I first heard about the American Zofingen (AmZof) Duathlon last year when John Hirsch and Christine Lynch tweeted about their podium finishes. I was intrigued by the location because it takes place in the Mohonk Preserve in Upstate New York. As a family, we’ve been hiking in that preserve for many years and the scenery is simply spectacular. However, the picturesque views come at the cost of thousands of feet of elevation gain.
The second part of this race that grabbed me was the distance. I participated in only one other duathlon, the Carl Hart Mother’s Day Duathlon in Heckshire State Park, NY. That was a very successful race for me and resulted in my first age-group win. But, it was a sprint distance and I finished in less than an hour. AmZof has three distances available; short course (5-28-5), middle distance F1 style (5-28-5-28-5) and long course (5-84-15). I figured if I was going to do this race, I might as well torture myself and go long!
This race is all about the hills. For the 84 miles of cycling, we would have to climb just over 11,000 feet of elevation. For the 20 miles of running, an additional 4,000 feet. To put it in perspective, on the bike, I will have to climb double the hills of Lake Placid, in 30 less miles! I had to get in to this race!
Late last year, I tried to gain entry for the 2014 race and could not because it was sold out. This is a very small event and slots are limited. I added my name to the waiting list back in November of 2013. About 6 weeks ago, after I resigned to the fact I was not going to get in, I received an email saying I had a slot if I wanted it. With a quick approval from both coach and team manager (Tara), I registered.
One tricky part about the race was the timing. Although it is fairly early in the season, I was confident I had the fitness needed, but being two weeks before Rev3 Quassy was going to make recovery difficult. I went in knowing I had to play it conservatively and not kill myself. The course would handle that part.
Despite the difficulty of the course, AmZof is a very low key race. The transition area is in a field with a nice-sized gazebo. Interestingly, on the second run segment, with each loop, you run THROUGH the gazebo, the spectators, the BBQ, the beer and the timing table.
The long course race started at 7:00 am with a bagpipe “Star Spangled Banner” and a verbal 3-2-1 Go! About fifty athletes, myself included, headed into the woods for our first 5 mile loop. As it turns out, someone decided to play a joke the night before and changed one of the directional arrows to point us in the wrong direction. After about 2 miles of running, someone at the front of the group recognized the error and the entire pack began to backtrack. The snafu added an additional 2.5 miles to everyone’s first run.
I was in the middle of the pack when I began conversing with Jeff. He mentioned that he was an ultra marathon runner and had completed several 50 mile trail runs. I figured Jeff would be the perfect pacer for me, so I stayed on his heels for the entire loop. The loop is made up of both very technical single-track trails and gravel topped carriage trails. For the most part, the steep uphills were all single-track and the gentle downhills were on the carriage trails.
By staying on Jeff’s heels, I stayed at a nice comfortable pace, barely going anaerobic even on the steepest uphills. My form was great, legs felt strong and heart rate was exactly where I wanted it to be. I don’t think I could have executed this run any better. Going into T1, I was feeling awesome. Time: 1:09:30
The bike course is a 28 mile loop with 2 major climbs. Getting from transition to the course entailed riding on a dirt road for about a half mile. Once on the paved road, we immediately pointed our bikes uphill for the steepest climb of the loop. The point of entry was approximately 1 mile into a 2 mile climb, so the first time, this climb didn’t feel so bad. After cresting the hill, we had a nice descent and then some sporadic hills before we hit the base of the Gunks.
The Gunks are one of the most popular rock climbing spots on the east coast. The course took us along a 7 mile climb to the top. I settled in for a long climb and kept my effort in check. I knew that I had to do the loop 3 times, so I made sure I saved some effort for later in the day. The first time up to the Gunks was very comfortable and I felt good. I descended confidently and aggressively, but safely and hit a top speed of 43 MPH.
The second loop went just like the first until about mile 20. I started to feel some cramps in my legs during the descent. By the time I hit mile 20, both my quads were seized up and in excruciating pain. If I stopped spinning, they locked up tighter. Easy spinning wasn’t an option either because I had to apply torque to the pedals just to keep the bike upright. I was determined to keep going, thinking if I just ignored the cramps, they would eventually go away.
I rode the entire third loop with both quads cramping, making tough climbs even tougher. At times, I pulled on my shifter with tremendous force, hoping that somehow there was another gear available and I just wasn’t able to shift to it. No such luck. My 53/39, 12-28 combo should have been fine, but with both quads cramped, I prayed for a granny gear that I didn’t have. The mile markers seemed further apart this time around. At some point, I began to think that a nice 15 mile run in the woods would be a welcome relief, so I simply focused on that.
Bike Fueling and Hydration
In order to manage fueling, my Garmin was set to alert me every 15 minutes. I had a Generation Ucann and protein powder mix in one bottle, quartered Amrita Bars in the bento box and Nuun Electrolyte Tabs in my aero bottle. I knew adhering to my fueling plan would be the difference between finishing strong and a DNF. I stuck to the plan and was assisted by Tara (the ultimate sherpa wife), when she managed my special needs items at the aid station near transition.
I made it through the third loop and back to transition where Tara was waiting at the bike rack (I did mention this race was low key). My plan was to complete the bike in five hours. I was perfectly on pace sans the last loop where I lost about 20 minutes. Time: 5:25:46
After that third bike loop, anything out of the saddle was a welcomed change. My plan of attack was to walk the steep uphill single tracks and run everything else. I continued to fuel with Amrita Bars and my honey/water solution. I focused on maintaining good form and keeping my effort in check. I still had almost 3 hours to go and did not want to blow myself up.
At the start of this run segment, I had been racing for over 6 hours. This was uncharted territory for me. My longest race (time wise) prior to this was a 70.3 in 2012 that took me just shy of 6 hours. My body was holding up well and the plan I was executing was working. My first loop was finished in 57 minutes. The second in 56 and the final in 59.
Run Fueling and Hydration
The only issue I faced was after 8 hours of racing, I experienced “taste fatigue” and just couldn’t eat another Amrita Bar. For fueling purposes, the bars worked perfectly. No GI issues whatsoever and I wasn’t even close to a bonk. Even with a few varied flavors, I just couldn’t do it anymore. That’s when I came to the final aid station with about a mile and a half to the finish. I walked to the table to get some water and noticed a plate of Oreo cookies. I grabbed 2 and set out for the final stretch. I popped an Oreo in my mouth and immediately became blissful. In all my 40 years, I have NEVER tasted anything as good as those 2 Oreos!
I was energized for the final mile and feeling awesome. When I made the final turn out of the woods onto the grassy field, I could see the gazebo and smell the BBQ. My suffering would be over in just a few more strides. I climbed the stairs into the gazebo, crossed the timing mat and asked the guy at the clock, “I can stop now, correct?” He said, “Yup, you’re done.”
Finish Time: 9:31:35
I finished 19th overall and 3rd in my age group. So far, I have participated in two duathlons and had podium finishes in both. Maybe I should just become a duathlon specialist?
This event tested me more than any other I have ever done. It is hard. Very hard. But I highly recommend it to everyone in the multi-sport world. If you asked me on the ride home if I would do this next year, my response would have been something like, “Hell No!” But as I write this, I am thinking about how I can better conquer this beast next year. I am sure I will be there, it just draws you in.
Next up, Rev3 Quassy on June 1st. Keep the rubber side down!
What’s the most difficult race you’ve done and what’s next on your schedule? Join the discussion below.