Wednesday, May 23, 2012

American Zofingen Duathlon 2012 - Defending the Title

Last year, I completed my first ever duathlon, my first ever and the one and only American Zofingen duathlon!  Every year the race offers 3 different distances:
·         Short (5m trail run/29m road bike/5m trail run)
·         Middle (5m trail run/29m road bike/5m trail run/29m road bike/5m trail run)
·         Long (5m trail run/87m road bike/15m trail run)
Last year, I opted for the middle distance.  As much as I complained how freezing cold I was throughout the race, and how much this race hurt (I may have also said, I’ll never do it again because the hills are just plain silly), I found myself toeing the start line this past weekend for a second year in a row.
You can read my race report from 2011 here:
One glaring difference from last year to this year was the weather! We were greeted by beautiful blue skies, and the sun was out early on. I was more worried about overheating than freezing, but really I was just happy I wasn’t going to shake uncontrollably while riding my bike.  
Coach Jorge couldn’t make the trip, so it was just me and Jess. Since this was going to be her first time doing the race, we decided to drive the bike course ahead of time to give her an idea about what she is getting into. I must say, I have a very selective memory, because I definitely didn’t remember how either steep or long these uphills were! Maybe the cold/rain/fog last year made them look a bit less intimidating or they grew since last year? J To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, and put everything into perspective, American Zofingen is touted to be the hardest duathlon in the U.S. And here is why! When you climb around 1,100 feet over 5 miles on the run (3x), and around 3,000+ feet over 29 miles (2x) on the bike, your legs are bound to rebel at one point or another. That’s over 9,300 feet of climbing over 73 miles in total. Ouch! Mine are sure giving me the middle finger right now for putting them through a 5 hour and 46 minute roller coaster ride.
To quote Mark Allen:

American Zofingen has been created to fill the glaring void in the US duathlon race calendar, i.e. the lack of an ultra distance duathlon a la Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland. Mark Allen, 6 time victor of Ironman Hawaii, has been quoted as saying the hardest race he’s ever done is Powerman Zofingen. Powerman Zofingen’s severity is due more to its terrain (mountainous road bike course, hilly trail runs) than its formidable length (10K run / 150K bike / 30K run). American Zofingen, although slightly shorter, is arguably harder. New Paltz, as a venue, offers stunning scenery and a grueling challenge. It is one of the toughest duathlons on the planet. If you want to know if you are ready for the one and only Powerman Zofingen World Championship in Switzerland, come join us.

Trip to Switzerland would be kind of cool, right?

With the foggy/rainy weather last year, I really only experienced the “grueling challenge”, so I had to return this year to experience the “stunning scenery”, and of course to try to defend my middle distance title.

Here is a pic I was able to snag while we were driving the course. Doesn’t quite do the scenery any justice, but you get the point. Training weekend in the Catskills could be FUN!

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I am going to blow my cover and as most of you already know from facebook/twitter/BT, I was able to defend my title (I am very happy about that), and I did my best to enjoy the scenery! Or the little bit one can enjoy while either constantly climbing super slow or descending super fast. To achieve an overall avg. speed of barely 17 mph over the total of 59 miles, I was either climbing in the single digits, wondering how I am still upright on my bike, or my eyes were watering from going downhill way too fast in which case I was just hoping to stay upright because otherwise I wouldn’t be here blogging about my experience. The run itself is a beauty of its own. You are either going up and up and up, or down, and down and down, negotiating your footing in between roots, rocks, fallen trees, small creeks, tiny wooden planks connecting different trails, you name it, this trail has it. To me it felt like doing agility drills for 5 miles, 3x over. The first time around, I felt great; light and quick on my feet, skipping over rocks, leaping over creeks, and fallen trees like they weren’t even there, and just like with doing agility drills over and over again, 2nd lap my legs became a bit heavier slower, and well the 3rd one, you get the picture.

