The Tuckerman Inferno is, in my opinion, the coolest race on the east coast. Entailing a 8.3 mile run, a 5.5 mile kayak, an 18 mile bike, a 3 mile hike and a 3 mile ski descent, the raw distances are not strikingly intimidating. What makes the difference is the aggregate climbing of over 5000 feet to get from the run start to the ski start, which this year was near the top of Hillman’s Highway. Adding in 5 transitions to an already challenging race adds an additional layer of complication. In short – there are lots of variable, which adds a refreshing element of adventure.
Things got a lot more complicated on the Sunday prior to the race date when I sprained my ankle climbing at my gym. After an unexpected fall while bouldering, I came down hard on my left ankle and heard a very unwelcome pop. Initially, I thought my entire season was over – never mind racing Inferno. It REALLY hurt. Hobbling around that day, I wasn’t feeling very confident that I would be doing much of anything in the near future. At the same time, Inferno is my absolute favorite race, so I figured that I would make an attempt at getting ready to go for the race. Over the subsequent days, I iced constantly, and returned to walking regularly on Wednesday. While I never jogged on it until the day of the race, I decided to make an attempt at racing with a few strategy alterations, with the thought being that the biggest test would be the run early and I could always drop out and root on some friends if it became necessary.
After a 5am wakeup, I got a ride over to Storyland to warm up for the race. After some substantial mummification plus an additional brace the ankle felt surprisingly good. As the run went on, the ankle was painful but stable – it didn’t seem to be getting any worse One of the noteworthy things about this race as a whole is that not only does the course implicitly involve lots of climbing, the course designer seems to actively embrace it both on the bike and run. This all begins with a 400 foot hill to begin the race thatr. Having gone too fast on the section during my first race here in 2012, I settled back into a comfortable pace and refrained from racing too much up the hill. With 5-person teams, duos, and individual contributors all starting at the same time, it’s very easy to want to race people, especially early in the run when you feel good.
Kayak – 0:52
Things got really interesting here. When I last did the race in 2012, water levels were substantially lower than this year. I spend a lot more time poling myself along rocks like a Venetian gondolier than I did negotiating any stretch of “whitewater”. Foolishly, I assumed that water levels would not impact things too much, and I wouldn’t need to spring for a legitimate kayak with a spray skirt, etc. As I came in from my run, I was still early enough to mostly be around people who knew what they were doing, and it quickly became apparent how wrong I had been. My borrowed kayak’s major redeeming characteristics are it’s open cockpit and beer holder. During the early parts of the kayak, I kept getting wet, but was mostly holding my own and not losing too much ground. This all changed at about the 15 minute mark. The biggest issue was that the kayak taking on water would inevitably yield more water being taken on and ultimately result in my being flipped over and taking a nice cold bath. A big “thank you” here goes to the support volunteers who helped me to shore and get me back upright on 2 out of the 3 occasions I flipped. In retrospect, I’m shocked I lost as little time as I did.
Bike – 1:13
I was just excited to not be kayaking anymore, here. I’d never been more excited to begin a steep climb on a bike as I was to begin the one that kicks off the bike leg here. Other than the consistent climbing, the course here is pretty straightforward and generally interesting. I dealt with more cramping than expected throughout the bike, which was strange considering that I definitely didn’t blow up my run and my nutrition seemed fine. Transitioning out of the the cold water may have been a factor, and will be something to consider next time.
Hike to Hillman’s Base – 1:32
As mentioned earlier, the ankle situation created a few changes to the game plan. The initial plan was to use a light ski setup and bootpack up the trail. After the ankle injury, I made the switch to skinning in order the keep my ankle immobilized. The issue is that my only skinning setup is very heavy – 120-flex downhill boots on Marker Barons and big fat Blizzard Bodacious skis. This impacted me a good bit here, and was where I lost the most ground relative to the field. It was unbelievably crowded on the hike up. I doubt I was ever more than 20 feet away from another person until I made the split past HoJo’s to head up towards the ski course.
Hike to top of GS course – :57
This time includes the transition of taking my skins off as well as getting situated for the downhill, which adds some time to this. One striking thing was being able to hear the crowds in the actual Ravine nearby – very impressive, just like hearing a sporting event at a major venue from the outside when anything happened.
Ski descent – 12:24
I loved that the ski this year allowed us to descend all the way from the top of Hillman’s, down the Sherburne Ski Trail to the finish. The snow quality was excellent – we really couldn’t have wished for a better day. If coming down the Sherburne is tough after a day of skiing in the ravine is one thing, finishing up with moguls after a long morning of racing is different altogether. At no point during the race prior were my quads screaming in quite the way that they were coming down the few last steep bump pitches before the finish.
Finish: 5:38:54 – 12th overall (solo)
Overall, finished a little worse than I was hoping, but definitely better than not finishing at all and pretty good taking the ankle into consideration. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. It’s a great race – hope to be back next year.