Powerman Zofingen

Team USA - missing a few

Team USA – missing a few

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.
Powerman startThe 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.

Powerman bike

Of course I’m smiling – look at these views!

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.
Powerman runBack 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.

Medal ceremony

Medal ceremony

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 🙂
medalResults:
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

 

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All the good things

It’s been a great weekend – here are some highlights:

Scott Jurek’s Masterpiece
Of course we all know that Scott Jurek completed his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail yesterday in record time – he now owns the FKT (fastest known time). He completed 2,160 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 8 minutes. Incredible! The finals days had been described as “a nail biter” and people said they were “at the edge of my seat” as they tracked his journey. I also saw plenty of “I don’t think he’s going to make it” and “there’s no way he can make it.” Psshhh. For those of us who followed Scott Jurek prior to this epic adventure we knew that when the going gets tough, that is when Scott shines. There was no way he was not going to break the record. There is a lot we can learn from him – from his mental toughness and never-give-up attitude to his strong determination to chase his dream. I hope that everyone is inspired to set their own goal and work like crazy to achieve it. He is an amazing athlete with a race resume that cannot be touched. Congrats Scott!

Photo taken from Scott Jurek's Facebook page

Photo taken from Scott Jurek’s Facebook page

We are the Strongest Hearts
The much-anticipated video has been posted! Strongest Hearts creates a web series highlighting vegan athletes. There are plenty of great videos to check out that are informative and fun 🙂 The Strongest Hearts crew joined Team Strong Hearts Vegan Power at this year’s Cape Cod Ragnar to document our adventure. Here is the result:

Thank you Strongest Hearts for spending time with us and for showing the world what vegan athletes are capable of.
strongest hearts

Personal Update
Today starts week 2 of my build to Powerman Zofingen in September and I couldn’t feel better – both mentally and physically. Mentally it’s great to be focusing on one race again. Racing American Zofingen long course, Cayuga Trails 50 miler, Eagleman Ironman 70.3, and Vegan Power 50k back-to-back was challenging and exciting, but also tough in more ways than one. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out how to mesh my training for these different events, and I enjoyed the process of trying to recover and switch gears completely in a short amount of time. It was definitely a learning experience and most of all I loved proving to myself that I could handle it. However the result was that I went into each race not in top form as I wasn’t able to train solely for any of them.

My mileage going into the 50 miler was nowhere near what it should have been. While working a full-time job there was no way to hit the mileage needed to be competitive in that field when I had to work on hitting the minimum volume I needed on the bike as well. I relied on my bike training to make up for the lack of running mileage but it cannot replace the time on your feet. The result was that I held 2nd place for 33 miles before barely hanging on to 4th to finish. At Eagleman my swim was horrendous, and while this was nothing new for me I don’t want to even admit how little swim training I did before the race. When swimming was the smallest portion of all of the racing I was doing, it definitely got pushed aside…a lot. By the time I got to the 50 k I knew that I would be fine volume-wise but I think what drained me the most was racing in crazy heat at Eagleman only 6 days prior. I was happy to be finished and onto a 2 week break with minimal training.

And now I am happy to be following a strict plan leading up to Powerman Zofingen. I thrive on regimented training and without having to juggle, second-guess, make changes on the fly I can simply put my head down and do what I do best – train! I have 2 trail races coming up in the next 2 weekends but they will be more for fun. I am 100% working towards Switzerland now – a bucket list race for me and a World Championship. I feel recharged and ready to go!

I hope everyone else is having a great season of training and racing with some goals to look forward to!

A well-executed race plan – American Zofingen

Apprehensive, intimidated, anxious – these are just a few words to describe how I was feeling in the weeks leading up to this race. I was not worried about the 20 total miles of trail running – that would be the fun part for me. My concern was the 84 mile bike in between. My longest ride of the year was 61.57 miles – 2 loops of training on the course – and that was a month ago. I actually haven’t ridden more than 84 miles since 2012 and I haven’t raced more than 56 miles since…gulp…2005! Yes, I’ve been a slacker on the bike. Not that I haven’t been riding, but when it comes to endurance training I’ve been devoting my time to running 🙂

I even emailed a few friends last week to discuss my thoughts about possibly dropping down to a shorter distance (as it turns out many racers did). Luckily along with my vote the ruling was to stick with the long course race. 1) I am training for Powerman Zofingen (for which this race is modeled after) in September, and 2) once I put it out there that I’m racing long course I don’t want to back down! I knew that completing the distance wouldn’t be an issue – my bigger concern was how much of a hole I would put myself into with my first 50 miler (2nd attempt) only 2 weeks after. It was time to come up with a smart race plan and execute it. And that’s just what I did.

