It has always struck me how prominent the number 3 is in American Zofingen: 3 bike laps and 3 run laps (first one is warm up and doesn’t count). But it goes much deeper than that. For example, on the descent from Minnewaska, there are three primary pitches, each ending with a slight uphill that act as runaway bike ramps to check your speed. On the run loop, there are three primary hills, three aid station stops, and obviously three stretches of trail between each aid station. The bike course also has three aid stations. But wait, it gets better. The second big hill on the run can be divided into three segments broken by two fallen trees you need to run around. And the third killer hill also has three pitches: the first short one leading up to the rock garden turn, a second one that ends with a little respite, and then the final massive pitch up to the climbing cliffs on the left. These are the kinds of things that occupy my mind while racing for eight hours. At least when I’m not focusing on the occasional pothole, bog, or slippery, downhill single track. It is the kind of thing that I think about to distract myself from the suffering, of which there was plenty on Sunday.
The suffering this year began and ended with the weather. On Saturday evening, the forecast was for a mostly dry but cool day, with passing showers starting in the PM, by which time I’d be off the bike. Sunday morning, the forecast I saw changed to AM rain ending by 10AM or so, which is still pretty manageable. The reality was that I don’t think it got warmer than 55, at least not while I was on the bike, and it rained almost constantly. I decided to mirror what I wore two years ago: tri top, arm warmers, and a thin, tight, LS top.
My goal for this race was to beat my PR of 8:11, set back in 2008 when American Zofingen was still run in the Fall. I knew that was a stretch, but I printed out the necessary splits and taped them to my stem. My best Spring results were from 2010, when I ran 8:20 in near perfect weather. I ran 8:32 in 2011, in conditions that were probably worse than this year.. Last year we won’t talk about, but I got the race I deserved, given I didn’t even get on a bike between August and February and didn’t do much running between October and January.
My training was as good or better than it has been for any Spring American Zofingen. I made all the usual trips to and over App Gap, but also ran more than usual, with five 20+ mile runs, all of which had some very significant hills and trails. I also spent a morning running and riding laps up Mt. Philo, which is the local quad buster. So I felt I was in pretty good shape.
The race started off with a bunch of guys going off much faster than they should. My plan for this first lap was to push it a little more than I have in the past, but to keep things well under control. A bunch of people went out very fast, but I just watched them take off and out of sight over the first rise. I’d catch some of them and some of them I wouldn’t – I was running my race. I ended up running 41:44, which was 44 seconds behind my plan and very close to my time for the first run in 2008 and 2010. The course was much improved over past years, with miles of new gravel down on the carriage roads, and during this first lap the mud had not yet been churned into the greasy slime it would soon become.
T1 was smooth and uneventful, at 1 minute. Well, except for that dumb decision to leave the long-sleeve on the ground next to my running shoes. I’d miss it later and headed out on the bike with only a tri top and arm warmers.
I think there were about 6-7 of us who left T1 close together. Part of me wanted to get to the front of this group before we crested Mohonk, and I tested the waters for a little while but didn’t seem to make much progress, so I settled down into a steady pace, cresting the climb towards the back. I passed a few guys before and after the first nasty left turn, but then we all got caught up behind some cars. Nothing to do but sit up and ride the brakes. The first lap was pretty uneventful. One guy (not sure who, but he had lost his glasses on the dirt road and had two tubies strapped to a rear rack next to his bottles) and I played tag till the climb up Minnie, where I let him go. The first descent of Minnie wasn’t too bad. I’m pretty comfortable on this descent and stayed aero the whole way. I hit one good pothole on the third, steepest pitch and made sure I took it wide on the 2nd and 3rd laps down that stretch. Generally, the road was in pretty good shape. At the end of the first lap, I was right where I wanted to be, with a lap of about 1:40. I was cold on this first lap and would have liked another layer, but it didn’t feel necessary, yet.
I felt pretty good the second time up Mohonk and was able to open it up on the way down. I was having a hard time seeing, since the rain stung my eyes if I looked over the top of my glasses but looking through them was pretty pointless. But I knew the road surface was pretty good so I just pointed the bike down and hoped no deer shot out in front of me. I was getting cold, but that descent is over before you know it. The same isn’t true of the descent down Minnie. The second time down I was getting cold, but I didn’t start to shiver till I took the sharp turn by the aid station. That was when I really started to get cold and my shivering was starting to impact my steering. As soon as I could, I downed a Hammer gel, and shot or two if Infinit Napalm, and a couple swigs of Infinit LD formula and some Heed. That helped, but I didn’t really start to warm up till the final climb up Mohonk.
I think my time for the second lap was around 1:44 or 1:45, which was now about 5 minutes off of my goal 8:10 pace. Maybe I’d make it up on the run. I didn’t think I’d make it up on the next bike loop.
The final lap felt better than the second lap. I had picked up some more Infinit LD formula at Special Needs. I also polished off my Napalm, two gels, one before finishing the Minnie climb (in hopes of warding off the shivers on the way down) and one towards the end of the loop to give me a boost on the run. Maybe things warmed up or maybe the fuel helped, but although I was cold, I never shivered and it definitely felt manageable. I came up on a few GCG riders on this loop. You could tell because of all the mud on their legs and backside.
Total bike time was 5:11:42, which was 12 minutes behind my 8:10 pace. No problem, I knew 8:10 was a long stretch for me even in great weather conditions.
T2 was slow. I put on dry shoes, put a few Hammer gels in my pockets, grabbed another flask of Napalm, and headed up to the Gazebo.
This is where I need to make an apology. Somebody followed me out of T2 and it is to you I must apologize. (I’m the old geezer wearing the green and yellow GMBC top and black DeSoto shorts.) It wasn’t long after the Gazebo that I needed to release some gas. OK, maybe lots of gas. The footsteps I heard behind me soon faded. I’m not sorry for the chemical warfare, afterall I don’t believe there is anything in the rules about dispersing gas, but I do apologize for not looking back to even see if you were OK.
After leaving this poor gentleman behind in a haze, I started to get into a rhythm. I one of those nuts who don’t believe in walking anywhere on the American Zofingen course. Not that I’m a whole lot faster than those walking, but no matter how short my strides, I just feel better if I keep up that running rhythm. I think it also makes the transition to downhill stretches much easier.
I won’t go into much detail about the run. (Actually, I don’t remember much!) I passed a bunch of people on the first lap, probably some GCG people in that mix, fewer on the second lap, and pretty much ran by myself on the last lap. (Which was nowhere near as pleasant as last year when I ran much of the time with Christine and I think Colin Martin.) The volunteers out at the mid-course aid station were great (they all were) and at one point put me back on course with a “Sir, I think you are supposed to go this way”, since I took that first turn by the aid station wide and missed the sharp left. Thanks, but “sir”?
Final laps were 47:40 (1: 20 better than planned), 49:12 (right on plan), and 52:16 (3+ min over plan). My finishing time was 8:25:37 and I have absolutely no complaints about that.
Next year I age up! 55 to 59′ers look out!
I hit the road as soon as I was able for the 4+ hour ride home and pulled into the driveway almost 20 hours after leaving, with equal amounts of time racing and driving.