Originally published at: https://www.endurancelab.fit/american-zofingen-2019-race-report/
I thought I was going to die, and I still had over three miles left to run. Twenty-seven minutes later, I stepped across the finish line, still wondering if I had actually died but forgotten to tell my body. It was absolutely brutal….and I loved every minute of it.
Hear all about the race at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEwNMnSx95M or wherever you get your favorite podcast. Search for The Endurance Lab on iTunes or Anchor
How it unfolded. Let’s back this up a couple of months. It’s early March. I had no planned races for the year. My work schedule called for a good bit of travel in April and early May. I knew that I would also move again over the summer, so we couldn’t plan any race after May. Then, suddenly, a very generous guy offered up his slot to the American Zofingen Duathlon to a member of the military.
It turns out that the person could not make the race, and the race director, the amazing Tom Ganz, allowed him to do transfer the slot. After a couple of days seeing it on the Slowtwitch forum, I talked about it with the wife and bit. The slot was mine. I should have looked at the course before making that decision, but frankly, I simply saw “no swimming” and jumped. Ha!
After getting the confirmation from Tom of my slot in the middle-distance race, I began looking at the course. Yeah, it was pretty straight forward. Run 5 miles, bike about 29, run 5, bike about 29, run 5. No sweat. Then, I got to the elevation profile. Now, I have always heard that AmZof is a very challenging course, and all of the rumors are true. Each run leg has roughly 830 feet of elevation gain, and each bike leg was about 3100 feet. Super.
Anyway, the seven weeks of training time came and went rather quickly, and it was race day morning. The wife and I arrived about an hour or so before the start of the long course, which started 30 minutes before mine. Honestly, it was the most chill pre-race environment I have ever witnessed. Nobody was high-strung. People weren’t fretting about. Nope, light conversation and joking between those who have done the event multiple times and consider themselves family was what we mostly heard.
Race morning. Finally, it was time to go. The gun went off, and one guy took off like a rocket. I elected to stay with at the front of a chase pack and not blow up in the first mile. Unfortunately, rocket man never blew up, and we never saw him again. That’s ok, it was going to be a long day.
I made it through the first mud section no problem and was well-situated going into section two. As we hit it, the runner in front of me stepped in a sloppy part and came right out of his shoe! I thought to myself, “Man, that really sucks. Glad it wasn’t me.” Exiting the second mud hole, I moved into second place and opened a gap. Then, I went through mud hole number three, and, yep, you guessed it, I ran right out of my shoe. After sliding my mud-coated sock into my shoe, I got back at it and began to ascend the first of four hills on the run.
Holy cow. The hill went straight up and seemed to last forever. My heart rate jumped to 181 BPM while only running a 13-minute mile pace. Oof, it hurt, and I still had three more to get over. No worries, lap one actually seemed ok. I rolled into T1 in third place and quickly got out on my bike to start the 1.6-mile climb, the first of three long climbs on the route.
Onto the bike. Since I had had the opportunity to look at the elevation profile before leaving DC for New York, I swapped out my rear cassette for a salad plate. Ok, it wasn’t a salad plate, but I put on an 11-32. Oh yeah, I had plenty of gears for climbing. Thus, I calmly spun up the first long climb, longing to crest it and begin the plunge down the back side.
Once I crested, I shifted back to the big ring and got up to speed, preparing for the wild ride. After making it through the first few turns, I hit the mostly-straight section of the downhill and got as aero as possible. I briefly looked down to see my computer reading 50 MPH, which honestly left me a little disappointed. I must have bled off too much speed in the last turn. Next time!
The next section of the course passed in a blur, as all I could think about was the 8-mile climb that I faced. It wasn’t a very hard climb, but it was long. What made it worse was that I got passed on the climb. Man was I perturbed about it. But, I settled down and kept focusing on riding my race. In the end, I gave up about a minute on the climb but took all but 15 seconds back on the remainder of the first bike leg.
