Dec 31, 2008

Training in my own Backyard.

This year I decided to bring my lightweight ski randonne racing skis home to Minnesota for the Christmas Holiday. I thought I could stave off the holiday lack of motivation by training on the local ski hills where I learned to ski as a kid (don’t laugh, Lindsey Vonn learned to ski in Minnesota). Local choices included Highland Hills, the famous Buck Hill, and of course my old backyard. Something about going from training on and skiing peaks like the North Face of Mount Blanc, to returning to where I first put my skis on at age three appealed to me.

I grew up on seven acres of property on Christmas Lake in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Our house was a California ranch style home seated on top of a pretty big hill for Midwest standards. We had an excellent view and a few slopes to chose from for some serious sledding. When I was three, my dad put skis on my feet and pushed me down the driveway for the first time. Soon we graduated to the big hill and passed many weekends making the world’s largest kicker and icing it down just right with the water hose from the house. My brother and I are amazed we never broke anything, especially as he is now an othopaedic surgeon.

After twenty years in this home complete with an old totem pole, my parents relocated across the street and build a new house in which to retire. Loathe to leave the property he loved and cared for for so many years, my dad searched for the perfect buyer, turning away many. “They are just not right.” he would say. He finally found a great fit in Steve and Mary Midthun and family. The Midthuns had four kids, a dog named Tommy Moe, and a cat named Picabo. Satisfied, we passed 6225 Ridge Road on to some serious downhill and waterski lovers. Perfect. Steve took Ridge Road skiing one step further. He purchased a snowmobile and a small roller for grooming, and still rolls the property on a regular basis. They have signs marking the runs with names like Meyer’s Meadow and Lars’s Leap. When he is done grooming, he drives over and rolls a track around the Christmas Lake for all the cross country skiers.

I arrived home a few days before Christmas to some chilly temperatures. I threw on my gear and called over to check on conditions. Lucky for me he groomed earlier in the day and then an inch of fresh fell on a base of about six inches. Sweet. I headed over with an easy sprint workout in mind. A nice warm up of about fifteen minutes, then eight times thirty second repeats as fast as possible, with thirty seconds rest in between. I figured I had about fifty meters of vertical to deal with from top to bottom.

I warmed up doing large circles on the property boarder, and even did some “off piste.” I had to laugh because for a second I realized I didn’t have my avalanche beacon on. No crevasses or avalanche danger here, just some small brush and fallen deadwood. The hill turned out to be a perfect thirty second intervolt. Skiing down between runs was good practice as I left the skins on. Certain races we have short downhills where its easiest just to leave ‘em on, but takes a bit of getting used to. One neighbor peered out the window and turned on the outside holiday decorations to give me more light. Dusk was falling and it was awesome, skinning uphill by the light of the twinkly Christmas lights. I finished the speed section and was pleased with the work out. I cooled down again cruising around the paths that I played on as a child, past the tree that I fell out of, passed the trees we picked apples in, passed where we buried our beloved pets, and passed the cabin where I used to have slumber parties…. and then with a pang of nostalgia in my heart, got on the road and skinned across the street.

Happy Holidays and A Happy New Year!

Dec 17, 2008

Back on the Tri course after Baby Sophia

Sarah O’Brien is one of my heroes. She lives, trains, and works in New York City where we met while both working for Equinox Fitness Centers. Sarah’s motivation and drive inspired me to get out of bed, get to work, and be FIT.  Good pal that she is and ever ready for anything, she jumped in and ran eight miles of the New York Marathon with me in 2006 propelling me to qualify for Boston.

Since our time at Equinox Sarah married a fabulous guy, had a baby, and is now Senior Vice President at Glocap Search. This past summer she jumped back on the tri course and tells us below in her own words what tri racing post baby is all about. Brava Sarah!

