Kevin Krol tackled the American Zofingen… last month

Again, apologies for the tardy posting of this incredible race report!

Kevin Krol has trekked over to New York for four years now to take on one of the world’s toughest duathlons.  The American Zofingen is the United States’ answer to the Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland, which is the race that Mark Allen– six time Ironman world champ– called the hardest race he’s ever done.  Several of the Swiss athletes participated in this year’s American version, and pronounced it just as hard.

This year, Kevin took home a PR and fifth in his age group.

The race is long, with a 10k run/150k bike/30k run format, but the real challenge comes from the terrain.  The looping course is filled with long steep hills that offer no respite.  Kevin wrote a report that will make most sane people flee, but will probably end up enticing endurance athletes to give it a serious look.  Read on!

Here’s Kevin’s full report.  It’s long, but you really should read it… it’s worth it.

I had planned the second half of the season around this ultra distance duathlon, making my fourth trek out to New Paltz, NY. Previous race finishes included a 9:22 (10th overall in the inaugural race in 2005), 9:40 (2006) and 10:04 (2007). My real goal going in was not so much in finishing, but to finish where I thought I should – under 9 hours.
I felt my preparation for the bike was about as good as it could be (at least sheer volume, if not intensity), with 6 rides in excess of 135km (which is relative to the race distance of 85 miles), all but one involving plenty of climbing either down near Hinckley or in the Cuyahoga Valley. I also worked in two brick workouts of 7 hours and 8.5 hours with some trail running at the peak of my training. With regards to running, I did not know how my legs would respond – not only have I experienced severe muscle spasms in my quads at this race the previous two years, but my legs pretty much felt like crud all year. I was probably lacking a little in overall quantity of runs but I was hoping that backing off what had been hurting would leave me fresher for this race.

Annie and I arrived at the frat house in Kingston on Friday evening – just late enough that the only other guys staying there this weekend were two elite duathletes from Switzerland – Alex Lemberix and Jonas Baumann – were already out for the night, so we went in search of a few pints at the Keegan brewery. Man, I love that place!
Saturday morning started slowly. It was in the upper 30’s in Kingston where we were staying, so that was part of it. We ended up talking to Alex and Jonas for part of the morning before we finally decided we needed coffee and get on the bikes for a spin. We cruised around some country road for about 40 minutes and got to talking turkey with the Swiss guys about how bad ass they were. The race lost two prime US duathletes (Big John Phillips and defending AZ champ Josh Beck) due to crashes and fatigue, respectively, from the parent race of this du – Powerman Zofingen in Switzerland. Both Alex and Jonas had raced there about 6 weeks prior, so they didn’t think that they would be carrying too much form into this race. But both of these guys had finished in the top 12 at Powerman Zofingen before, so there would be no shortage of guys absolutely hammering a course that most of us are out there just to survive.

Race morning – low 40’s in Kingston, and 45 at the race site (which is technically just outside the town of High Falls). Crystal clear skies, some fog in the mountains to the north and west. Awesome scenery even at 6:15AM. A big question on everyone’s mind was how quick it would warm up and what the hell to wear. I think most of us went for du skinsuits or uni’s with a smattering of long sleeves or arm warmers. I threw my winter cap on and some gloves hating to feel chilled even in the first half mile. Good crowd this year too – I think there were about 50 people on the start line for the long distance race. Short course was to start at 8:30, so there were still people pulling their cars in to park when the start gun sounded for us at 7:30.

