Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The road to the Inferno, an emotional roller-coaster

I am still struggling to find words, to settle my thoughts, to try laugh about, to see the positives. I can say I have been going through momentary lapses of insanity after Michael gave me the news he could not accompany me to Switzerland to support me for the Inferno. A trip we had planned for 8 months. He could not come simply because he had left it to late to organize his holiday’s and he could not get the time off. It was Tuesday and we were supposed to fly out on the Thursday. Michael had left me 3 day’s before the race to change plans, to organize other people to help me, to get my head around the fact that NOTHING would go the way I had been planning it for months and I needed to keep enough mental toughness and energy ready to race a 12 hr long brutal triathlon at high 
A triathlon high in the mountains
I kept on changing my mind going from "yes I can do this by myself" to logistically planning everything and feeling exhausted by the thought of not having Michael to help me, and going "no, this is impossible" My disappointment was not just about the race, although I knew there was no maliciousness intended, I was absolutely gutted by the way Michael had let me down. He knew how much this meant to me, he had seen me train in any Scottish weather conditions for months. I had skipped races to be ready for the Inferno and spent lots of money on all the equipment necessary to race such an event. The Inferno is not just an endurance triathlon. It is a point to point race, starting at Lake Thun in the middle of the Swiss Alps for a 3.1km swim, after that a 97km road bike with 2200m of climbing is followed by a 30km MTB ride with another 1200m of climbing, to top it of you ‘run’ up the Schiltzorn a 2900m peak surrounded by the famous peaks Junkfrau, the Munch and the Eiger to the finish line. This race deserved respect, admiration, planning and was not one you could take on lightly. I needed and I wanted Michael to experience it with me for several different reasons. I went from anger into sadness into frustration into simply feeling defeated.
Finishing at the top of the Schiltzhorn
It was anger which pushed me to decide to go anyway, to not let me get beaten by this and at 4am on Thursday morning I left the house alone with two bikes and all the necessary gear. Thanks to my friend Jantiene I could keep my luggage to a bear minimum as she had plenty of sporting gear I could borrow from her for the race. Anyone who has traveled with a bike before, knows how stressful it is and travelling with two bikes by myself felt almost impossible. But I had no choice.

I am so grateful for having such amazing friends and the always positive energetic Kathrin Muller picked me up from Basel airport and managed to squeeze me and my two bikes in en route to Lauterbrunnen. We arrived there at my accommodation just after 8pm and by this time I had been travelling for over 16 hours. I tried to ignore the tiredness I was feeling and share Kathrin’s enthusiasm for life. After a turbulent couple of day's I had made it to Switzerland after all.
The views from my accommodation 
I don’t know what I would have done without the lovely Jantiene showing up on Friday, helping me get to all the different transition area’s dropping of bikes, preparing race nutrition and calming my nerves. I had troubles concentrating. I was hoping I put everything in the bags provided by the organizers for each individual leg of the triathlon. Looking back now, part of me had already given up.
Long swim training in freezing Scottish lochs
Michael managed to get a flight into Geneva on the Friday night, his way of trying to make up for letting me down. But it meant he arrived at 1 am in the morning whilst I had to get up at 4 am for the race. Although it was a nice gesture him being there trying to fix where he stuffed up, it meant I was confronted again with my feelings of anger towards him. And instead of focusing on the day ahead we were planning the logistics for after the race. Not ideal.

On hind side I should not have started, I knew that a DNF result would hit me harder than a DNS, but I am a competitor, I trained very hard for it and I wanted to try. So I did.

On race day I learnt that the Inferno is something very special, and it felt amazing to be part of it. I am not a swimmer yet standing on the start line early morning for the swim gave me goosebumps, I almost felt emotional. It was an absolute  stunner of a day and the mountain scenery was spectacular. Unfortunately the chain of events prior to the race had resulted in my body fading fast during the race and whilst descending down into the road bike/ MTB transition I knew my race was over. My pool of determination, strength and competitiveness was not endless, it was empty.
Running for 3-4hrs on hilly terrain was a novelty for me
I am under no illusion, I have been struggling with fitting in my training and high level racing with my job for the last two season’s now and I have found it harder and harder to mentally push myself through bad races. I have been lacking the joy and energy for racing. I can not guarantee that I would have had a better result if things had been different. But the situation definitely ended up having a huge impact on me.

My trip to the beautiful Bernese Alps went from bad to worse. The organisation managed to lose my wet suit and a cycling jacket I had borrowed from Jantiene, my phone had found a new home somewhere along the foreshore of Lake Thun and I managed to pack my wallet with the stuff I sent home with Michael on Sunday. My flight back on Monday was delayed which meant I had to sprint across Amsterdam airport to only just make the last connection flight back to Edinburgh. It was past midnight when I arrived home with a sense of relief this nightmare trip was over.
Catching up with awesome friends
In every bad situation there are always positives to be found. Training for the Inferno had pushed my barriers as an athlete and had made me do training sessions I never thought I was capable of doing. Just completing the endurance sets week in, week out was an amazing experience, a big thanks to Nico for preparing me so well. Meeting Jantiene was another thing the Inferno had given me. I felt an immediate connection with her, it was like she could express exactly what was in my head and it was such a comfort having her there through it all. I have been overwhelmed before about the loyalty and support from fellow athletes and this time once again they pulled through for me. I can’t thank them enough.

Part of the importance of Michael joining me on this trip was that he would meet one of my most favorite people in the world from Australia, Lexi, and her partner in crime Ben who were holidaying/cycling through the Alps and meeting me on the Sunday after the race. As with all good friends it felt like I had only seen her yesterday instead of two years ago and all the drama's the Inferno had given me was more than worth pretending she lived around the corner for a while! 
On wards and up wards. Like Jantiene said to me "the great thing about the Inferno is that it will be there next year again" and may be I will be there too.

"All great changes are preceded by chaos"

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