Getting back on the triathlon course after having Sophia was never a question. The real question was WHEN? Per my doctor, I had to wait four months before I could start physical activity again. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. four months before I could even start working out and training? That was just not an option for me. I did know however that the NYC Triathlon I had registered for wasn’t going to happen (that was just 10 weeks after Sophia was born). So I needed to regroup and come up with another strategy.

I decided that I would listen to my body and start working out when it was ‘time’. I registered for an Olympic distance race (1.5k run, 40k bike, and a 10k swim) on August 2nd — twelve weeks after Sophia was born, the Lake Dunmore Olympic Triathlon part of the Vermont Sun Series. As for training, a regiment didn’t really exist. I was speed walking with Sophia basically from the time I got home from the hospital, but a formal training program wasn’t in place. I figured I would just increase my walking speed and build my cardiovascular endurance. I wasn’t up to jogging before the triathlon (which in hindsight should have been a sign that I wasn’t ready for a triathlon yet) but I just figured I would jump in and see how it goes.

Well, it was HARD. Probably one of the most difficult things I have done. My fitness level was no where near where it has been before Sophia and I got hit hard! On top of that, I was breastfeeding exclusively. Generally with race day, I wake up and am already thinking about the race—that is it. My mind is just on the race—mental preparation. With a baby, now you have to think about someone else, and your needs get put to the back burner. This race my morning was a bit different than usual, again something I didn’t take into consideration. It was about Sophia, not me. I had to get her up, feed her and get her ready for the race. The race itself and my mental preparation takes a back burner until that gun goes off and then I can focus. Also, I had to nurse Sophia. That isn’t such a big deal, but when you are about to start a race and your mind is supposed to be all about the race, when you have a newborn, that just isn’t the case.

So I am sure you are already noticing, but race morning was a bit hectic. We had to wake up at about 4:00am to get Sophia up and changed and fed (for her first feeding of the day—of which there were about  nine throughout the day). Since I was nursing exclusively, we had to make sure that we brought extra milk for when I was on the course and couldn’t feed her. After we finished feeding and burping her we then had to travel 45 minutes to the start of the Lake Dunmore race. I quickly set up my transition while Brian took care of Sophia.

My transition area is pretty routine. Bike racked with helmet in the areobars. In the helmet I have bike gloves, race belt, sunglasses and socks. Shoes aren’t attached to pedals, I have not been able to get that technique down pat so I just laid out nicely next to my running shoes. Bike has a Gu taped to it which I eat probably within 20-30 minutes of being on the bike. On top of running shoes, I have my running visor and another Gu which I stash in my shorts for the run (which I then generally eat about 15 minutes into the run).

Pleased with my first post baby race and the lessons learned, I went back to building my base and getting ready for my next Olympic distance triathlon The Mighty Hamptons, held each September in Sag Harbor. This time we were all going to be well prepared. During my training, I ran with Sophia in the jogging stroller and had great support from my husband so I could hit the pool and gym often. My runs were tricky with Sophia because since she wasn’t on a nursing schedule yet, so on occasion we would have to stop in Central Park to feed. Mostly, Brian and I would strategize our training schedules so that we both got our workouts in. Again, just picking up and going to workout whenever we wanted with our new addition became a challenge. It always worked however because we truly support each other and want one another to attain their goals.

Thanks to a well thought out training plan, my second post baby triathlon was much more successful than my first. I was in much better physical shape, ate more on the course, and actually got the same time I did the year before, pre Sophia (although I was pregnant when I competed the previous year)—2:46! Not too shabby, and I felt amazing. What was most different however, was my motivation to compete in and finish these races. I wanted to finish not only to make myself happy, but to make my daughter and husband proud. I want my daughter to grow up with strong, athletic, parents. I want her to see us not only finish but finish competitively in the races we compete in. At the Lake Dunmore tri my husband handed Sophia off to me while I crossed the finish line. It was wonderful. To have her in my arms and complete the race felt amazing.

