I love how mediocre I am. No, I’m not doing the whole self-deprecating-attention-seeking thing. I just completed the 2018 Friends of Tuckerman Ravine Inferno Pentathlon as an elite competitor. That is not a mediocre feat by any stretch of the imagination. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve had to quit heroin, cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes. And I even once gave up cheese for, like, a month. So that says something.
But back to my mediocrity. I placed 4th in the pentathlon…out of 5 women. I paced a very run-of-the-mill 08:30 mile for the 8.3 mile uphill run, finished the 5.5 mile white water kayak in an admittedly average 50 minutes, cycled 18.2 miles up 2,000’ of elevation in a less-than-spectacular 1-hour, 45-minutes, hiked up 2.3-ish miles of the Tuckerman Ravine trail in a moderate 1-hour, 20-minutes, and it took me a whopping 11 minutes to make it down the Sherbie on my snowboard (but, in my defense, I stopped for a few minutes to chat with one of the first aid volunteers when she recognized me from a climb we had done together the previous summer…)
But I did it. I finished the race.
I even surprised myself…
What I’m hoping my mediocrity has done is make competing in this race—or that marathon, or that triathlon, or that quest to hike the 4,000-footers, or to climb the Nose—a more attainable goal for other mediocre athletes like me.
See, when we compare ourselves to elite athletes, it’s an easy out. We don’t run as fast, climb as hard, jump as high, blah, blah, blah, so we shouldn’t even try, right? It’s easy to look at a guy like Andrew Drummond—the ridiculously talented athlete who has won the Inferno 4 years in a row now—and think, “Well, I don’t run a 05:30 mile,” or “It’s impossible for me to pace at a 3-minute mile for 18.2 miles of uphill cycling.” It’s easy to say, “I have no business running this race,” when you’re comparing apples to cinder blocks.
But here I am, to take away all those pesky little excuses of yours again. Thank me later 🙂
Here I am, in all of my mediocre glory. Placing almost last. Running slowish, kayaking sloppy-ish, cycling at a snail’s pace, hiking in not-so-much of a hurry, and stopping to shoot the shit with a friend halfway down the ski trail!
But I did it. I finished the race. It took me 6-hours, 9-minutes. It was so impossibly hard, and, as even Drummond admits, there is nothing you can do to prepare for it. There is no good way to train for miles upon miles of uphill running. Or for a 50MPH headwind as you cycle the steep grade up Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Or for the WI2 ice climb disguised as a backcountry ski trail that you get the privilege of snowboarding down after 6 hours of painstaking physical effort, when your legs are like rubber and you can hardly stand and you’re seeing stars…
In the same vein, nothing can prepare you for the feeling of crossing that finish line. That moment when you realize you accomplished what you thought was impossible. When you realize you had all the business competing in a race you thought you had no business competing in. I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that there was some kind of salty discharge leaking from my eyes in that moment. Weird.
Trust me, you need to feel that feeling. You deserve to feel that feeling. You can cross your finish line. The only thing between you and that finish line, in fact, is you. So get out of the way and allow yourself to just crush, already!
Hopefully you’re super motivated now, because I’ve already started thinking about how I’ll train differently for next year’s Inferno. First place woman finished the race in 4-hours, 10-minutes. I’m tempted to say there’s no way I can shave 2-hours off of my time. But…we all know there’s a way, and that if anyone’s gonna find it, it’s gonna be me.
Inferno Pentathlon | Training Tips & What to Maybe, Kinda Expect on Race Day
Okay, here’s what I learned in training for and running this year’s Inferno Pentathlon:
1. Run (8.3 miles, 600’ of elevation gain): What I did right was integrate the Evil Twin treadmill workout into my training regimen at least once per week. This was huge! What I did wrong was keep a leisurely pace for my long-distance runs during training—I should have pushed myself harder. What I’ll add into my regimen for next year is so much uphill running. Like, all of the uphill running. Uphill running for days.
