MILAN — Kim Wikel has had a goal of making the podium at a world championship duathlon event.
She did that and more at the Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland, last month.
Wikel won the women’s 45-49 age group, finishing the grueling race in 8 hours, 20 minutes, 14 seconds. She called the race “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
The course that weaved through mountains provided an intimidating welcome for the distance standout from relatively flat Ohio. That led to some prerace anxiety.
“I did one full lap of the three-lap bike course with Team USA on Friday (September 1, two days before the race) and I got back to the hotel and I was more scared than when I started,” Wikel said. “That was a new feeling for me. I texted my coach two words: I’m scared.”
The race consisted of a 10-kilometer run, a 150K bike and a 30K run. All totaled, 248 competitors would cover nearly 120 miles in the scenic Swiss mountains on narrow roads.
“It wasn’t necessarily the climbs that were scary. What Switzerland had, and there’s no way to train on these in Ohio, were the descents,” Wikel said. “Once we climbed eight miles we had to go down, but these aren’t straight downhills. They’re mountains, so they’re switchbacks.
“You’re making 180-degree turns going 30 miles per hour on your bike and there are no guardrails. If you overcompensate or undercompensate, you’re literally going skydiving with your bike. It’s a sheer drop-off to the road underneath you.
“I white-knuckled it the whole way down the mountain the first time I did it. I was literally shaking.”
Wikel asked if any of her teammates had a vehicle that could take her back up the mountain the next day. Ken Cobb agreed to help out.
“I don’t have the words to describe my gratitude,” she said. “He gave up his prerace strategy before the race to take me to the top of this mountain. He followed me down; he kind of controlled the traffic. That first pass I felt so much better.”
After that ride, she did it again. The 31-mile bike loop didn’t seem so intimidating after that.
“The second time down I felt like a whole new woman. I felt like I was ready for the Tour de France,” Wikel said. “I went down faster and more confident. I rode my brakes a whole lot less and knew the lines to take. I was ready to go.”
The small town of Zofingen was what you’d expect when envisioning Switzerland.
“There were parts where cows were crossing the road while we were biking,” she said. “They don’t have fencing like we do. It’s legit small-town Switzerland. Everything you’d expect a Swiss town to be, it was that. It was really cool.”
On race day, Wikel was in second place after the first run. She took the lead on the second bike loop, but wasn’t convinced the race app was accurate.
At the 70-mile mark, her husband, Larren, told her she had a 4-minute lead.
“I’m thinking, ‘OK, maybe this is real.’ “
Wikel increased her lead to 6 minutes before the final run, then increased her lead.
“That last loop, I was probably three miles from the finish and I started getting choked up,” she said. “Then I passed my husband one more time and said, ‘Are you sure I’m still leading?’ I didn’t want to get there and have the app be wrong. He said I literally had a 15-minute lead.
“I just took the last 2,500 meters and made sure I looked around and enjoyed the beauty and high-five spectators. I was taking it all in.”
The victory was impressive. The runner-up in Wikel’s age group, Andrea Kappeli from Switzerland, competed as a pro last year.
The third-place finisher was a two-time runner-up and the fourth-place finisher was the defending world champion in the age group.
Wikel, who finished 14th among all women in the race, ran the first 10K in 48:53.5. She spent 5:10.29.7 on the bike before finishing with a run that took 2:17.55.3.
After the race, Wikel and her husband spent two days in Zurich before returning to Milan.
She plans to defend her world title next year. The race will be held on the same course.
“It was a lot of disbelief. I just wanted to be on a world championship podium,” Wikel said. “I want to do it with more knowledge and less fear and see what I can do (next year). I know how to train for it now that I’ve seen it.”
Source: Sandusky Register