Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Inferno Half-Marathon - The Return to the Alps

I had to travel to Switzerland again on business. Because of the timing I was able to enter the Inferno Half-Marathon. (my 2006 race report is below). This year was their 10 year anniversary, so in addition to the grueling morning half-marathon up the Alp, there was an additional 8km evening run up the final climbs of the Alp.

The Inferno starts in Lauterbrunnen, a "valley" in the Swiss Alps in the Canton of Bern at around 1900 feet, runs up the Alps past the city of Murren and finishes at nearly 10,000 feet on top of the Schilthorn (anyone who has seen the James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" has seen all these sights including Piz Gloria, the "lab" on top of the mountain that is the actual finish line). The race begins at the base of a famous waterfall (which has a path leading up to the mid-point so people can actually look out through the falls, which we did the night before the race....in hindsight should have saved my legs and forgone that climb).

Leading up to the race, I was still recovering from my TRT 100 mile run. Then, that week in Switzerland, work became very busy and stressful with many early morning and late evening days (see....I am already lining up my excuses).


The day before the race, I met my friend Mathis who was my "coach" for the Inferno 2006 (he was from Switzerland and actually suggested the race for me last year. He helped me with training and literally would drive to the top of training hills climbs to meet me with water). On the way from Basel, we decided to stop at Bern to take a look at the city - it was beautiful! Bern means "bear" and they have these two wonderful bears at the enterance to the city (here is one):

More of Bern:

Then we stopped at Interlaken for dinner (a WONDERFUL part of Switzerland):

Then it was off to Lauterbrunnen for the race. The morning of the race, Mathis helped sign me in and get me ready. I was pretty nervous - I knew my legs were still not 100% due to the TRT 100 miles (161km) race. But I thought perhaps I might do OK as last year I didn't have that 100 mile base. Then again, last year I didn't have that 100 mile fatigue either. I told friends that I did not expect to do as well as last year due to doing 100 miles less than 3 weeks earlier, but deep down I hoped to improve on my 2006 time.

The crowd lined up at the start at 10:00am. It was a larger field of around 450 runners. Here is my coach and friend Mathis.

At the start, we started running along the streets of Lauterbrunnen and within 2km, entered a tree covered path that snaked back and forth up hill. I decided to try and start faster hoping that my recent trail running would help me hold off challengers on the steep inclines. Mistake! By 5km, I my legs were heavy, I was breathing hard and people were passing me. This was not as fun as 2006.

Soon we entered a forested area and the trail became just barely single track. As we went up that, I knew that today was not to be my best Inferno day. Finally we exited the forested and headed to the 10km mark at the entrance of the village of Murren.

In Murren, I was hurting and thoughts of continuing to run were competing against other options:

But I kept going. Soon, we left Murren and begin climbing the first face of the Schilthorn. Let me tell you - this hurt, it was hard but it was BEAUTIFUL:

Climbing the faces, I was fighting to keep going forward. Last year, it was difficult, but this year seemed so f'n hard. Finally, I just had to stop and breath. My legs had nothing in them. I couldn't believe it - I had less than 3 miles to run, but it seemed like a marathon.

I kept going up over the faces. Then, approached the base of the Schilthorn peak - a rocky, Mars-looking cap that climbed 1800 feet in about 1 mile. It was not fun.

I pushed on, letting anyone pass me who felt better than me. At this stage, that was probably the whole field....old men and women, children, a three-toed sloth and a couple of granite boulders being pushed uphill by the wind flew past me as if I were standing still...which I was at times. Finally, I approached Piz Gloria, the finish line.

I crossed the finish line and collapsed. I was 25 minutes slower than last year and my finishing place was more than double. After a conference call with my boss at the top of the Schilthorn (yes, even at a James Bond villian's lab, I can not escape work), I took pictures in front of the Eiger and other peaks and then headed back to Murren for lunch.

After a nice lunch meal of Raclette (kind of hash browns with melted Alpine cheese and apples) and a couple strong beers I relaxed. It was over....or was it? Oops - it was the anniversary year and I had entered the night run too! It started at 8:07 (20:07) and went from Murren to the peak again. I was afraid it was to be chilly at the peak so I layered about 3 running tops, a head cover and arm warmers. BIG MISTAKE!.

Evening run starting gun:

I was surprised, after suffering the 1/2 marathon in the morning, my legs pretty good. I was actually in the top 25 or so by the first face, but my layering was cathing up. Rather than being chilly, it was very warm. I started peeling off layers as I gulped water at aid stations. By the time I got 4km into it, I was down to my sweat-drenched bottom layer and losing places like crazy as people passed me. Then, I got a bit of second wind and raced past about a dozen people until the base of the Schilthorn. Up the base went, but that was it for me. My legs had no more. It was a slow jog/walk/crawl as people passed me (even a young kid that was racing). Oh well, after 1 hour 45 minutes (that was over 15 minutes faster than I did the same section thet morning) I finished the evening run. All in all a good, if not humbling day of 30km's of running at high Swiss Alps altitude..


Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks for such nice Alps pics and report!

Sorry for TRT100 that made you struggle a bit, but you were amazing at doing two mountain runs in one day. Besides, your second one seems better than the first one. Guess TRT100 gave you something about EnduraZone :-)


Peter Lubbers said...

Hey Alan,
Congratulations on finishing this tough race and then coming back for more at night!

I like the picture of the you and the others approaching the finish line, hands on their sides and knees; it gives a pretty good idea of how steep this race really is.

I stayed in bern about 15 years ago for a multi-day hiking competition and loved the Swiss countryside. The pictures bring back memories!

Take care,

Alan said...


Yes, doing it faster the second time was nice. I think the fact I didn't have the first 13km helped, plus it was cooler (despit me layering mistake) and of course the 2 beers between races :)

Alan said...


Thanks - the real test on my legs will be Stevens Creek 50km in a couple weeks. Hopefully I will have regained some leg strength/speed by then for the RDL 100 miler in 4 weeks.

Bern was very nice - as is Basel, Lauterbrunnen, Interlanken, etc. I really love the whole country.