From the gun I had to keep reminding myself of what my strategy should be – BACK OFF!! In 2007, I ran a 41 minute split on this opening 5-mile run course, and I think it was my fastest lap ever. I figured I needed to slow it down to keep my legs in as good a shape for the second run as I could. The problem here is that 1) you are in the woods, so there are not any mile markers, and really no way to gauge your pace; 2) this opening run is the only part of the race that is unsupported (it is dark right up until start time so there is no easy way to get the aid station tables set up and manned that quickly). Well, opening 3/4 mile is rolling cross country, and everyone was still within shouting distance by the time we reached the plank crossing that signals the end of the fun and the start of pain. Immediately after gingerly crossing the wet boards you make a hairpin turn and start going uphill for a little less than half a mile. Immediately the guys up front are a minute ahead, and I’m kind of just managing myself, making a couple of bursts to pass people who had gone out faster and were feeling it already. Made it up to the first fire road in the top 15 for sure, and my legs were not feeling too bad. I didn’t feel like I had cooked myself on the first climb either. Race across the fire road for another half mile, then switchback to the second climb – another half mile or so up to where the first aid station will be, not too much passing going on at this point, but you can tell some of the people had not raced like this before – a boatload of climbing and some pretty rugged trails. Feeling somewhat gassed here, and hot as hell – off comes my winter cap. Double back on another fire road (all of these fire roads are generally flat with some downhill before the third climb) for another half mile to the third climb – up to the crag line, which is pretty awesome…..and really tiring. This is I think the steepest section of uphill during the run, and it figures it is after about 700 feet of climbing so far. I am feeling it, along with the half dozen other guys that were around me. Off come my gloves. No sweat the first mile and now everyone is pretty much drenched. Up the final kick-up at the top of the ridge and some guy – could not tell if he was French or Italian says to me “Maybe it was mistake not to do short course?!” LOL At least the climbing, in earnest is done. The next mile and a half are downhill (another fire road), so it’s just a matter of keeping your legs turning over. We speed thru the intersection where the aid station should be, wishing I could grab something, but already feeling I need a pit stop from all the stuff I have been drinking since I woke up. Get passed by one or two guys looking to get into transition in a higher place, and stave off the urge to go any faster. I make the turn off the fire road with about one mile to go and I can hear from the transition area 40 feet below us that the leaders are already in (about 33 mins or so). This gives me my first clue that I, have, in fact, not held ANYTHING back – if I keep at this pace I would be into transition in 40 mins or under. Past the gazebo below and up another hill, this one more gradual so it is easier to keep pace (even though I am not supposed to), and on the last bit of downhill before exiting the woods I finally decide to take a pee break. OK, that’ll help me hold back…for about 30 seconds. I get going just as Mr. Duathlon, Jeff Timm comes screaming by me, and I figure its not worth it to try to keep up with him, but of course I catch him on the run-in (last quarter mile or so is cross country, with one final kick up to rub salt in your wounds and remind you you have a —-load of climbing yet to do.

Zofingen bike profile (c) American Zofingen

Zofingen bike profile (c) American Zofingen

First transition is marked by my usual slowness – try to stretch my legs for a second, can’t seem to get my additional clothes on for the bike in the order I was thinking through 10 minutes earlier. I end up figuring that because the sun is popping up it will get warm in a hurry so I purposely under-dress.  Cycling shorts over the skinsuit, base layer t-shirt and cycling jersey on top, arm warmers and gloves.  Shove some extra food in my pockets and I am off on the bike course.

