“Be our guest, be our guest. Put our service to the teeeest,” I sang, teeth chattering. I always sing when I’m scary cold and I was scary cold. It couldn’t have been more than 1 or 2 degrees and I was descending a snow covered alpine pass in Switzerland. Seven kilometres to go until the bottom. “Tie your napkin ‘round your neck cherie and we provide the rest…” As I tried to remember the lyrics from Beauty and The Beast, I had legitimate brain freeze…and bum freeze, and foot freeze, and hand freeze. I wasn’t thinking about racing but this was the first edition of Challenge Davos and it was one for the books.
I arrived two days before the race at dusk and I as wound up the mountain in my little Skoda, I glanced at the ominous looking mountains half shadowed in darkness, half visible from the thick layer of glowing white snow. It was a big, scary freakin’ mountain. In the morning, I eagerly ripped open the curtains to see the alpine landscape I had seen on the race website but instead I could barley see across the street. A heavy mist clouded the village as large wet snowy flakes fell. Not exactly triathlon weather.
The conditions were so bad the swim was officially cancelled two days before the race and one hour before the start gun, we weren’t even sure if we would be riding. It was three degree and pouring with rain. I sat anxiously under shelter trying to keep warm along with all the other competitors, waiting for the race director’s announcement. While dreams of duvets and Netflix danced in my head, the race director finally emerged and started speaking in German. I listened intently while my eyes darted around the room trying to interpret the faces of my fellow athletes. One person clapped while another sighed. Unable to read the room, I scrambled to find someone who spoke English. Surely they wouldn’t make us bike in these conditions…
Ten kilometres. To my surprise, the race would include a bike leg, ten kilometres up the Fluella Pass with a neutral transition at the top to put warm clothes on and a neutral descent. We couldn’t even ride the 12.5km to the summit, it was too cold and icy. With only 50 minutes until the start, I grabbed my bike out of transition and prepared for the mass start, packed a bag of warm clothes to send up, and half smiled at the lunacy of athletes.
I rode my own tempo alone, past the trees and into the snow. I could see the road ahead and realized the finish line was much closer than I had anticipated. I picked up the pace a little and sprinted across the timing mat, feeling both the cold on my skin and the heat from my muscles.
I grabbed my bag of warm clothes at our unusual transition to layer up for the descent. I saw most of the pro ladies were already but I couldn’t help but be distracted by the oddity of the situation. Our makeshift community of racers and volunteers on the backdrop of a bright white barren background with gently falling snow was a sight to behold.
With as little skin showing as possible, I headed down the mountain. I was wearing a trisuit, a wind vest, and then a winter cycling jacket; a buff over my face, an ear warmer, gloves, leg warmers, shoe covers and thick wool socks. (Well, one wool sock. Still don’t know how I lost one between my suitcase and transition?!) I was glad the wet descent was neutral but, in those temperatures, I was by no means faffing around.
It was so cold on the way down I started to sing. It’s always been a natural distraction tactic of mine whenever I’ve been scary cold on the bike. Typically “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast, “Walkin’ on Sunshine” or “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.” I made it through all three, five times. I arrived in transition a human popsicle and proceeded to reluctantly strip down to my run gear. I warmed up a tiny bit in transition but figured the faster I got running the faster I would be warm.
I might have sounded like I was heaving up a lung thanks to the cold and the altitude but I had a good steady four laps around the lake. The race was hardly a half ironman but, after such a cold and unusual day, it was definitely more than half a challenge.