The Mighty Hamptons Triathlon fell on a miserable fall day. It rained from start to finish, but Brian and Sophia were on the course the whole time. They motivated me to not only finish, but to stay strong and finish well. I placed 7th in my age group (out of 50) and felt great. To be a positive role model for my daughter is so important to me. I know my daughter will grow up with pressure to be ‘thin’, ‘perfect’, etc and that worries me. But all Brian and I can do is be good role models, live a healthy lifestyle and hopefully that will positively influence her. I can’t think too far ahead as she is only 6 months old but I can tell you that there will be many many races in Soph’s future. My next race is the Vermont Marathon Memorial Day weekend. I can’t wait to see Brian and Sophia on the course cheering me on and crossing the finish line to victory. The thought of holding my baby girl after I cross the finish line pushes me through the whole race!

Dec 11, 2008

Patrouille des Glaciers (part two)

Part two of a series narrating the trials and tribulations of racing the Patrouille des Glaciers, a bi-annual ski mountaineering race held in April in Switzerland.

On the stroke of midnight
On the stroke of midnight

The run turned to a path at the end of town. Snow started falling a few hundred meters up making the going a little slick. An hour flew by and we saw the lights of the first transition. Skis on, we started up a gradual slope, first Nina, Tara, and then me. The course was marked by glow-sticks mounted to posts. I mindlessly wondered as we traversed the glacier whose job it was to break and illuminate all those sticks. After 2:10 hours we reached the Schonbiel hut at 2600m. The snow was falling heavily and it was difficult to make out teams in front of us. Our headlamps reflected against the snowflakes. Forty five minutes later it was time to rope up. We had already tied Tara into the rope, and stuffed the rest in her pack. She was the strongest and had offered to be our Sherpa. We quickly tied in with a figure 8 knot to either end, me being VERY careful not to disturb the mark put in the rope at check-in. We continued on being mindful of the crevasses which the army had marked clearly with red and white tape. Three and a half hours brought us to a smaller checkpoint. “One hour to the Tete Blanche, Bravo!” said a solder as we skied by. Tara looked back at me eyes questioning in her clear glasses. I knew what she was thinking. 4:30 at the Tete Blanche, would that be enough time to make it to Arolla? I shrugged my shoulders. It was eerily silent with the exception of repeated questions of “ca va, you okay?” with the bad conditions, communication was essential.

The view on the way to the Tete Blanche
The view on the way to the
Tete Blanche

On the money we arrived at the top, 4:30am. While very cold, the wind had died and it was stunningly beautiful. Half the valley was covered in broken cloud and the moonlit peaks could be seen. Where am I? I thought to myself. The other half of the valley was dense fog and snow. Time to ski roped. We had boot high powder down the back side, it was awesome right up until I caught the rope around my binding and I had a small flailing panic attack. “WWWWWaiiittt!!!” I yelled, like they could go on without me! Thanks to the light of Tara’s sun we passed numerous teams. One last little skin up the Col du Bertol and we knew we were going to be okay. 5:12am at the Cabane du Bertol. The hut loomed above us on a huge cliff with all the lights illuminated. Skins off, rope back in Tara’s pack, we skied a great line down to Arolla thanks to Nina’s ability to ski by ESP(extrasensory perception), it was 5:47 am.

Night view Col de Bertol

Warren waved us over as we exited the checkpoint. It was overwhelming to suddenly be surrounded by people, lights, and civilization. We changed headlamps, grabbed some food, and took a bathroom break. While we were stopped, they started a heat of the shorter race from Arolla, it would mean more people on course. 6:02am, back on track 15 minutes later, the time had flown by. It was too long a pause for me. My heart rate dropped, and the climb out of Arolla was very steep. The top Swiss and French female teams passed us, having started 2 hours later. “Allez les filles!” they yelled over their shoulders as they blazed by.