The first ¾ mile of the bike out of the park is parallel to the first ¾ mile of the run course, and just as hilly, and just as rugged (packed dirt/stone until you get to the ranger gate with a few hundred yards to the road.  From here, there is just a few hundred more yards until you get into the middle of the first climb (this one, Mohonk, is 2 miles from bottom to top, but transition sits about halfway up the mountain).  Since I’ve done this race 3 times already, and was able to ride the bike course this summer, I know exactly what I am in for.  For some reason though, I actually feel really good going up a 15% grade.  I want to get out of the saddle and attack the climb and catch some of the riders ahead of me, but I know I will pay for it, so I stay in the saddle and spin away at 6-7 mph.  I do catch 3 guys at the upper slopes and get over the summit listening to a couple of trail runners taking a break, cowbell in hand, at the overpass at the top.  Nice!   I think that is one of the only times during this race that there has ever been someone cheering me on at the top of this beast, other than this being a point on consecutive loops where people tend to drop out, and are riding back down on the other side of the road.   On the decent I am taking it easy – although I know the turns, the first time thru is always tentative.   One or two of the guys that I passed on the ascent come by me, in their aerobars.  I am doing about 38mph on the straight parts, and these guys are insane.  Especially the guy in the short sleeves and long tights.
Onto Butterville – only about 2 miles of road, and a slight false flat uphill, but generally one of the two easier spots on the course.   I start my personal grub down and the guy in short sleeves, who I am catching again, starts blowing chow ahead of me.   Only 50-some minutes into this buddy – you don’t want to have those kinds of issues right now.  The next 4-5 rolling miles go by fairly quickly, and before I realize, I am at the intersection that starts the second climb.  Minnewaska – 5 miles from the bottom, the first mile is a fairly steady grind, with a switchback about 2/3 of the way up.  I think it was here on the first lap when I was caught by two people – I wasn’t about to let them ride away from me but I also didn’t want to use up too many credits this early.  After hitting the first summit of this climb, the road rolls uphill for another 3.5 miles and I hit the summit of it feeling really good.  I try making sure I am keeping the nutrition coming, including more eCaps too.  I was on course to take about one per hour the first 4-5 hours.  I also start cranking on the rolling hills and catch the two people – including one girl – who went by me on the ascent.  As you get toward the “final” part of the climb, there is already some traffic starting to crowd the entrance to Minnewaska.  A few people have their windows down and are shouting encouragement or beeping horns.  I hit the long decent to the town of Granite and put some distance into the riders behind me.  This next section – which I call the backwoods – is a stretch of about 10km that is an ever so slight false flat downhill, but is also shielded from wind by all the trees.  In training here over the summer I was able to clock in the low-30mph range, so it also serves as a point where you can get some more food in and let your legs relax a little bit – before the end of the first lap, there is still more climbing to do.  The last 10km or so of the lap tick off again really easily, and I am back on the lower slope of Mohonk wondering if I am going to have a career day out here or what.  I felt that good and hit the bottle hand-up table at the entrance to the transition area at 1:40 for bike lap #1.

As good as I do feel, as I start the steeper part of Mohonk, I realize that I won’t be spinning up as easily as I did the first time.  I am still resolved to sit back on the climbs and try to push harder on the pedals on the rolling parts and downhills.  I have to admit that while I did not feel as loose as I did the first lap, I was in sort of a zone for most of the second lap.  Same runner guys at the top of Mohonk…..keep eating and drinking….toward Minnewaska I start to pick up riders at the tail end of the short course race.  I start to get kind of stoked that maybe my legs are going to hold up this year.  At the top of the climb the parking lot on the left side of the road’s “Million Dollar View” is on overflow and there are mountain bikers, hikers and climbers everywhere.  What I thought was strange was that not a lot of them have much to say.  Ever.  There are a few who will look at you and give you some encouragement but on the whole they don’t seem to recognize we are in the middle of a race.  At the very top of Minnewaska the cars are backed up for a half mile trying to turn into the park, and I end up getting a bunch of people cheering me on as I pass them.  Down the descent – since I’ve been down once already and it’s a much less technical downhill I start checking out the view.  You can see for 40 miles around, and the fall colors are as great as I have ever seen.  I feel like I am almost homefree.
Around that same time I am starting to get myself fired up about the second run.  You don’t know how badly I need some redemption.  I’m giving myself a pep talk and I was cursing out loud about how great I was well I was going to run.  Then I hit the rollers with 10km to go in the lap and I get out of the saddle on a steep 40-yard wall and I feel the muscle spasms creeping thru my quads.  Great.  What I had been thinking about for 12 months…..what I had been training to avoid….what I had been eating and drinking to vanquish.  They still come back.  Although no where near the intensity I have felt them in the past at this point, I know I am going to have to back waaaaay off on the last lap.   I spend the last two miles drowning those thoughts out, catching more guys finishing the bike of the short course.  There is no possibility of quitting, only managing.  I pass the bottle hand up with a lap time of 1:45, and Anne (helping at the aid station) runs along side for a minute handing me my drink and some HEED.  I don’t think I drank much of my last bottle of HEED, but have 3 large bottles in me as I start the last lap.