My next concern was the heat. Yes I’ve talked about my infamous heat stroke quite a bit and you’re probably sick of hearing about it but it was honestly the scariest thing that has ever happened to me athletically and it is something I take very seriously. On top of that I have dropped out of 3 races since then due to heat, and that is 3 races too many for me! The temps for today were set to reach 87 along with high humidity. Add to that a very challenging course and I knew I had to pay much attention to how I was feeling.

Speaking of the course, let me give you a quick rundown. It starts with a 5 mile trail run at Spring Farm in Mohonk Preserve. The 5 mile loop contains 900 feet of climbing. You run through grass fields, over wood plank bridges, through single track, over rock and root-filled ascents and descents, and the best part – the forgiving carriage roads.

Run course elevation profile

Run course elevation profile

Next you head out on the bike for 3 loops totaling 84 miles, with 8,406 feet total climbing. The toughest climb greets you right as you leave the park so you better finish that run feeling good!

Bike course elevation profile

Bike course elevation profile

It was a very small start line for the long course athletes who went off at 7:00 am – the F1 (middle course) distance is the most popular event featuring a 5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile run/29 mile bike/5 mile. After the bagpipe played the National Anthem we were off to woods! The pace was totally relaxed and it felt great. I knew the key to this race was to take it easy on that first run and I picked the right person to keep me in check – last year’s winner Colin Martin. I was loving the course and loving the pace – the first 3 miles have the toughest climbs and for the last 2 you can really settle in. I finished my first run in 39:18 and was feeling awesome!

Time to head out on the bike with a plan – hold back. After tackling that first climb you meet an equally intense descent. Saturday night’s rain left us with foggy conditions and wet roads this morning and I found myself being extremely cautious – hoping that by the 2nd loop I could have a little more fun here. Otherwise loop 1 was uneventful – I settled in and focused on not worrying about what was happening behind me. Having trained on this course I felt very comfortable with the terrain which was definitely a benefit going into this race. My goal was to make it through lap 1 without being passed (by females) and I was thrilled to make it to the park meeting that goal.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Out onto loop 2 – that first climb felt tougher but I tried not to think about the fact that I would need to tackle it one more time. The fog had lifted and the roads were drying so I was able to open up a bit more on the descent. Next it was time to settle into the long trek up to Minnewaska. I felt stronger than I had on the first loop and this was a huge mental boost for me. But now it was time to focus on my hydration plan. Racers were alerted the day before the race that the nutrition/hydration sponsor failed to send the supplies the race organizers needed to stock this race. They would have bottles of water and limited bottles of Heed on the course. This meant I would be stopping to mix my own bottles of hydration – not ideal but worth it for me to take the time in order to have what I really need in these conditions.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

I arrived at the bottle exchange on loop 2 and pulled over to see what was available. Luckily they had a bottle of Heed so I dropped my 2 empty bottles in exchange for 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle of Heed. The problem was that the replacement bottles were tall, but instead of taking the time to dump the contents into my existing (smaller) bottles I worked one into the bottle holder on my tiny frame and placed the water into my cage between my aerobars. This went smoothly and off I pedaled. Not even 1/4 mile down the road I hit a bump and the bottle between my bars launched – it was too tall to properly sit in there. I stopped and turned around to retrieve it thinking it was not a good idea to go without. As I picked it up off the side of the road the water was gushing out of it – the bottle had cracked and was useless. Oh well – I wasn’t going to go back to the water exchange – I could make it to the next exchange with the bottle of Heed. I saw more of these bottles on the road along the way – I think other riders had the same fate.