Last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This time around, I knew exactly how this is going to go down, how much this race will hurt, and how much more it could hurt if not paced correctly. This race teaches you how to pace properly, and I can guarantee you that if you “gun” the first 5 miles because you feel good, you will be walking the last 5 miles wondering why! It’s also a race that tests your mental toughness. Yes – it’s super hilly on both the run, and bike, that’s a given. What is however very unique about this race is that except for the first 5 miles on the run, you are most likely going to find yourself alone. Alone for a long time! Alone running through the woods; alone climbing and descending the roads. Combine the loneliness with the beautiful scenery of the Catskill Mountains, and just like that you are reaching for the camera or iphone in your back pocket to capture the beauty. But wait – this is a RACE. It’s time to GO, GO, GO! Hello mental toughness!

This is a RACE, and there is a finish line to get to! Put the cameras away, fight through the pain, and keep the foot on the gas. I can almost guarantee you that no matter how much you will suffer through this race regardless of the distance, you will be crossing that finish line with a huge smile on your face though you may have just spent the last 5 miles or more wondering WHY, why exactly you are putting yourself through this J

And here I am, only a few steps from crossing the finish line. And YES – I am smiling!

Maybe I should stop going on and on about the uniqueness and awesomeness of this race, but is it on your “To Do” list yet?

Due to its location, it is limited to a small number of competitors when compared to any triathlon you can think of. The atmosphere is super laid back, and everyone is super friendly. This is where Jess and I picked up our numbers the day before the race! Yes! This is the entrance to the Catskill Multisport Triathlon store J And yes they do have quite a bit of product in there!

Drive of the course, dinner in dt. New Paltz, and race morning arrived rather quickly. Here we are ready to rock!

We set up our transitions, and had the pleasure of listening to the National Anthem being played by the race director on bagpipes! He was amazing! It was also rather emotional as the Middle distance duathlon was named after the late Chris Gleason who collapsed a quarter mile from the finish line of the 2011 Philadelphia marathon and sadly passed away. He was scheduled to race, but instead it was his family and friends that were there racing in his honor. Each of them taking one leg of the race, and eventually running the last 5 miles, and finishing the race together. It was super emotional even though I never met Chris.

8:00 am was there, before I knew it, and it was GO TIME. We were all lined up ready to go, and I lined myself up in the first row. 

Here I am READY to get this show started.

And off we went. Thanks Jess J

If you feel like reading my detailed race report, Czech out the link below.

For the rest of you, I’ll leave you with bunch of numbers that may or may not mean anything to you, but describe the toughness of this race really well, and help me paint a picture of how my offseason training has been coming around.

Besides of course having a blast, my main goal was to run faster, while keeping the bike times around the same (deep down I really wanted a faster bike of course), and if that meant defending my title from last year – that was just icing on the cake J. Somehow I managed to do just that and though I am not impressed with my second bike split. Coach Jorge was right (AGAIN) when he said I should go 5 min faster overall! Does he have a crystal ball or something? If so, I have many more questions to ask him J.

The icing on the cake was not only winning the 1st Overall Female, but also a Top 10 finish Overall. Only 9 more guys to Czech chick though they kicked my butt pretty well.

All smiles getting my prize J

And let’s not forget about the amazing post race massage!

So what did I take away from this race besides my 2nd gigantic mug? (btw my drinking ability lacks far behind, but these mugs are still way cool)

1. PACING is KEY, and it will decide the outcome of your race. You go out too hard, you crash and burn. Notice the differences between the first 3 runs and even the 2 bikes for the top 40 finishers. The gap just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and that’s because hills are relentless and punishing. When looking at the times of the first 5 mile run – there were 22 people who ran faster than me, only 9 of those 22 ran faster than me during the second 5 mile run, and only 7 out of the 9 run faster on the third and final run. Since I was a bit disappointed with my slower second bike time, I looked at the same comparison. 17 people biked faster than me on the first bike, but only 7 out of the 17 biked faster than me on the 2nd bike. What makes me feel a little better about my slower 2nd bike, is that only 1 person had a smaller gap (slow down) between the first two bike segments. I apologize for the statistics class, but it helps ME justify that pacing really works J

Here are the actual results, and if you really want to, you can go see how going out too hard will cost you many more minutes in the latter part of the race. 