Grind it up Mohonk one last time.  I am out of the saddle much more than the first two.  I notice that part way up on the road, someone has spray painted “Is that all you got, fat ass???”  LOLLL    No runner guys at the top anymore.  Down the backside, I hit 45 mph and barely even touch the brakes.  I know I won’t be making up much time here, but I try to keep my legs loose.  I try slamming about a third of my HEED, because I know I am not drinking regularly now – my stomach is kinda full and I am thinking about another nature break.  I figured wait until the top of Minnewaska and get off the bike there, use the porta-johns behind the overpass that are pretty hard to see when you are on the road.   I again go into a bit of a trance, trying to make my mind overcome what my body will ultimately refuse to do.  I start thinking about the year – about the guys who are gone like Darryl Kollai and Perry Rendina.  Perry would have loved this race – even just getting out there and cheering people on.  He loved the suffering.    On the lower slope, I pass Mark Delucia, who says he is done and out of tubes.  I almost stopped to give him mine but I am still 20 miles from the finish.  Somehow everyone that drops out gets a ride from some helpful passer-by (or the Sag Wagon that drives the course a couple of times).  I manage to get up Minnewaska, but where before I had extra gears to spare, I now have none.   At the first summit my pee break is nixed by the fact that there is a frantic looking dad scurrying around with two kids and realize that it is going to be minutes before I get in, so I wheel back out, kind of ticked that I couldn’t just go behind a tree (too much traffic!).    I pass a girl walking her bike up one of the final hard sections – what lap is she on???   She is talking to some motorcyclists that have stopped on the other side of that road about the race distance.  I don’t even try to get out of my zone to find out if she is OK.  She sounds cheerful enough…..I figure maybe she will get back on at the top and cruise down the backside and get back to transition.  I go past the park entrance and there is no more traffic – all lots are full.  Down the final long decent to start the home stretch of the bike.
I am just looking forward to starting the run, even as I get into the backwoods section.  I start to get a little emotional because this will be the last time I see this place for another year.  As harshly as this course treats you, you still develop a respect and a kinship with it.  You are doing battle with the course, and while you are on it, it doesn’t matter who wins.
I pass two more short course athletes on the final run in to the finish line letting them know that they will be getting off their bikes in less than 10 minutes.  I feel pretty good about my ride but am disappointed in my last lap.  I had planned on pushing it into T2, but decided to save my legs as much as I could.  Final lap time was around 1:53.

I get into transition with a round of applause from the race announcer and the people already finished in the gazebo (this serves as the lap start finish as well as the official finish line.  Fairly quickly I get my extra clothing off, grab some shot blocks and eCaps hit the gazebo only to find that the case of Red Bull I had brought for the gazebo was already gone!!  Damn.  All the short course people must have downed it.   I grab for a bottle of Coke I stashed there just in case, and notice three kegs of beer near the soup station.  Man that is gonna taste good in a couple hours.  I hit the trail again thru the x-c section – boards over the wetlands are broken and extra slippery.  I hit the first hill, barely able to keep my legs turning over, but muscle thru the first section.  Not bad – if I can keep this up I will definintely be around 9 hours.  I got off the bike right around the 6 hour mark from the start gun (maybe a little longer), so that makes me think my bike split was around the 5:20 range.  I manage to slow down more on the next uphill section and come upon a family hiking for the day.  The parents move out of the way for me right away, but the kids are still in my way.  Just as I go to shift direction to pass them, I hear the dad say “they can’t hear you – they’re wearing headphones.”  DOH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Here is where real pain begins.  My quads lock up instantaneously, and I am trying to figure out what to do between grinding my teeth, cursing up a storm and trying to move….in any direction.  Absolute agony.  I kind of shuffle along for another few yards, trying to get the spasm to settle down.  Do I try walking backwards – will that help?  I know I gotta keep moving, but the body does not respond.  I shake the legs out.  I shuffle some more…..I finally get them settled enough to hike to the first aid station.  Spend a minute downing half a can of Red Bull, some HEED, some electrolyte tabs.  I think about taking a Red Bull with me, but I will be hitting this aid station again in 20 minutes.  Luckily I get thru the next mile of flat and downhill without any issues.  Finally I take my pee break!!!  I hike up to the crag line and am not beset by the leg spasms but feel them coming on again.  I hit the top trail and start running again, all the way to aid station #2,  Grab more Red Bull and I take one for the Gazebo.  I manage to run downhill all the way back to the final hill.  Hike up and over, more x-c to the gazebo and lap one is done in about 52 minutes.  I was actually pretty pleased with that split – if I can keep those under 60 minutes I have my shot at 9 hrs.

At the gazebo, the top guys have just come in, and race director John is whipping up the race announcer with stories about everyone coming thru.  He’s had a lot of beer at this point, after racing the short course.  He thinks I only have one lap to go.  LOL  Sorry guy.  I wish I was moving that well.  Lap #2 starts, and I am instantly around more people – I don’t know where anyone is on their laps, until I start hiking with a guy I catch up to.  We hiked the first uphill section together, ran the first fire road and then on the second uphill, my legs go on me again. I watch the other guy leave me behind.  I manage to get myself together and catch up to him just before the crag line near the top of the loop, but just as we are getting onto the fire road at the top, my body is in revolt.  I lose another couple minutes walking and pounding my quads with my fists. Aid station #2 I grab what I think is water and douse my head and neck with it.  The rest of the lap my hands feel sticky and I wonder if I just threw orange flavored HEED on myself.   I am again able to run on the flats and downhills, but can’t seem to even hike the uphills without the legs locking up.  At least I knew I was nearing the end.  Lap #2 done in @ 57 minutes.

The beer is really flowing in the gazebo – I tell someone to have one ready for me in an hour, and McGovern is ready to hand me one now, while chiding me about how anyone can run 5 miles.  At the same time he gets ultra serious about how I am going to be the only 4-time finisher.  The only one.  I don’t know if I was more amused or pissed as he was waving beer in front of me.  I knew this was going to be a hard loop, even though it was the last.  I instantly knew I was starting to run on empty – stopping at various points, just because I had to.  I don’t remember how many times before the first aid station I locked up, but by the time I snagged another part of a Red Bull and got to running between the aid stations, my intestines were done.  Probably too much sugar.  I take stock as I go between walking and running, ultimately deciding to pay the price later for being able to run now.  I find a spot off the trail and drop trou.  Had to do the ‘ol leaf wipe.  I know it’s gonna do me in by the time I shower, but at least I will be able to run.  I get to the last aid station and hear someone behind me.  I think I took a sip of Red Bull and some water (this time I asked!), and I hear the girls at the table asking the guy coming up if this was his last lap.  I turn my head in time to see him nod his head, and I know I gotta hoof it these last two miles.  I take off like a bat out of hell and am running as well as I have all day – every step downhill is pretty excruciating.  I don’t want to lose any more placings – I had at least 4 or 5 people go by me when I was doubled over with the leg spasms at various points.  I feel like I am hauling ass (just wish I could have done this an hour earlier!!), I run the entire two miles, with a short bit of hiking at the last hill in the woods, and don’t look back as I head for the line.

I get a rousing welcome from everyone there, I know I have done all I could out there, and at the moment, I think I may have bested my best time out there previously – 9:21 and change. I think I got doused with parts of beer, HEED, coffee and get offered an Irish Car Bomb for my efforts.  Feels might good to be done.
It wasn’t the race I wanted to have, but it was surprising to go a minute under my previous best.  Although I went faster, it was not any easier.  And I am immediately thinking of where I think I should have finished.
At least Jonas and Alex affirmed what I have thought since I started doing this race – American Zofingen is harder than Powerman Zofingen!  Somehow, Alex had the race of his life and set a new course record of 6:52 or something.  Jonas had some issues at the end of the bike and start of the second run and finished 3rd overall.  I still don’t have the official results, so I can’t give more detail, but everyone out there did a tremendous job.

My work is done.

Kevin

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