This past Sunday, I finished the American Zofingen Ultra-Distance Duathlon in New Paltz, New York. Honestly, I didn’t talk much about this race in the weeks leading up to it. A lot of friends didn’t even know I was doing it. I was fearful of jinxing myself. This one scared me. After a year of less than stellar performances, I was merely focused on a finish, but even that wasn’t guaranteed. I remember looking at the course profile when I first read about the race in July. At the time, I was coming off a self-imposed break from training and racing. There was a diagnosis with some long words and a few doctor visits, but in the end, it was simply “burn out.” Before I even recovered, I needed to find a comeback race. The only criteria was that it had to be new and it had to be epic.
Something about this potentially punishing event appealed to me, like most punishing events do. I signed up. Then, I second guessed myself. Then, I came around again. So, mid-summer,I stepped up my bicycle commuting, which is really the only time I ride during the week. I did the Hampshire 100 mountain bike race in August, and I did the Vermont 50 two weeks ago. I figured that those two rides would help build some bike endurance. I also ran a few trail races, most recently at Breakneck eight days ago. Unfortunately, I never got in the serious road bike training that I thought I would need.
This race is modeled after the Powerman Zofingen, the world’s most well known duathlon. This quote is straight from the American Zofingen website and it couldn’t be said better:
American Zofingen has been created to fill the glaring void in the US duathlon race calendar, i.e. the lack of an ultra distance duathlon a la Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland. Mark Allen, 6 time victor of Ironman Hawaii, has been quoted as saying the hardest race he’s ever done is Powerman Zofingen. Powerman Zofingen’s severity is due more to its terrain (mountainous road bike course, hilly trail runs) than its formidable length (10K run / 150K bike / 30K run). American Zofingen, although slightly shorter, is arguably harder. New Paltz, as a venue, offers stunning scenery and a grueling challenge. Late October in the Hudson Valley is a wondrous time of flaming foliage, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hot cider, headless horsemen and, now, one of the toughest duathlons on the planet. If you want to know if you are ready for the one and only Powerman Zofingen World Championship in Switzerland, come join us.
So, I joined 54 other athletes to challenge the course and each other. This was the third time the race had been run and probably the best weather conditions that New Paltz has ever seen. It was spectacular. The sky could not have been a more beautiful shade of blue. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and the temperature was just right. The 54 starters yielded 45 finishers, a high attrition rate. This race is not for the meek. There is a shorter version option, but I was committed to the long course.
We started with a 5 mile trail run, then transitioned to an 84 mile road bike leg, then transtiioned to a 15 mile trail run. The runs were all on the same 5 mile loop. There was some single track, but nothing like Breakneck or some of the other New England races. It was a “duathlete’s” trail running course, not a trail runner’s running course. That means that some of the guys wore racing “flats” which always makes me chuckle, because I’m not fast enough to where racing flats. There were a lot of dirt roads, and it seemed as if that is where we did all of the descending. The bike leg was three laps of a 28 mile loop. It was insane with loads of climbing. I was thinking that it wouldn’t have been so bad if you had a group to ride with. Then I realized, there would be no group on this course. The hills would shatter a peloton. By design the time trial leg of ultra-distance duathlons and triathlons is every man/every woman for his-self/herself.
The Shawangunk Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range and are known for their sheer cliffs, a rock climber’s dream, but a cyclist’s nightmare! The start/finish/transition and runs were in the Mohonk Preserve, a beautiful spot nestled in the ridge. After leaving the transition area in the Preserve, the bike course ascended Mohonk Road towards the Mohonk Gatehouse, and then descended to the valley. Then, after traversing some rolling valley roads, the course ascended a pass that seemed to climb straight through the “Gunks.” This was by Minnewaska State Park Preserve. There was another big descent, then as you made your way around the back side of the course where there were some quiet rolling roads. Then, came the big climb up to the Mountain House entrance again. It was sick.
#1 (5 Mile Run Leg)
I fared OK on the first loop. If anything, I went out too fast. I probably should have just taken it easy.