Cabine de Bertol during the day
Cabine de Bertol during the day

The three of us were all going at different paces scattered across the hill. Nina was feeling sluggish due to altitude and perhaps all of us feeling strained from a little vertigo. The white out conditions are difficult and especially hard-felt if you are forging the way on the front of the rope. Staying as one team was crucial and we had prepared elastics to give each other a boost if needed knowing we would all experience a low moment at some point. Incredibly helpful physically and mentally, we attached one now and away we went up the Col du Riedmatten. When your senses have been bombarded for hours, it’s a blessing to not have to think and just follow. Tara was uber strong, and I called her the ox. “Moo.” she said, and then we laughed.” Is that the sound and ox makes?” she asked. About six feet tall, blonde and beautiful, Tara knew many racers on course. “Ciao ciao” she would say and launch into a full conversation in Italian as we skied on. We began to pass other teams and our moral lightened, we were feeling strong again.

Heading up the Col du Riedmatten

Skis on packs, we boot-packed up to the top of the Col where we took our spot in a long line. Five minutes passed, then ten. I took a peak over the edge and saw the reason for the hold-up. Competitors were flailing down three fixed lines. Snow had been brushed off leaving ice, rock, and grass on a very steep slope approaching 45 degrees. Nina descended first, asking the solder which way was the best. “They are all pretty bad” he replied. She chose the line farthest from most of the racers in order to try to make up time and stay out of the line of fire. Not for the fainthearted, the rope was icy and difficult to hold onto. “I don’t like this.” Tara kept saying. I was not a fan either and was worried about getting taken out from above.

Relieved to be at the bottom, skis back on we descended down to the Paz du Chat along the Lac Dix. An 8k side hill skate/skin, my ankles turned to hamburger meat. Should have had the boots blown out after all. Halfway across the lake I started to get dizzy, my definite low point. I had kept a small bottle inside my suit (the only way to keep it from freezing) and had finished it ages ago. I was moving so slow I kept wondering if I was even going forward. To push me through the doldrums, I had one of Tara’s Balisto Bars. Real food tasted phenomenal after eating sticky gels for the past nine hours. We hit the next aid station at La Barma at 9:43am. I grabbed some chicken broth and a few oranges. A soldier handed me a second glass of broth and remarked with a bit of surprise, “Oh wow, you came from Zermatt? I just came from Arolla this morning, Zermatt is way too far, that’s crazy.” After hydrating, and hearing this fantastic bank-handed complement, I was a new woman.

Nina leading the way up the Col du Reidmatten
Nina leading the way up the Rosablanche

The last long climb up the Rosablanche was uncomfortably hot. The sun had come out baking the snow, making it soft. We slowed a bit in the heat, excited each time the sun went behind a cloud. The last two hundred meters or so of the climb was a long boot-pack. Nina led the way setting a solid pace, making up time as we passed competitors from the shorter B course. I kept reminding myself to look around at the scenery and marveled at how far we had come. I could see the angular shape of the Matterhorn far in the distance, we had started at its base. Verbier seemed to be Coca-Cola country, spectators armed with Coke kept offering it to us and I finally took a sip. I am not a soda drinker, but it tasted fantastic. 11:20am, top of the Rosablanche, 3300 meters brought a welcome breeze. We skied down a small 300 meter descent racing up one last uphill skate and the last uphill transition. Spectators took our skis as we ejected bindings and helped us put skins on for the last time, “twenty minutes, that’s all, you are close!” they kept saying. We are so doing that in fifteen I thought to myself, I was ready for the downhill. We picked the best tracks to follow, well worn from previous traffic. Slower racers from the shorter course sensing our fatigue, moved out of the way.

More spectators appeared on the ridge lines, we could see their heads peaking over the rocks. They recognized our bibs from the A course and started cheering while ringing the ever-present cowbells giving us a push as we passed, “Allez Zermatt! Allez!” More Coca-Cola was handed to me and I drank and passed it back to my teammates. 12:02pm, top of the Col de la Chaux we ripped skins for the last time and dropped into a tuck for the long twenty-five minute descent to Verbier while being mindful of other exhausted racers that looked in rough shape. The route was mostly along flat cat track, the snow was spring-like and slow underfoot. Reaching the end of the ski piste, we threw skis on packs and started running the last two kilometers through town. Genius that I was I thought I would run with my skis in my hands. The run seemed never-ending, where was the finish! Having difficulty gripping my skis any longer, Nina grabbed them from me and at 12:30pm, we crossed the line. “Bienvenue a Verbier equipe Chamoinx-Valtourneche!” announced the emcee and we fell exhausted into a group hug. It only took about a minute before I knew I would race the Patrouille again.