Note: The uphill is on you right out of the gates. It’s, like, uphill—steep uphill!—for the first 3-miles or so. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2. Kayak (5.5 miles, class I/II rapids): I really enjoyed the kayaking leg of the race, so, ideally I’ll be doing more of this over the summer and into the Fall. However, there really isn’t another way to train for this part of the race except to actually do it. This past year, the extent of my training included the pre-paddle, which took place the day before the race. Next year I hope to be a more seasoned white water kayaker.
Note: I had a lot of questions going into this year’s race about what to wear, and what kayak accessories would be important. Here’s my advice. Wear a thick wetsuit, booties, and definitely have a kayak skirt and pogies. I also wore a neoprene hat under my helmet, and neoprene gloves under the pogies. I stayed warm and dry, even as 30º water was splashing all over me. The kayak itself wasn’t difficult—I had no experience in white water (other than rafting on guided trips) and managed to stay upright just fine. Take advantage of the pre-paddle the day before the race, though. I got pinned three times during it, so I knew exactly what to avoid on race day. And don’t take this leg as a gimme. Both of my friends flipped their kayaks—one was pulled from the race with hypothermia, the other managed to pull it together and finish.
3. Cycle (18.2 miles, 2,000′ of elevation gain): I did a ton of spin classes on my mom’s Peloton bike, all focused on climbing. This was a big help. However, I had very little experience on a road bike and, as it turns out, the fear of velocity and flipping over your handlebars is very real. During the race, I passed other cyclists on the climbs, but got passed by several racers on the one (and only) downhill section. Next year, I’ll log way more hours on the bike and get comfortable with speed on the downhills, as I think that will help reduce my time pretty significantly. I’ll also keep focused on cycling steep and sustained uphill roads.
Note: When you think about climbing 2,000’ on your bike, don’t think about a steep section, followed by a little downhill, followed by a little more uphill. Just think uphill. All uphill. Endless stretches of uphill road. Your reprieve is when the grade becomes more gradual. Also, I stuck a bluetooth speaker in my water bottle holder and listened to gangster rap for the whole cycle. It kept me pumped up, and even helped some of the other cyclists to stay psyched during the race. Another tip: wrap your toes in pieces of an heat-reflective emergency blanket, or aluminum foil if you’re in a pinch. I forgot to do this and had completely numb feet for the first mile of my hike, at least…
4. Hike (2.3-ish miles, 2,600′ of elevation gain): I wore my snowboard boots and microspikes with my snowboard strapped to my backpack. I considered skinning up, but it would have taken more time—especially when you consider the time it would have taken me to clip the board back together and reassemble the bindings, etc. To train for the hike, I would wear a weight vest and climb 200 flights of stairs on the StairMaster…after running 5-9 miles, or cycling 10-20 miles. That worked, I recommend it. Next year, I’ll step up the pace of my stair climbing to see if I can’t shave some time off this leg of the race.
5. Snowboard/Ski: This is the easy part, though your legs are honestly jelly by the time you get to it. To train, I just logged as many days of skiing as possible, both frontside and backcountry, hitting steeps as often as possible. I ran White Heat on repeat earlier in the season, and then to test my skills on sheer ice, I rode Ripsaw. You know, just for fun.
So, one other piece of advice I have for your training is this: train in the most miserable conditions possible. For example, I didn’t wear padded cycling shorts for any of my training, and my ass was sore AF! But, during the race, I tested a pair out…game changer! Honestly, the cycle was the hardest part of the race—and the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life—but having those padded shorts was, like, a beacon of divine light in a world of pain and darkness. It was that tiny shred of hope that kept me pedaling, pedaling, pedaling…
I’m not done with this race, baby. I’m only getting started. I’ll be back next year. Stronger, faster, and a little less mediocre.
The run-to-kayak transition. Man, I was so slow. Working on transition speed will be a huge factor in getting my time down next year.
Me and my daughter, Lucy, at the cycle-to-hike transition area. I was pretty beat-up at this transition, but started 5 minutes earlier than I had expected, which kinda-sorta energized me?
Transitioning to the hike was so hard, like, my legs were complete rubber…literally, I couldn’t stand up for a few minutes after the cycle and had my friends rubbing my feet to get the blood flowing again!!