Tuckerman Inferno – @#(!&#$~!*!@!! That was hard.


I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing race reports, and once you lose that momentum it’s pretty hard to get it back. I had a series of races last year that went pretty well, but weren’t really interesting or inspiring enough to warrant a write-up. So for those, a quick recap with friends over beers had to suffice.

That said, I couldn’t resist setting aside a few minutes to write something up about the Inferno. It’s really a pretty incredible race. Josh has been bugging me to do it for years, but it never really fit with my schedule or training – and I had never backcountry skied or kayaked much before – so it wasn’t really an option.

Normally I mostly run and skate-ski all a ton all winter, but I’ve been dealing with a knee injury since mid November, and my normal winter activities simply weren’t possible. Fortunately the one thing I was able to do was backcountry ski. The motion of skinning up didn’t aggravate my knee, and actually served to strengthen a lot of the imbalances that were causing the problem in the first place. Plus it’s an absolutely awesome sport. Win win. Within a few weeks I was hooked and even did a bunch of randonee/skimo races. It’s a huge sport in Europe, is substantial in CO and UT, and is growing rapidly in New England. I managed to get in 6 races in as many weeks in February and March, including a few podiums and even a win at the last race of the year. With no running races to peak for, and finally an appropriate ski set-up in my quiver, I really had no excuse to skip the Inferno this year- save for the kayak, which I flat out incorrectly assumed would be a pleasant stroll down the river!


Expectation vs Reality

From the start, I got to enjoy seeing Ryan Place decimate everyone within the first 10 feet. He managed to run 43 minutes for the little more than 8.5 mile run course. Insanity.

The start!

Ryan running sub 5 min miles Pretty insane.

I ran super conservatively, not sure how I’d feel considering how little I’ve been running, and let Ryan Kelly dictate the pace. We came through 8 miles in just under 48 minutes, which was pretty solid considering the insane hill that had a few sections topping out at 14%. Running across snow, slush and through the trees – the last half mile to the kayak was brutal. But the spectators, relay competitors and volunteers made it pretty exciting. I slipped and fell pretty hard coming into the kayak transition on the snow/ice/slush/mud situation. Fortunately that just resulted in a wet butt – annoying at the time – but with the kayak I was about to have, that should have been the least of my concerns. dun dun dunnnnn.

Snow plus kayaks. Not for the faint of heart.

I managed to survive the kayak, but just barely. I really struggled to keep the boat straight, nearly capsized a few times, filled the boat with water, navigated a few of the trickier sections backwards, and pretty much sat back as a spectator and watched everyone casually cruise past me. About 90% of the way down the river, some dudes on the side informed me that my paddle was both upside down and backwards….. Anddd that about sums up my kayaking competence. Needless to say I was glad to be done with that part! It took me 56 minutes; meanwhile the fastest split of the day was 43 minutes. Woof.

This is a kayak? Ok which way do I face?

Out of the kayak my legs were completely locked up and my hands were totally frozen. My hipflexors and quads felt like they had just spent the last hour in an underwater medieval torture chamber – which, for all intents and purposes, they had. I spent nearly 5 minutes try to get changed into dry cycling clothes, switch socks, and buckle my bike helmet, which was honestly one of the more difficult parts of the race. Buckling a helmet with frozen stumps is like trying to thread a sewing needle while wearing hiking boots on your hands for gloves.

I ended up riding 1:02:43 for the bike portion, one of the faster rides of the day- however, my official bike time was 1:06:30 (they don’t break out transitions in the results – kinda lame since relays don’t have to change!). Unfortunately, I wasted so much time in transition that even the big bike effort wasn’t enough to reel Andrew or Grady in. I did manage to get Josh, Ryan, and bring Grady within sight though. Last weekend I did my first outdoor ride of the year and did a little under 300w (4w/kg) for 2 hours – almost my best half ironman power from last year (not bad considering all I did was the occasional spin on the trainer this winter – ski touring fitness is real!!), so I thought I could manage that in the race. Did that go how I thought it was gonna go? NOPE! I ended only riding 275w, less than I’d hoped for. Considering that I was completely under-dressed, my legs were locked up from sitting in an ice bath for an hour, and we were battling a demoralizing headwind, I’ll take it.