Another run. Rolling into T2, I had to pee. Normally, I would just pee myself on the bike, but I figured that it was early enough in the race that I would hit the port-a-potty quickly before heading out on the second run lap. I had already pulled back third place to only a few seconds, so I figured I could give up another 30 seconds because I had taken a minute out of him on lap 1. After the quick natural break, I went to work chasing down my prey.
Thankfully, I made it through the mud holes without losing any shoes on lap 2 and had my target in my sights, as I started the first climb. I made contact with him as we crested the hill and had a nice little chat running down the hill to the next climb. Accelerating into the second climb, I soon found myself running alone again, somewhat preying that a bear would jump out and eat me. Lap 2 did not feel as good as lap 1, and now I had to keep putting distance on my chaser.
One more bike. I made it into T3 with a pretty hefty gap in front of and behind me. I felt so alone. Ok, I didn’t really feel much at that point. I simply put my brain and my legs on auto-pilot. Get up the hill, and bomb down it. I tried to only think of that mission. Unlike on lap 1, I knew where I could take some risks at the top of the descent, so I began bombing down the hill like a crazy person.
By the time I hit the fast section, I was moving. I got as small as possible and felt the speed picking up. I didn’t bother to look that time but later saw that I had hit 53 MPH. It felt great. In fact, most of lap 2 felt great until I got passed again at the same point of the big climb. This time, though, it was a rider from the long course and not my race. Still, I was perturbed. And, like on lap 1, I pulled back some time until we started to near the last 1.5-mile climb back into transition. That’s when I noticed the warning light on my Di2 shifter.
Houston, we have a problem. With a few miles to go, I looked down and saw a low-battery light on the junction box on top of the front derailleur. That gave me cause for concern, as I still had some flat/downhill before the last climb. I didn’t want to give up the free speed by not pedaling a big enough gear, but I also didn’t want to be caught in a big gear on the last climb. That would kill my legs for the run, as if they already weren’t dead.
At about this time, I passed the guy who had been in second place all day. The poor guy had a flat with about three miles to go and decided to ride it in. So, I did what I could, sometimes pedaling upwards of 120 RPM, but I made it through to the climb and into T4 only a few seconds behind the guy who had passed me.
The final trudge. Like on the previous lap, I caught the “offender” at the top of the first climb. That’s when I found out that he was not in my race. I bid him good luck, and continued on my merry way. Well, ok, I lumbered down the trail to the next climb, which I subsequently walked up. Over the next four miles, I walked up every climb and ran as fast as I could manage downhill, which wasn’t all that fast. I kept telling myself that I needed to keep pushing because third place was catching up. I really wanted to hold second place overall, and I hate getting passed on the run.
The run seemed to take forever, but I finally emerged from the woods into the clearing where the finish line was located. Completely fried, I crossed the finish and bent over. It was all I could do to stay on my feet. I was ecstatic with a second place finish, but I was even happier with how much I was able to bury myself.
That only became truly evident two days later, as I discussed the battery light with some ODZ teammates. Nobody had ever heard of such an indicator, so I went to go snap a picture to prove them wrong. Yeah, turns out that I was hallucinating a bit when I saw that indicator. Well, it wasn’t a true hallucination. There is a sticker where I saw the light, and it is red. However, it’s just a warning sticker to not open that part of the derailleur. So, I’m an idiot. No biggee, but I found it interesting that my brain registered the warning light in its completely fried state. Maybe that was just an indicator of the upcoming run leg!
Overall, I have nothing but great things to say about the American Zofingen Duathlon. The race crew and volunteers were absolutely amazing. The course is one of the most challenging I have done. And the other competitors? Well, they treat you like family. Sure, they’re trying to kill you during the race, but that doesn’t start until the gun goes off and ends immediately upon crossing the finish line. Will I go back? I hope that I can. Tom Ganz has generously offered to donate a fe more slots to military personnel, so I am going to encourage those that I know to do the race…if they are tough enough.