I think I finally believe that going out slower, and finishing faster means faster overall time! Definitely a concept I wasn’t in love with, but one that coach Jorge has been trying to drill into my head for a while now. But, but why go “slower” when I feel good, and then try to go “faster” when I feel like poop, coach? Take it from the non- believer, crash and burn a few times, try it out for yourself and let me know when you believe! J Hard work on Jorge’s part, few sufferfests on my part, and here I said it – PACING ROCKS and WINS RACES J

2.      My offseason training is paying off. All 3 of my runs were faster than last year. It was dry, and it was hot, and I am super happy about all of my three run splits.  Heat usually slows me down. Not this time. My bike times were relatively the same when compared to last year, though last year I was able to speed up on the 2nd loop then which didn’t happen this time. I haven’t quite looked at my power files because I was not very happy with the final numbers I quickly glanced at, but guess what – I am bringing the watts I didn’t leave on the Zofingen course with me to Quassy! J And I will bike and run faster than I did last year! And of course I gotta swim too, but if the faster running times are any indication of my offseason training, then I should see improvement in the water too! Less than 2 weeks and counting. I’ll see a lot of you there!

3.      The more you learn to suffer (have fun) in training, the more you will be able to suffer (have fun) while racing! I can’t tell you how many people I have passed on the 2nd and 3rd loop  of the run that were walking – not power walking, just plain walking. This course WILL reduce you to walking – I too walked the steep uphills especially on the 3rd loop when the shuffle no longer worked and my legs just simply wouldn’t move much, but it’s about how quickly you can get back to running. You learn to work through the dark moments in training, they will be easier to deal with when racing.

4.      Racing from the front is FUN!  I did sneak this one in here, because this NEVER happens, but I had a blast racing from the front and being the one that was being chased. Now if I can just learn how to swim FAST J

Thank you Jorge Martinez (E3 Training Solutions – for talking me off the ledge when I thought I forgot how to bike because you would only put swimming and running on my schedule J. You may just be onto something here. And of course thanks to all my friends/family/supporters for putting up with my triathlon craziness. You all know who you are.

And Mr. Fireball – next time, please don’t leave any precious watts on the highway! I know how fast you can really go! Till next time J

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Training Weekend

This past weekend, I joined the Boston Triathlon Team for their annual training camp in Waterville Valley, NH, and what FUN weekend it was. Instead of spending all day Friday sitting at my desk at work, my day was spent riding my fireball! It really can’t get much better than that. Here is my fireball resting at the top of the Kanc – notice the rear wheel – nope, not mine but more on that later.

This was our home for the weekend, and the starting point of our rides:

Day 1:

I arrived at Waterville Valley on Friday early morning, and we were off on our 110 miler by 10am. Weather was a bit chilly, but thanks to my new amazingly warm Pearl Izumi booties, leg warmers, gloves, and my E3 fleece lined riding jacket, I was ready for the elements. I may or may not have looked like a Michelin woman, but I was warm and toasty the entire time!

Here are the awesome Pearl Izumi booties that kept my feet warm the entire time!

Now onto the ride. The first 10 miles getting out of Waterville valley is always downhill. I am talking like avg. speed of 25+ mph without really even trying - now that’s FUN! Until of course you realize that the only way to get back home is going back up J. But I say that’s FUN too. Climbing hills is really the reason why you come to ride in the mountains, isn’t it?

I was in a group of about 10 speedy guys and we were moving along at a very descent clip, until we came to a screeching halt at the base of the first real climb of the day called Sawyer.  And that would be the first pit stop about 40 miles into the ride, though there was no gas station in sight! What does a girl wearing bib shorts, and about 3 layers of clothing suppose to do? While all the boys took care of business in about 2 min (not fair), I enjoyed a nice little snack (The Coconut Chocolate Cliff Bars are the best, and I routinely make sure that my local grocery store is out of them), and we were off again.  And for the record, it’s really just not fair how easy it is for guys to take care of business.

