Thursday, September 6, 2012

Powerman Zofingen Race Report

It's been 3 years since I did Powerman Zofingen -- long enough for me to forget just how utterly grueling this race is...  My first experience was in 2009 when I did a 8:31, 7th in my age group (50-54). This year  I was shooting for around a 8:15 total time or so... Logistics went well, typical swiss race organization. Weather was nice; a bit on the cool side (mid-60s but DRY) and I went with my normal tri kit and was fine. Arm warmers would have been nice on the downhills, though.

 The first run (10K) was good; I took it fairly easy and chatted with a guy in my age group wearing the Team USA kit (Gary Smith). Stopped to take a pee and he must have gotten ahead of me -- didn't see him again until the start of the second lap on the bike. First run time was around 41 min (it's also closer to 9 km than 10 km).

Jumped on the Trek SC and was off for 3 laps of 50 km each. I had run out of EFS powder so was using some Heed and an EFS gel flask and then race support for nutrition. At the expo I had found out that the race-provided sports drink (Sponsor)bottles should be around 200-240 cal each, and the gel tubes should be another 200 cal. My target for bike calories was about 1800 cal, or 600 cal a lap. I train by power and for this race I wanted to put in a well paced bike and then try to hang on to a 8:15 pace on the run (I had bonked badly on the 2009 race and had a 2:40 second run split, a time I wanted to get closer to 2:30).

As I settled into my bike ride, it dawned on me that my garmin 500 power display was erratic. After fooling around with it for at least 5 min, I wrote it off and attributed the problem to it not synching with my powertap in T1 before the race but instead synching to another bike. (Troubleshooting after the race, I now think that the powertap may be out of juice). In any case, I did the rest of the ride by "perceived effort" and heartrate on the hills.
The main lesson learned from the bike was that this race really really calls for a compact crank. I had a 39-27 combo, which, on the 10-15% grades (three big hills on each lap), reduced me to climbing off the seat quite a bit. Not really what I'm used to doing, and I think that it affected my run -- maybe by 5-10 min. Of course, I might have had a slower bike time had I stayed with a lower gear -- it's hard to say because the run is so tough and steep that the bike effort may not be as big a factor as it is in a normal ironman.

Another complicating factor is the impact of the first run... I'm not an experienced duathlete. In any case, my bike split was 5:02, which was 3 min faster than my 2009 time, but I had been shooting for a 4:50 or so. The garmin showed a total distance of 148 km, 1919 m of vertical -- but nice, empty roads, enthusiastic fans, and beautiful views. Only saw one instance of blatant drafting -- the small race field, hills, and first hilly run all contribute to spreading out the bikers quite well.

Pulled into transition feeling pretty good, having managed to stay on the nutrition plan and pretty much an even pace (maybe about 2 min slower on the third and final lap). Slipped the running shoes back on and after some looking around for the run exit, I was on my way. The Powerman Zofingen run course, part deux is absolutely horrendous if you don't love steep hills. If you do this race, I highly recommend you scout out the run by jogging it to appreciate how much energy/legs you need to save. The run sufferfest immediately starts off with a long slog uphill, getting steeper near the top, for 2.5 km, climbing 110 meters. You won't be alone if you start walking this hill -- I just settled into an evolution running technique of "kicking" the hill and slowly jogging the entire length, although I knew that I wasn't going to be meeting my goal of a run split under 2:30. Here's the strava file:

I also had a pretty high heart rate and knew that I needed to keep taking in fluids and also keep up on the calories, albeit to a lesser degree than on the bike. At the first run turnaround, I felt pretty tired, so I reached into my little fanny belt (DeSoto, thank you) and starting gnawing on my Cliff caffeine blocks -- they seemed to help a little bit, along with alternating small cups of coke and Sponsor electrolyte at the aid stations every 2.5 km or so. The run course was every bit as hard as I remembered it, with a never ending series of tough, steep little hills, interspersed with maze-like running on spongy grass in the park area which seems to suck out the remaining bounce from every step.

As I neared the halfway point/transition area, my wife's cheers of support and my dog's mad barking helped my spirits as well, and I managed to get a bit of a second wind. I concentrated on running up every hill, focusing on good technique, and picking off runners or running to a point and then picking another goal. I did have to walk a few times for 30 seconds at a stretch on the steep little mother coming out of the park area, but then maintained a pretty good pace, not getting passed for the last 4 km or so, and picking off about 5 more guys on their second lap. On the last long downhill (the 2.5 km hill), I leaned downhill and ignored the screaming quads as I started to smell the beer in the finish tent... In the finish area, the announcer (speaking in English) said that I had second place in my age group, which immediately made me feel a whole lot better, and I finished with a big smile of relief. (my wife told me later that he was also saying "______... you are a POWERMAN!" -- ala Mike Reilly. I'm surprised that WTC hasn't filed legal action yet...

Anyways, I finished with about a 2:37 run split, for a total time of 8:27. Not quite my goal of 8:15, mainly due to the second run split; I definitely needed to put in some more running preparation (a calf injury back in mid-June threw a small kink in my running training). I did finish 4th out of 20 in the 55-59 age group, and since they split each age group into a ITU qualifer and an "open" division, I got some swag/podium for 2nd place in the "open" division. Sweet! The awards dinner and ceremony were nicely done as well -- although it took a dramatic turn as the male elite winner gave his awards speech!;#4145999

All in all, an iconic race, with some very good athletes in a beautiful (and painful) setting. If you like the idea of substituting a hilly 10k run in place of playing water polo for 2.4 miles, I highly recommend this race -- it is right up there with any Ironman (I've done 12) for degree of difficulty. I'll definitely return for another visit to my dark place after a couple of years in order to forget those hills on the last run... :-)   Thanks to my sponsors, First Endurance nutrition (Pre Race and Ultragen rocks!) and DeSoto Sports!