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

1 comment:

  1. Awesome job!! This race is definitely on my 'to do' list!! Thanks for the great report and pics!