#2 (84 Mile Bike Leg)
As mentioned, this was sheer suffering. On lap one, I was blown away by the beauty of the course and the incredible fall foliage. The trees were on fire. The morning sunlight was as good as it gets and numerous times, I wished I had a camera. It was hard to focus and keep my position on my time trial bars. I ate and drank as much as I could on the first lap knowing that I was going to be depleted when it would be harder to eat later in the race. If lap one was about getting settled in my bike position and enjoying the surroundings for the first time, then lap two was about the sheer terror and realization that I was going to have to do this again. This is when I started to fade. One cyclist after another started to pick me off as I slowly lost ground after building a nice position on the first run. Lap three was a death march. I was good on the climbs (not great), but had no power on the flats. I was even slow on the descents. By this time, my back was aching. My commuter bike does not have time trail bars on it and 45 minutes in the saddle doesn’t prepare your for five hours in the saddle! That isn’t an excuse, but this is where duathlon or triathlon specific training starts to pay off. The other painful part of the last lap was the traffic. By noon, everyone in New York State, including the eight million plus residents of New York City, had heard about the great Columbus Day Weekend weather that New Paltz was getting. At least half of them must have decided to jump in their cars, or on their motorcycles (Harley Davidson’s to be specific) and drive up to the Gunks. The last lap descent of Mountain Rest Road was downright scary with several motorists who had never seen bicycles go downhill at 50 miles per hour. I hit 47 (according to my GPS), and I was tapping the brakes because of the crazy motorists all around me.
Even worse was the climb up to Minnewaska. There was a sign warning of “congestion,” but I was unprepared for the three mile backup. We were forced to ride in the gutter breathing exhaust fumes, because there was no shoulder. Riding past the 40 motorcycles, in a row, was the low point. They have no catalytic converters, no mufflers, and little respect. Anyway, these aren’t really complaints, just observations. Once you got past the State Park, you had most of the road to yourself. Someone had spray painted the mile markers on the road in red paint. I kept glancing down (regretfully) and cursed every time I saw one. I tried to rationalize why I was doing this, then forced myself to refocus and pedal. That last lap was ugly.
#3 (15 Mile Run Leg)
Evidence of the pain I endured on the last lap of the bike leg, was my five minute transition between the bike leg and the final run leg. For comparison purposes, the winner, Alex Lamberix, spent 54 seconds in transition. In addition to changing my shoes, I chose to sit down, eat an energy bar, drink a bottle of water, wash my face, etc. I would have taken a back rub it had been offered. If I had stayed any longer, I would have risked cramping in that spot. Eventually, I pulled myself up and shoved off for the final part of this journey. Debbie and Shepard, who had been following me throughout the race, were there for support and to capture images.
After such a great first run leg, I was stunned to discover on the first lap of the second run that I “was stuck in one gear.” At least, that is what I recall saying to Deb when I spotted her out on the course. I ran the flats, uphills, and descents all at the same speed. It was neither fast, nor slow. Just medium. I had no jump and no turnover. I trudged on. Each lap got slower, but I hung in there. There was a great battle shaping up in the women’s race, and I was in the middle of it. The second and third place women (Tamela Lynch and Kat Fiske) were on their first lap when I was on my second. We heard that the first woman wasn’t far ahead of them. They caught me and we ran together for quite some time. I would lead the ups and they would lead the downs. Eventually, Tamela separated herself from Kat. She ran with me for a bit longer, then took off in hot pursuit of the first place woman. She ended up catching her, but after the huge effort, wasn’t able to stay ahead. They are all champs in my mind and I was happy to participate.
So, the women’s race was won in 9:14:05, by Mimi Boyle of Greenwich, Connecticut. She was followed by Tamela Lynch of Littleton, New Hampshire and Kat Fiske of Landaff, New Hampshire. The men’s race winner and new course record holder (6:53:48), as mentioned, was Alex Lamberix of Fiesch, Holland (Netherlands). He was followed by Casey Williams of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania and Jonas Baumann of Muhen, Switzerland.
It is worth noting that the race organization, aid stations, volunteers, and post-race meal were all excellent. Neutral aid was provided on both the run and bike courses. For the most part, the major intersections were manned with course marshals and police officers. We really felt welcome in New Paltz.
I finished in 8:28:02. After the race, I compared it with some of my past feats. I don’t think too many future events will be as hard as the now defunct, three-day Jay Challenge. It was nearly as hard as the Sea to Summit (New Hampshire version). It was harder than just about all of the other races that I’ve done. My GPS captured the hard facts. That number is nearly 700 now. I would imagine that if I really decide to go for an Ironman Triathlon, that it will be comparable given the trails and the hills.
Eight and a half hours is a long time to be out there and the finish brought me to tears. It was a combination of things. I was happy to cease the suffering, tired from a long week, and joyful that it I made it all the way.
I’ll post some more images when they are available.