We were a successful patrol, traversing the Alps safely and mindful of one another’s well-being. Five of the twenty-six female teams lost a member of their team due to illness. A friend on another team finishing in 11:20 said one of her female team-mates crossed the finish, looked at her and said, “I could have done it in ten hours,” and stormed off. I was lucky to have raced with such amazing women, all three of us made numerous sacrifices over the year to be standing where we were at that moment. I learned a great deal about myself and my ability to push my limits in those twelve and a half hours. I was humbled by our experience, humbled by what our bodies are capable of, humbled by the choices that we are able to make in these stunning Alps, and I decided from now I might just bring an extra Coke and a few Balisto Bars.

Brava Team Ataka!

Dec 04, 2008

Patrouille des Glaciers (part one)

Bravabella took just a touch longer than expected to get rolling. Periodically I will flashback to events that happened this past year. The Patrouille des Glaciers was a race I wanted to do for ages. We successfully completed  the challenge on April 19, 2008.

The clock began chiming twelve noon as we wandered by the small mountaineer cemetery behind the chapel in Zermatt. I read some of the stoic etchings on the gravestones, “I chose to climb.” He had died on the Breithorn. The bells continued their upward count as the three of us walked gear in hand to the equipment check-in at the Triftbachhalle. I stopped, looked at them both and said “We will start racing exactly 12 hours from now.”

Zermatt Chapel

Tara Jeffries, Nina Silitch, and myself had traveled to Zermatt to race the Patrouille des Glaciers, the famous bi-annual ski mountaineering race steeped in history and tradition. The race is done in teams of three (three or more is considered safer for glacial travel) and run entirely by the Swiss Army. Zermatt was full of soldiers in fatigues and it looked a bit like it was preparing for war. We had begun the application process last October, a three part process ending in the final decision being sent via email December twenty-second, in time for Christmas. The race consists of two courses which follow the Haute Route, the B course, a shorter course from Arolla to Zermatt (1881 meters and 25k/6100 feet and 15.5 miles) and the A course, the mac-daddy from Zermatt to Verbier (4000 meters and 53k/13,100 feet and 35 miles). No expense is spared, the race is allowed a budget of about three million Swiss Francs.

The Patrouille was started in 1943 during World War II as an event held to boost moral and test skills among the men in the Swiss army. The first running had only 18 participants compared to close to four thousand this year. In 1949 three racers disappeared in a crevasse to be recovered dead eight days later. The race was stopped until with great effort it was reinstated in 1984 with huge security measures in place. Fifteen hundred soldiers are employed during the event, many of which choose the three weeks of preparation as part of their obligatory yearly service. As the race has become extremely popular in years past, there are now 2 heats. The first heat had already left on Wednesday evening under less than pleasant conditions. Snow, fog, and -25 degree Celsius wind chill. Friday, today, was the faster heat, the World Cup event. Weather was not forecast to be much better.

Getting the green light at gear inspection

We entered the hall a motley crew to the ski mountaineering world. Two Americans and a Dutch (in fact I think we are the first all-American and Dutch women to do this race) we raised a few eyebrows from the soldiers as they inspected our passports. The hall was set up into stations and we moved through each one like clockwork. First they confirmed identity carefully, there are no last minute changes at the Patrouille, April 7th was the last day for team substitutes. Following that, we were handed a large plastic bag with a brand new Swisscom cell phone for emergencies, a map, a GPS, and three HUGE old school military shovels complete with metal base and wooden handle. All items were mandatory and must be carried from start to finish. Staring at one another, we looked back at the soldiers, who seemed not to think anything was amiss. The shovel looked heavy, but in homage to the first soldiers and to the Swiss Army, we would all carry these tools. We tried not to laugh, and I was relieved to see they broke down into two parts.

