back up to HoJos. Many might think this is crazy but as tired as I was, it's not that hard just to skin another lap at an easy pace. I learned this from watching athletes like Josh Flanagan (who came in second this year but won in '14) and Brian McIlvain who will add a run on to any backcountry ski if the weather is nice. It helps with your endurance base and is a good way to wind down, even when you feel worked to the core. We headed to Josh's in Jackson to clean up before going to the Island Chef for lunch and back up to Jackson before attending the awards at Wildcat. The dinner is a good time to connect with the Inferno community and recognize those who had done well in various categories. Again, I was surprised to see a check with my name on it since they never teased it leading into the race so thank you Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and I look forward to racing again next year!