What better way to celebrate your 40th birthday than taking part in your first triathlon – and if you are going to do it, you may as well do it properly – so I entered the Inferno, with 5500m of accent and a MTB stage, it is one of the toughest in the world!
Having visited the Oberland region of Switzerland two years ago, taken the cable car up to the Schilthorn Piz Gloria and seen the Inferno merchandise and past winning times on the results board in the shop, the seed was firmly planted. There are few more stunning locations to do a triathlon, and none as unique as the Inferno.
Partaking previously in numerous endurance cycling events, on and off road, such as Cape Epic, Tour du Mont Blanc and dabbling with open water swimming over the years, I had three of the four phases covered (albeit not all together). Running has never agreed with me, but I love to spend time hiking the Yorkshire peaks. Also, spending countless hours supporting my girlfriend Michelle in extreme triathlons in the UK over the years, I thought it time I gave it a go. Michelle couldn’t miss out and our good friends Helen and Louise from Leeds and Bradford Triathlon Club joined the party.
Michelle and I arrived a week early to enjoy the beautiful scenery and test our legs on the Grosse Scheidegg, one of the most stunning climbs I have ridden and do a few warm up swims in clear blue mountain lakes.
With the race being point to point and having an additional transition it requires some extra thought as what to place in each of the bags (4 in all). The logistics of dropping off the required kit adds an extra element to the event, complicated further by a changeable weather forecast. As we prepared our pre-race evening meal back at the camp an almighty storm blew through the valley. Thoughts turned to our kit in T1 (which survived unscathed)!
Race day arrived with a 4.30am alarm call, porridge down the hatch and a walk down the Thunersee Lake to the start. A light rain shower forced us into our wetsuits and before we knew it we were in the lake aiming for the Oberoffen castle in the distance. Guided by the paddle boarders across the crystal clear waters, I was out of the swim in 58.02 and into my first ever transition.
Out of T1 and onto the bike, a discipline I should be more familiar with, inside a kilometre I started the accent up to Beatenberg. Despite support from the hordes of locals ringing their cow bells I seemed to have nothing in the legs and everyone was passing with ease, I thought this was going to be a long, long day out. Finally the top of the climb came and we rewarded with a fast decent towards Interlaken and along the lake side roads. As the roads flattened towards Merrigen my legs returned, a relief to say the least especially with several 12% sections of the Grosse Scheidegg still to come.
As the climb begun I kept pace a good pace and even overtook a few fellow competitors as we ascended into the clouds. The climb passed Schwarzwaldalp feels relentless but it’s the same for everyone. Cresting the top the clouds dispersed to reveal Grindelwald in the valley below. Descending the narrow roads I caught Louise just coming into transition where my road bike was taken by a helper. I attempted the short run to my mountain bike but the road section had taken more out of my legs than expected. Oh dear! Unfortunately due to the previous night’s storm all my kit in transition was soaked. It made the transition quick as I swapped into wet shoes and left the rest of the sodden kit behind.
It was a relief to be on the mountain bike, two disciplines down, two to go. I was surprised as to how much on the accent was tarmac with only the last few kilometres loose gravel, most of it very steep and extremely leg zapping. Finally crossing the train lines at the top of the Kleine Scheidegg and into the feed station, a quick refuel before an amazing 1200m decent into Lauterbrunen. A mountain bikers dream!
Arriving into transition in Stechelberg full of in trepidation, having cycled the first 5km of the run course a few days previously only to discover it was completely runnable (not ideal when your plan was to walk!). This section alone would be my longest run of the year and not really what untrained legs need before a further 20km to the summit of a 3000m mountain. Despite this my legs felt good running off the bike, albeit 8 hours into the race but soon the road turned skyward on the climb up to Murren where cheering crowds encouraged a few more steps of running. Only 8km to the summit but still some 1500m to ascend, I only hoped my legs wouldn’t buckle now. Helped along by the feed stations every 2kms there was no need to carry any supplies. After scrabbling up the ski slopes the famous revolving restaurant came into view just as the hail stones fell. After 30 minutes of scrambling up the rocks I reached the summit. Crossing the finish line in 13 hours 20min, my triathlon debut and the Inferno complete!
Being much stronger runners I knew Michelle and Helen would not be far behind. Michelle finishing 13 hours 37min and Helen 13 hours 54mins. Louise was first women out of the swim and enjoyed the biking sections before wisely stopping at T3 having previously completed the event a few years before.
I am now a triathlete! I completed this truly epic event, in beautiful scenery, with fantastic organisation and good friends. Will it be my first and last triathlon – we’ll have to wait and see…
Written by James Atkinson
For more information about Inferno, please visit the website.