Shovels, GPS, phone, bibs and…chocolate

Next they inspected skis and poles and put shiny cool PDG stickers behind each rear binding. The soldiers were laughing now and perhaps enjoying some female interaction. We were one of only twenty-six women’s teams for course A, compared to three hundred or so male teams. Stickers in place, we were directed to one of eight tables to check boots, beacon, first aid kit, repair kit (knife and duct tape), safety blanket, goggles or sunglasses, hat, water systems, and harness. “This is a type C harness, yes?” asked the soldier going through my gear. It was the only one I had so I said, “ah yeah, course.” He seemed satisfied. We all used our lightweight Camp harnesses we had gotten the weekend before in a race up the Gran Paradiso.

Tara and Nina

“What time to do you start?” They asked us. “Midnight.” we replied. “ Ah! Okay, so you must report to the start at 11pm for the final check-in. You are very fast yes? 12am start is for almost professionals! ” We laughed nervously. When I applied for the patrouille, I had to choose our departure, 10pm, 11pm, 12am, 1am, 2am (World Cup women), and 3am (World Cup men). We had chosen midnight as we wanted to be at Arolla, the halfway point, as dawn broke, so that we could leave our headlamps, warmer clothes, and in theory race faster in the daylight. At the time, we did not know you had to be in Arolla by 6:30am, leaving only six and a half hours to complete the first half of the course. “It will be no problem,” said Tara, “you will see!”

Rope inspection

The final hurdle involved checking our rope. The first ascent was across Stockli Glacier and we would have to be roped together for traveling up as well as for part of the ski down. Nina’s husband Michael, a UIAGM guide had carefully prepared our rope, and it was a masterpiece. Thirty meters long (mandatory 10m between each person) with a diameter of 9mm. Michael had run elastic along the rope pulling it tight, every 40cm he fastened the elastic to the rope with a quick tie. The result? When the elastic contracted it caused the rope to make neat loops effectively shortening the distance between us to 4-5 meters, but when stretched, the required 10 meters. This made it much easier to climb and ski without being concerned about skiing over the rope. We had heard that you must present the rope without this elastic, or they would cut it, but not being sure, and loathe to repeat Michaels hard work, we handed it over. I had my scissors ready to flick off the quick ties just in case. We could put the ties back on, but not replace the elastic at the last minute. “No problem”, they said and just pulled it tight measuring it with a control rope, marking it with another tie. Past teams had checked in one rope, and then raced with a lighter non-approved rope, it was now mandatory at the finish to present the rope with marker in tact.

Training skiing roped for glacier travel

Huge shovels in tow we headed home to Hotel Butterfly to have a bit of lunch and start the process of preparing packs and gear. We passed other teams, including the Swiss women who were hoping to smash the female record of 8 hours and 15 minutes. “Bonne Chance!” they said, I said it back, but they didn’t need luck, they were all in top form and had eight people stationed along the course to provide them with water and food. However, we had Warren Cook. Top secret weapon, Nina’s Dad would be waiting for us in Arolla. He would be armed with food, supplies, and extra clothing. “You have to get there first” he reminded us with a smile as we handed him our gear. Back at the hotel, racers were buzzing with the uncertainty of the start, would they delay this a day? The army had prepared for a weather day and the race could be moved back twenty-four hours. We would find out all the gory details at the briefing in the chapel at 5pm.

Warren Cook, team support

The chapel was packed with people, standing room only. Soldiers were checking bands at the door, only racers allowed. I think a few others snuck in. The presentation was emotional, Brigadier Marius Robyr, commandant of the PDG, was to retire this year after running the race for twenty years. He gave an eloquent speech, went over the course in sections, and then proceeded to scare everyone in the room with the dire weather forecast. Heavy snow, fog, and -35 degree Celsius wind chill. Slides showed previous photos of frozen-looking racers at the highest point, the Tete Blanche 3650m (12,000 feet). Camelbacks were deemed useless as they froze, and large mitts were a must. As of now, the race would go on, but the final call would be made at 8pm, we would get a text on our appointed Swisscom cell phones.

