On race morning, I woke up feeling rested and ready to kill it. The drive to the race was through fog on wet pavement. It was drizzling slightly, but I hadn’t looked at the weather in days. I brought everything I’d need for any conditions because I’ve done this race in miserable cold and wet weather, and also in insanely hot weather. You just never know what Mother Nature will bring for Am Zof. The day after the race I heard that a few people got so far as driving to the race, then seeing the fog on the descent and decided to DNS. This race takes guts, or stupidity, but probably a combination of both. By the start of the race, the weather looked worse. A 30% chance of precipitation ended up meaning miserable cold and constant rain. This was exactly like Am Zof in 2010, when I spent half the bike sobbing and pedaling. I hadn’t grown my thick skin yet that year, but I certainly have it by now.
John tweets: “Out of t1
@holisticguru is 2nd 90 seconds down. The 5/84/15 format means you can’t win the race on the 1st run but ya can blow up & lose it”
Race morning was John’s birthday and I asked him how I could make my race day/ his birthday special for him. He said, “I just want you to race and not give up. Not at all. Not even for a second”. My mantra for the day became “This is what not giving up looks like”. The first run was 5 miles of wet trails with 900 feet of climbing for each loop. I always start at the front and immediately two women took off ahead of me. I reminded myself to be smart and I kept at my pre-determined speed limit for the first run. Only a couple of minutes had gone by when I caught up to both women on the first climb. I took the lead, just focusing on myself and my pace. Am Zof is never won in the first run, but you can really wreck yourself by showing off during that loop. After about 1.5 miles we came out onto a flat and wide dirt path. That’s when one girl took off. I tried her pace on for size to stay with her for less than a minute, until I thought she was on a suicide mission and had likely never done this race before. I let her go. I came into transition and got a split from John. I was 1:40 back. I heard the announcer say “Here’s our women’s champion from last year! She got chicked on the run, too!” That made me laugh and I set out to catch the chick who chicked me.
John tweets: “Am zof has had cruel weather + the insane course. 30% rain = rain for 3 hour so far.
@holisticguru did this race in all day rain before.”
Out on the bike, the rain was coming down and the descent was terrifying. I rode the brakes for most of it and was relieved to get to some serious climbing when it was over. It was impossible to see more than 3 bike lengths ahead of me at any point during the race, because of the fog. It literally looked like we were riding through clouds! I rode near a bunch of guys and it was amazing how much whining they were doing about the weather. I poked fun at them a bit, saying that I wasn’t too cold, and tried to encourage them to keep going (by asking if they had sand in their v*ginas). After an hour on the bike, I was coming up to pass someone and realized it was the girl who had out run me! I was climbing strong and steady and her turnover looked to be fading, as the mountain may have begun to crack her. I passed her quickly and easily and then had a burst of accomplishment energy. [Addendum: I was informed on SlowTwitch that this woman DNF’d due to a flat tire]. I rode really strong after that, repeating my mantra “this is what not giving up looks like”. I was singing (rapping) the entire time, too. But a part of not giving up meant that I knew it was a long race, anything could happen. I couldn’t let up just because I was in the lead now, and I couldn’t blow up either. I walked the line. There could be another woman right behind me. This race is defined by mountains, so my Evil Racing Cult road bike climbs like a dream (its only 16 lbs and the ERC wheels are 1200 grams and stiff). It’s not just the bike though, it’s the engine. I trained by riding over mountains in Spain at Strong Like Bull for February, giving me a sick advantage to start the training season in March.
John tweets: “Oh the cruel fortunes of
#americanzofingen @holisticguru takes over lead & prior leader abandons. 50s rain & mountains! 2nd 5 min back.”
And sure enough, toward the end of the second loop, I got passed by another woman. She was riding really strong and she was wearing a bright green helmet. Her helmet was visible through the fog and I was able to pick it up enough to keep her in my sight. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel defeated by being passed. I just worked harder. I thought of all the reasons I could still win this: 1) she passed me but I’m close enough to see her so she’s not putting much time into me 2) maybe she’s never done this race and has no idea how hard it’s about to get 3) if she’s riding that well then she must have run the first loop very slowly to take that long to catch me 4) maybe she hasn’t dialed in her nutrition. I knew I had a huge chance to defend my title. This race doesn’t separate the runners from the cyclists, it separates the experienced from the newbies and the tough from the mere humans. That said, I started to lose my steam by the end of the third loop, having slowed by about 10 minutes from the first bike loop. I also lost sight of my green helmet lady. Back in T2 I got another split from a wildly excited John “You’re 4.5 minutes back but she looks like she’s losing it. She dallied in transition for 3 minutes! Give me a fast transition and you can make up 90 seconds on her right away!”
John tweets: “The treachery of am zof is bottomless:
@holisticguru now trails by 3 minutes but 15 miles of rocks, roots, & mud are still to have their say”
I started the run feeling loopy and maybe under-caloried. I had several Amrita bars on the bike but realized I hadn’t eaten my last one because the weather made it hard to handle nutrition. I immediately had 2 gels (wishing for another delicious bar) and shuffled through until my run legs set in. I talked to myself, out-loud, constantly through the run. And it was a mud-slide slop-fest out there. I was slipping everywhere but managed without falling. Soon I felt back to normal, and at about mile 3 I passed back into the lead! It didn’t take long so I knew I had her. And I didn’t let up because I was worried about the runner chick from the first lap. I had caught her on the bike, but she might have stayed close and could still catch me on the run.
John tweets: “1 of the 3 5 mile loops done:
@holisticguru reached into her suitcase of courage & took the lead. But it’s close!”
I kept my heart rate steady and ran like a kid in the woods, without a care. I’ve never done this race without walking some hills and have only heard of a couple of people to run the entire long course race. I decided not to walk AT ALL and somehow I pulled it off. With 900 feet of climbing x 4, I ran the entire thing! And that was after 3,300 feet of climbing x 3 on the bike. I kept getting splits from John and on the last lap he told me I was 7 minutes ahead and 15 minutes ahead of third. He said “This is yours” as I headed out on my final lap. I teared up because he was so stoked and excited! I felt my legs getting heavier but I pushed and continued to talk to myself about everything I could think of. A branch tapped me on the shoulder and I said “Awww. I love you, too”. I was loopy but I felt like I had a very healthy relationship with these trails. At another point I almost tripped and blurted “you silly! You can’t trip me while I’m still picking up my knees!” And I giggled.
John tweets: “5 left:
@holisticguru took the (strong like) bulls by the horns, surging to a 7 min lead. It’s her vs mountains now”
Finally, I came onto the open grass field that lead to the finish and I could hear John shouting “THE WOMEN’S WINNER IS COMING IN!” I defended my title! I did it!
John tweets: “Your 2013
#american zofingen champion: @holisticguru !!!!”
This is what not giving up looks like.
Thank you to John for coaching me, encouraging me, pushing me, and supporting me through all of my training and racing. Oh, and also for spending your birthday being my sherpa and coach. I owe you a perfect birthday celebration on Thursday (wink, wink). Thank you to Amrita for fueling me perfectly and to Barefooters for the comfiest recovery shoes EVER (I even wear them inside), and to Running Reform for the run analysis and personalized run form exercises. Thank you to ERC (and Santa Claus) for giving me the gear I need and SLB for making me so strong to ride it! And thank you to Jim, owner of the Block Island Sport Shop, for being a friend, training buddy, and advisor to me.
And finally, some post-race photos: