I hadn’t traveled to race at an ITU World Championship event for Team USA since 2012 so it was time to get back out there and explore. Powerman Zofingen has long been on my bucket list. Known as the “Kona of Duathlon” there is a reason this race has kept World Championship status for so many years. Since its first year in 1989 Powerman Zofingen offers a challenging yet breathtaking course in a spectacular, friendly and inviting environment.
Switzerland is just as beautiful as I had imagined – and as everyone had described it. As usual I only wish I had more time to explore instead of solely focusing on my race. The challenge came with the training leading up to race day. Once I stepped outside my hotel in Olten I wanted to break loose and spend hours admiring what the countryside had to offer. Whether running through the historical section of town over cobblestone streets and onto the rolling roads on the outskirts, or riding through the neighboring towns – each more fairy-tale-like than the last – I wanted to stay out all day and play! How could I keep the volume and intensity in check when every time I saw a hill on my bike I just had to climb it and find out what was at the top? I’m pretty certain I squealed with delight more than once while out riding. At one point I passed a network of running trails in the woods and couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed that I wasn’t carrying a pair of trail shoes on my bike. I would’ve ditched my bike in the woods and set out for hours. But that’s enough about how enchanted I was with Switzerland – let’s get on to the race! (you can see my photos from Olten and Zofingen here)
Race morning was definitely chilly as I left my hotel in the dark and hopped on the train for my 10 minute ride to Zofingen. Knowing this race has a history of inclement weather I erred on the side of caution and packed just about every option available for race day. The forecast called for a chance of showers but the time frame was short and as the sun came up I had my doubts that we would face any bad weather at all. I knew that first 10k was going to be fast and I would surely warm up quick. Arm warmers and gloves would definitely overheat me which would then cause me to be very cold on the bike, so I opted to race with my kit and nothing extra.
When it comes to World Championships Zofingen is a very small race. This means that instead of having starting heats we all start at once. It was great to have all of the Team USA women starting together and helped to calm my nerves a bit. However it was intimidating to start right behind the elite women knowing I would have to fight the temptation to chase them. As AC/DC’s Thunderstruck blasted through the speakers it was time to line up and start this long day of racing ahead of us.
The gun went off and without even sizing up the competition I went to the front (#tothefront). At least I exercised restraint and did not push to catch onto the elite field that wasn’t far ahead. Almost immediately a Belgian athlete joined me and instead of feeling the need to get away from her I was thrilled to have someone alongside me. The first loop of the 10k run starts uphill and then continues to get steeper. I was feeling strong and in control. Once we leveled out the elite field disappeared into the trails and I was content to hold a steady and manageable pace. With a majority of my running and racing on trails this year I felt right at home on the gravel trails in the woods. Before long we were descending the 2k back into transition before heading out onto loop 2. This is when Ms. Belgium made her move and I let her go – the mantra always playing in my mind “race your race.” I kept her in close range for the 2nd loop and as we got into transition one of my strengths showed itself as my fast transition had me heading out on the bike right alongside her. With a straight, flat shot out of town it wasn’t long before I passed her and I was right where I wanted to be – leading the amateur race. Time to race scared :)
I didn’t have a chance to preview either the run or the bike course before the race but with three 50k loops to tackle I would use the first loop to settle in and see what this course was about. What I wasn’t expecting – the long flat sections of road where you could settle into those aerobars and just hammer! It felt awesome! I was smiling and having a blast. The sun was disappearing and the rain was starting but it was very light and I wasn’t too worried about it. I was cold but it was bearable – I was having way too much fun to let a little bad weather bring me down. The climbs also weren’t as daunting as I was expecting as they twisted and turned through both wooded hillsides and open countryside showcasing some views that were worthy of taking my eyes off the road. For those who don’t know my state of mind while racing, I hardly ever notice anything around me because I am super-focused. On this course I was soaking in a lot of the beauty surrounding me.
At the halfway point on the bike there was an announcer and a crowd of spectators there to lift your spirits after the longest climb. It was great to hear the announcer cheering me on as he told me I was the first amateur. The highlight of my ride came around the 40k mark of that first loop. On a swooping downhill into a turn I noticed a race official and a small crowd of people. As I got closer I saw a helicopter sitting in the field right along the road. Once I approached that spot the helicopter lifted off and flew above me, following me along the road. After some time shadowing me he flew to my right and spun around to face me. It was such a cool experience I had goosebumps. I arrived back in town feeling great and excited to head out for round 2.