The last two minutes was a virtual tour of the course accompanied by none other than Enya - probably chosen to calm the panic that was rising within. I just kept thinking, wow, this is a long, long, loooooong, way. Outside the chapel, Zermatt guides wandered around in their traditional tweed knickers, jackets, and old leather packs. The Swiss military band played in spurts. The weather was getting colder and clouds were moving in, a level of nervous anxiety was in the air. Tara and I left to buy some Vaseline-like creme to protect our skin from exposure, and Nina went to recheck out rope with a friend in town. Another glitch, all three must tie into the rope, we had thought the center person could clip in with a carabiner.

Gear ground zero

8pm came and went with no text. The race was on and at 10pm the first heat was off. We made the final preparations before reporting to the final check-in at 11pm.The 9pm Swiss weather report declared the winds would be dying early morning. An Italian female team staying a few rooms down from us had chosen not to race due to the conditions. Rule of the mountains the guides told us, you try and go and see. You can always turn around and ski back down. With fifteen hundred soldiers, numerous military patrols racing, and many helicopters, we felt pretty secure. I packed and repacked my bag four times. Food and water were a major concern. We had many gels and shock blocks. Tara had Balisto Bars, a muesli-like bar covered in chocolate. Nina and I were concerned about her being able to digest those quickly and if they had enough nutrients. I asked if she wanted some gels. “No, I always race with these.” she said.

Lyndsay and Nina ready to roll

It was finally time to put on all the layers and the suits, there really is no turning back once the suit is on as it’s a pain to get everything off again. We had new snazzy suits with the logos of our sponsors, The Albert Premiere , High-Alpine Guides , and Tara’s trekking company ATAKA! Her logo is “The only way is up,” we thought that perfect for the backside of the suit, maybe it would motivate some people! The best part? The logo, Crazy Idea, was printed on the arm and along the thigh in silver sparkles.

Tara and “the sun”

For lighting we had new headlamps on loan to us by Petzl and Tara had a huge Milla one, we called it the sun. She had a smaller one for climbing, and the sun we would use only on the descents. Last we donned beacons, packed the food, put on the harnesses, decided which hat, buff, got the skis ready, found the clear goggles, smeared cream on faces, and finally, got out the door! The first hour or so would be on foot with skis and boots clipped into bindings on packs. We each had running shoes that we would ditch at the first transition. Stepping outside to get a few last minute photos, it started to rain. We grabbed plastic bags and fastened them over our boots and the tops of the skis. Not a good idea to put on wet boots in the cold, and not fun to start a race with skins already wet.

Final check-in

The last check in before the start was indeed a precise military operation. Beacons checked, shovels, phones, maps accounted for, GPS activated (which I was carrying, you could follow our orange dot on Google Earth) and the control card handed out. The card must be presented at each checkpoint, clipped, and then turned in at the finish by Nina, our patrol leader, or the team would face disqualification. 11:45 we headed out into the street. Town was very busy, and we were greeted by the Commandant. “Bravo les filles, courage!” he said in a serious tone. He shook each of our hands and commended us on our commitment to race the Patrouille. I found myself getting a little emotional, suddenly wanting to make this man extremely proud of me and thinking how lucky I was to be a part of tradition (however, that thought changed a few times during the race). “Deux minutes!” The gun sounded and suddenly we were a herd of ski freaks running down Zermatt’s main street, the Bahnhofstrasse, people cheering from hotel windows and bar stools. I could hear the bells chiming twelve.

to be continued…..

"Bravo les filles" from Brigadier Marius Robyr
“Bravo les filles” from Brigadier Marius Robyr