Not nearly enough clothing. Deep wheel was a mistake in that wind. Half biking, half wrestling match. Brian MacIlvain.

The weather changed drastically from the start. Temps dropped, wind picked up, and it even started snowing a bit on the bike.

Into transition I rode up to the car and went to grab the key off the wheel-well, throw the bike in the car, and grab my skis, but the key was missing. After frantically searching in the snow/mud/slush on my hands and knees for what felt like an eternity, I finally found it. In hindsight it was pretty incredible that the ground didn’t completely eat it. I clumsily got my bike in the car, got my ski boots on and looked under the seat for dry gloves, since mine had gotten totally soaked looking for the key. Fortunately there was a random running glove and a gardening glove left over from some previous weekend adventure.

Skinning up the trail the long day started to catch up to me. I’d only had two gels and a few sips of scratch on the bike, considerably less than I had planned, but my hands were too numb to fumble with the gel packets. Trying to get the gels out of my pocket was like… well… the whole aforementioned hiking boot hand situation. I think I was also too bonked to remember that I was supposed to be eating. I caught Grady about halfway up. He was running with his skis on his back and moving quickly. It was pretty terrible conditions for skinning – totally hardpacked and rough snow – and I was slipping and sliding all over the place. I probably should have ran in my boots with my skis on my pack. It definitely would have been faster. But again, too bonked to make good decisions.  Fortunately I got past Grady in transition since he had to put his ski boots on, and I was off.

Honestly the worst part of the race was figuring out what to wear. I failed at that. Not only did I look like an asshat, I was also freezing for 90% of the race.

The ski down was mostly uneventful, aside from my quads cramping like crazy. I wish I knew the sherbie a little better, since I would have pushed it a little harder. Despite the quad agony, I was randomly skiing really well – always a surprise for me – and was actually having fun ripping down. Coming in towards the finish there were some ‘tourists’ standing and completely blocking the bridge, and I had to ski off to the right and sent it pretty hard right into the creek. Luckily it was still pretty frozen, and I was able to crawl, duck-walk and skate back up to the little field where the finish was. That last minute of bushwacking was nervewracking because I knew Grady was right behind me. Thankfully I managed to scoot across just ahead of him. Josh blasted in a few minutes later for fourth.

Andrew Drummond, Brian MacIlvain and Grady Jackson

All around it was a solid day. Mostly I was just happy to be able to run. The knee didn’t feel great but it also didn’t slow me down, which was a step in the right direction. Andrew had a great race across the board and was wholly unbeatable on Saturday. Dude’s a beast. Big props to him. Looking through his strava account, he’s clearly been working his ass off, it’s great to see that kind of hard work pay dividends. The awards ceremony was one of the better ones I’ve been to. Lots of friendly people, good raffle prizes, and pretty awesome views of the mountains. The inferno really is a pretty special and unique event. Even if you don’t think you are up for the whole thing, everyone should definitely try to at least be part of a relay at some point. Unique challenging races like this that break the Ironman cookie-cutter mold are what multisport should be about, and it’s important to support them whenever possible. The fact that the race supports a good cause, making the ravine safer and more accessible for the general public is an added bonus. I definitely hope to be healthy and back for next year’s race – with the right clothes, some kayaking practice, and probably a power beard.

Sunday the weather was beautiful. Ed and I had a pretty epic day in the mountains. I posted some pictures on FB here:


Normally the race skis Tuckerman Ravine if possible. Dangerous conditions prevented that on Saturday. This photo doesn’t do the steepness or vertical drop justice. Sunday the skiing was amazing.

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