Then the climbing began. It was quite uneventful as the road just kept going up and up and up, and kept getting steeper and steeper leaving me in search for the extra gear that wasn’t there.  I could still see the lead pack of guys racing to the top, and heard the rest of the group behind me.  As I was wondering when this is going to end, or what I am to do if this gets any steeper, I heard a pretty loud pop and my rear wheel immediately began to  rub against my brake pads with every repetition. UGH! And just like that, the lead group was out of sight L. I tried opening the brakes, but had no success. My problem was a bit bigger than. I had broken a spoke. I was left with a wheel that would not make it around without getting stuck. Of course, cell reception was nowhere to be found, so one of the guys rode to the closest town to call for help, and my buddy Brett stayed back with me!  Thanks Brett!!!! After we walked and pushed our bikes uphill for a little bit, we saw a truck that we were hoping could take us back into town, but no such luck. My “sick” fireball apparently doesn’t count as “medical emergency” so we kept on walking. Then Brett graciously offered to switch wheels with me and though I put up a little fight to not leave him alone, he sent me off to finish my ride. I was able to find Jeff and Brett’s wife Theresa who along with Brett saved the day for me. If you guys are reading this – Thank You so so much!  Not  many people would give up their wheel and walked barefoot in the middle of nowhere, and/or drove at least 30 miles to pick us up. You guys are both amazing, and I really can’t thank you enough! If only all people were as nice as you two are, the world would be a better place!

The rest of the ride was again quite uneventful. 12 mile or so climb from Lincoln up to the top of the Kancamagus highway. Here is evidence that I really made it there J

Quick descent back, and just a 25 or so miles back home. And then there was the last 10 uphill miles into town, remember? J I was at this point riding blind (no distance, no power numbers) so I got to enjoy the surroundings a bit more without peaking at my power output and screaming at my legs to just try a bit harder. In the end – Day 1 was a huge success, and 110 miles in the bank!  Rest of the day was spent eating, eating, more eating and hanging out with the BTT crew, and with coach Jorge’s balls – part of the secret as to why my hamstring felt a million times better the next day. These balls work wonders!

Day 2:

Plan was to run/bike/run to get ready for next week’s triple run/double bike American Zofingen duathlon, but since my fireball was a bit more sick than anticipated, the run had to wait till after the bike.  Thanks to Noah, and Jorge, who really is not only my coach, but also my mechanic, and saint who answers a hell of a lot of questions that I seem to have almost every single day. I think he may sometime try  to shut me up with a ridiculous workout or two but somehow I keep coming back for more J.  On a serious note,  I am not sure, I could ask for anything more from him. He is the BEST! Thank you Jorge for all you do for me.

Saturday was a lot warmer than Friday, so I was able to start on my cycling tan J. Group of about 5 of us stuck together, and I spent the day either fighting the headwind or chasing after Bill who even though he was on his road bike was just killing us all. He was flying on the uphills like they were downhills and it sure took a lot of work to keep him in sight and stick with him. I was happy to keep up with him for most of the time, even though he was probably taking it EZ and absolutely smoked me going up the Kanc. I’ll just blame it on the 110 extra miles that my legs had and his didn’t J. The 78 miles were over in no time, and I set out for a quick 4 mile run. This is when for the first time in the last 2 weeks, my hamstring was pain free! I told you Jorge’s balls were magic! He seriously needs to start selling them! The pain in my hamstring was about 75% better than it has been in the last 2 weeks even after a few massages and ART sessions. I now have my own set of balls, though I have yet to create the final product.

Saturday night again was spent hanging out with the BTT crew, great food, drinks, ipod, and on the dance floor.  Fun times for sure! All was left was a longish run on Sunday morning.

Day 3:

Another beautiful day in Waterville Valley J, quick 8+ mile run with the mountains as the backdrop and as quickly as the weekend came up on us, it was gone. It was an amazing 3 day training weekend, and I can’t wait to do it again. I am now more than ready to take on the small bumps of the American Zofingen duathlon in just a few days. I will tackle the Middle Distance race, which means a 5/29/5/29/5 run/bike combo.

Zofingen Run:

Zofingen Bike:

I will do my best to defend my title, but one thing I know for sure, is that I won’t freeze like I almost did last year. If the weather forecast holds, this year may be quite opposite, and I may melt. Is it Sunday yet?