Finishing loop 2 I swapped the empty Heed bottle for 1 bottle of water. No point in trying to place another one between my bars and this also wasn’t the place to stop and mix a drink as I was about to climb the toughest section for the last time (yay!). Although a snafu with my Garmin didn’t allow me to track each loop of the bike, I am sure this final loop was my slowest. But I was still holding the lead and was now determined to make it through the 84 mile ride in first place. I was very happy to get to that last aid station so I could grab a new bottle and mix what I now believe was my secret weapon in beating the heat at this race. I pulled over for a bottle and ripped open my tube of Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration Mix and it was like an egg timer slowly emptying into my bottle. I was at that anxious point of the race feeling like there would be someone coming up right behind me so I impatiently forced about 3/4 of the package into my bottle and was on my way! The plan was to drink that whole bottle down before I finished the bike.
skratchNormally I consume 100-150 calories per hour on the bike but with a race of this length I decided I should aim for higher. I decided on 200-250 calories per hour on the bike. I wasn’t sure how this would work for me because I have a hard time taking in calories in that kind of heat but I stuck to the plan and I’m glad I did.

I was so excited to see that aid station one last time as I turned into the park to transition to the run under my goal time for the bike. The transition was smooth and I grabbed my hand-held bottle of the Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration mix that I had prepared anticipating a great need for it during the run. I was really excited to be off the bike and moving onto my strength. That excitement disappeared super-quick as soon as I made my way through the torturous gazebo and out onto the loop. The gazebo is agonizing because you pass through it every loop while the racers from the 2 other distances are enjoying the post-race party. It is great to have a cheering section but when you have to go back out there and run that loop, and then again, and then again…it is tough!

Back to my legs – they were feeling nothing short of tanked. I felt really good about my bike and now I was experiencing the fallout from the effort and distance that I was not trained for. I couldn’t prevent the negative talk from creeping in. If I felt this bad during mile 1 of this 15 mile run, I could very easily destroy my whole race. I stuck with the plan of power-hiking the steep climbs. I mean, that’s all I could do at this point. Minus the “power” part. Seeing that first aid station was like a desert oasis – I was stumbling in, trying to take in a gel, and unable to answer the extremely helpful volunteers who were offering me drinks. I took a few seconds to drink a full cup of water and then dump a full one over my head. I did this at every single stop (3 per loop) through the rest of the race while also nursing the bottle of Skratch.

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

Photo credit: Martin Weiner

After leaving that first aid station I started to perk up and by mile 3 I was finally starting to come around. Yes! I’m back! Finishing that first loop I looked at the race clock and felt confident enough to change my race goal to 8:15. If I could continue the next 2 loops at the effort I finally found at the end of the 1st one, I could do this! And that’s exactly how it went. At each aid station I took the time to get what I needed to keep me going. During both the 2nd and 3rd loops Jared told me my lead was 25 minutes. Although I wasn’t running strong by any means I now knew that I could back off even more. I had the 50-miler in 2 weeks to think about. And think about it I did. If I am feeling like this at Cayuga, will I back off and just finish? NO! I will power through and finish as strong as my body will allow. So that’s what I did. Around mile 3 you have the long steady downhill on carriage roads and I ran that section conservatively throughout the race to save my quads. Now I picked it up – time to leave it out there and get that time goal. When I came around the corner with the gazebo in sight I saw 8:14 on the race clock. Yes!

I set my goals for this race based off the winning performances from past races. I set slightly higher run goals and gave myself a little cushion on the bike since I didn’t feel like I would have a strong day. It feels good to meet all of your goals:

Goal Actual
sub- :45 1st run 39:18
sub- 5:15 bike 5:08:28
sub- 2:30 2nd run 2:25:19
sub- 8:30 8:15 Overall 8:14:27

As far as I could look back at results, the 2nd fastest time for this race was 8:34:55 in 2006. I have no idea if this race course has changed over the years. Do I have a course record? I don’t know. I am extremely happy with this race because I executed my race plan and I conquered the heat. 2 big wins! And now I feel like I have a great practice race under my belt for the main event – Powerman Zofingen – in September!

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this cool race video!

Congrats to everyone who endured that heat on a tough course!