Inferno Half Marathon
The Inferno Half Marathon takes place in in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland which sits just outside of Interlaken. The race starts in the valley and climbs to the gondola station made famous in James Bond "On Her Majesty's Service" at the top of Schilthorn which sits at 9,744 feet (2,970 m) for a total of 7,135 ft (2,175 m) gain in 13 miles (21 km).
Tad found this race while perusing the many European races that seem to fill every weekend. After mentioning The Inferno to Andy Wacker, who ran part of the course on a training run, he said, “you have to do it, there are all these bizarre James Bond-themed cut-outs at the top,” we looked into logistics and signed up.
We got to our good friends Colleen and Erwin’s chalet in Switzerland Tuesday evening with the usual wear and tear that accompanies overseas travel. Wednesday morning, I set out on a 4-mile tempo run at 6,000 feet. The drastic change in altitude was a shock to my system and made the effort feel way more challenging than I wanted. Knowing I had to run up to 10,000 feet in 3 days did not instill confidence, but I hoped for the best and focused on variables I had control over like getting caught up on sleep and establishing normal eating patterns.
Because Inferno started so much later (10:00am) than any race I have run this year, the morning was long and leisurely. Pre-race prep went surprisingly perfect: I slept well, had no trouble going to the bathroom, we got a parking spot right next to the start and didn’t have to pay, and I felt good on the warm-up.
The race started below the Weisse Lütschine Wasserfall at the halfway point of the renowned Jungfrau Marathon. The first 8 miles climbed 2,800 feet to the town of Mürren. I ran in 4th through the first 5 miles where I caught up to the third place woman and passed her as she stopped at an aid station. Thanks to my awesome Ultimate Direction Hydro Skin Shorts, I did not have to stop at the earlier aid stations. To my surprise, there was a fast downhill mile that I was not expecting and it quite literally took my breath away. Third place came screaming by again and I could not maintain contact without pushing too hard too soon.
As we climbed higher and higher, the terrain got steeper and steeper requiring an alternating run - hike pattern. The final 5 miles had a whopping 4,400 feet of gain. There were three snowfields that we had to traverse and then the last two miles is a scree field before the final scramble. Shit started to get real around 8,000 feet. At the second to last aid station I yelled, “Coke!” Fortunately, like smiling, Coke is a universal language. But every time I went to drink I started choking like you do when water goes up your nose while swimming because I couldn’t breathe. To make sure I got in adequate fluids, I had to stop and drink, which in hindsight, may have cost me a third place finish.
I was surprised to see Tad on the ridge line I was most hesitant about. Prior to the race I watched YouTube videos and looked at pictures of this section that has orange netted fencing for safety. Every time I thought about it I felt sick and my hands and feet started sweating. Having him there was awesome, not only because I didn’t have to be afraid, but mainly because I got to share this special experience with him on the coolest part of the course.
I was trying to hang on to my 4th place position, but I got passed by two women running side-by-side in the last 300 meters. The last 300 meters took me 10 minutes! I crossed the finish line and was handed a rose, relieved to have made the last podium position - 6th place - earning enough Swiss Francs to pay for Tad’s gondola ticket.
The race was really close with 3rd through 6th place less 90 seconds apart, and the winner, Blandine L'Hirondel of France, who won the Trail World Championship in Portugal earlier this year, broke the course record. Full results here.
This was only my second run at elevation this year (i.e. since arriving last week). Usually it takes half a dozen runs at altitude before it starts to feel somewhat comfortable and without sucking air on every minor incline. Studies show that it takes 21-28 days for any physiological adaptation to take place. However, in my experience, there are definitely some mental or other factors that make it feel more normal in 6-7 days. Racing this course after only being in Europe for four days was challenging.
At the top, runners were changing into warm clothes that were Sherpa’d up by the race organization. I went to the bathroom to wipe the thick crust of sweat salt off my face. It was one of the most bizarre bathroom experiences. The door to the women’s was sliding glass with a frosted silhouette of a Bond girl and inside they had audio of the movie playing. When you flushed the toilet, gunshots went off and people screamed. I wanted to go back in and take a video for Instagram, but that would make me look weird and creepy so I refrained.
We took a gondola back down to the awards ceremony in the town of Mürren. After I found my second drop bag of clothes, we were served pasta noodles with marinara sauce. I was so tired I curled up on the bench at the table and rested my eyes before the awards started. Luckily the Swiss run everything by the clock and awards started right on time, whether you were present or not.
To get back to the car from Mürren, we had to take another gondola, a train and a third gondola. I knew 7,200 feet of climbing was a lot in a relatively short distance, but it wasn’t until I could step back from the mountain that I could really appreciate the effort that I gave. It is amazing to stand at the top of the Schilthorn and look down at the start in Lauterbrunnen, as if from a plane.
Now, I am resting for August's grand finale, the UTMB OCC 55k which sets off on Thursday, August 29th at 8:15am local time from Orsières, Switzerland. Thanks for being part of the journey and thank you to Trail Butter for sponsoring my OCC adventure.
A continued thank you for the support to La Sportiva NA, Ultimate Direction, Native Eyewear, Lily Trotter’s Compression, Active Points Wellness, Bellingham Performance Lab, Align Chiropractic, and Terrain Gym.