Loop 2 brought worse weather – it started to pour this time causing turns to be taken with some caution. My spirits were still high as I thought to myself there is still plenty of time for this rain to stop and the roads to dry :) I was definitely very cold and wishing I would’ve worn those arm warmers and gloves… On the first descent I was shaking uncontrollably and even screamed “woo hoo” out loud to let it out. Being cold is a great reason to work harder on those climbs right? Soon after that halfway point I was passed by an athlete from Denmark. She passed me and then slowed down, so sure enough I passed her back once I caught back up to her. It wasn’t long before she passed me again and this time she stuck with it. Within minutes she was out of sight. I was certain I would not see her again on that bike course. I finished loop 2 still hitting my goal pace. Time to tackle it once more!
The third time around I was starting to feel fatigued. Luckily the rain had stopped and the roads were drying quickly which was a major help. My main focus was to maintain a solid effort on the final 50k and not let anyone else pass me. I was definitely ready to get out of that saddle and of course I had Ms. Denmark on my mind. Exactly how big was the gap she put on the bike? Would I be able to reel her in at all on the run?
I entered transition happy to be off the bike with the added thrill of the 2nd and 3rd elite men alongside of me. Once out onto the first 15k loop I realized we were running the finish of the first 5k loop. Oof! This meant a good 2k climb to wake up those running legs. After climbing for what felt like an eternity we emerged into a park which offered views of the town. I felt like I was running on a CX course – following the white tape that outlined the lanes as we wove all around this park like it was a maze before heading back onto the wooded trails for one small loop. Heading back into the maze the 2nd time I was starting to see the next females behind me. It was hard to get any sense of how far back they were but seeing the competition always sparks that fear in me. I was looking forward to hitting the 13k mark knowing I would have the 2k downhill back into transition. While it was too early to attack that downhill and trash my quads I found that I could barely pick up the pace at all – it felt like I was slowing down! This is when I started to panic. I had another 15k to run on this same loop – how could I be feeling so bad so soon? Coming into transition to start the 2nd loop I used the cheers of the crowd to rally me into a better mental state for loop 2.
Back to that first long climb. Was I walking? No. Did it look like I was walking. I’m sure it did. I knew I needed to maintain a pace similar to the 1st loop to secure the gold medal – I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. At that moment my stomach started growling. I nailed my nutrition as planned – the same as I did for American Zofingen and as I had practiced in training. My body was obviously in need of more fuel though. At the first aid station I grabbed a section of a banana and the relief was almost immediate. I suddenly felt like myself again and was picking up the pace. I figured if my stomach had been growling I was probably at quite a deficit so I continued to grab banana at every aid station in addition to taking my gels on schedule. That was just what I needed! The beauty of a long race is that sometimes you have the time to recover from an error. I’m very grateful that my stomach gave me the signal I needed to salvage that run. I was able to enjoy the rest of the race and this time on that final downhill 2k I could kick it into gear knowing the finish line was near.
Running back into the “stadium” for the finish was anti-climatic because, as those who watched the live feed know, the elite flower ceremony was taking place as I was finishing. The crowd was quiet and all eyes were on the podium. I was just happy to see that finish line knowing I was under my goal of 8 hours. As I turned the final corner there were some USA spectators cheering me on as they held out a flag for me to carry across the line. Unfortunately I didn’t see this until I was passing them and I didn’t have it in me to turn around and grab it. I was ready to pass through that finish line and head straight to the bathroom :)
Team USA had an excellent showing at Zofingen taking home quite a few medals! It was great to make some amazing new friends and reconnect with others – that is hands down the best gift I’ve received from this sport.
Some of the athletes have raced there more than once. I was proud to say that I had no desire to come back and do it again. I checked it off the list. Done! I will honestly say that at first I was disappointed to be competing at a World Championship event with such small numbers. After racing I had a different outlook knowing that this race is a whole different monster – there’s a reason why the numbers are low – and I was out there competing among the best. On the flight back to the states the next day I was already thinking about what an amazing experience that race was, and then my thoughts turned to how I could improve on my performance now that I know the course and discovered a major error in my fueling. By the time I arrived home I was ready to sign up for 2016 :)
Finishing time – 7:53
10k run – 37:24
150k bike – 4:51:20
30k run – 2:21:20
8th Overall Female
2nd Overall Amateur Female
1st in 35-39 Age Group
Calories burned – 9,500