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Taking it all in stride
When Sofia Laukli, a member of the Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski team, decided to jump into the field at the Pike’s Peak trail run last year, little did she know it would be a life-altering event. It was in that race that Laukli discovered she was an elite trail runner. She may even be a better runner than skier. That part is still up for debate; even Laukli doesn’t yet know the answer. As recently reported in FasterSkier, Laukli’s serendipitous foray into running has led to a two-career status for the skier.
Laukli is now in second place in the Golden Circle Trail series
Last weekend, Laukli finished second in the Dolomyths race, even though she had been very ill with flu-like symptoms most of the week before the race. “I was sick last week and was very surprised that I was able to pull off second, Laukli told FasterSkier. “A couple of days before the race I was thinking that maybe I shouldn’t race. I had some type of flu with fever, two days out [from the race] I was feeling terrible and was very hesitant about racing. In the race, I wasn’t fully there, I did not feel good at the start, and knew my uphill performance was going to be worse than normal. For me to win that race, I would have to fire off the start.”
Last week’s Dolomites run provided a new challenge for Laukli who is still essentially a novice at professional trail running. The downhills are more technical than the Mont Blanc marathon which she won on June 25th. Despite the challenges of illness and difficult terrain, she was able to carve out a great performance in the mountains, further cementing her as a legitimate contender for the Golden Trail series crown.
Even though the downhills were technical, Laukli eschews using poles like some trail runners do, even though her skiing background might suggest it would be advantageous. “Running with poles is very unique,” she says. “It’s not like the bounding movement in training…to me it’s not an equivalent movement to skiing. I’m faster just using hands on my knees walking than struggling with a new awkward technique.”
Her surprising success has caused challenges within her schedule. Now that she’s toward the top of the Golden Trail leader board, it’s proving difficult to walk away from running competition. When we spoke with her last, she was planning on doing the Pike’s Peak ascent (September 16th), but now she’s uncertain as the reality of a possible running championship collides with balancing her ski training schedule. “You don’t want to race too much, because it does take a lot out of you…for me the next race will probably be Sierre Zinal (August 12). I’m not anticipating a great result because it’s very much like a road running race, but I really want to do it.” Laukli is uncertain about which U.S. races she will end up doing now that she has raced more in Europe than planned.
But, she is still contemplating doing the Pike’s Peak ascent. The race is completely uphill and suits Laukli’s strengths. However, topping out at over 14,000 feet, it’s a daunting undertaking. “It’s kind of the Tour de Ski of the running world,” she said. “I had a hard time racing that high last year. You definitely need to spend time acclimatizing at higher altitudes, and I’m not sure if I can work it in with my training.”
The Golden Trail series pays well with total prize money of €300,000. The Pike’s Peak ascent offers its own monetary reward with a $10,000 bonus for a woman who completes it in under 2:21. Laukli acknowledged the financial allure. “There’s certainly more money in it than skiing,” she said. “People in the running world are confused why I continue to ski. But money isn’t my motivator for running or skiing… I had no idea, going into it, that it’s a seriously lucrative sport, but I don’t want to do it for the wrong reasons.”
The Golden Trail series also pays for travel and lodging for competitors in the top ten overall which is also a strong financial incentive. As Laukli noted, “It makes it possible to perform at your best without the financial stress.”
But the logistics are starting to take their toll. “Last week I went to Italy for the race, and didn’t ski train once,” she said. “That has definitely been a stress. I feel like I might be sacrificing my skiing a bit with all this travel I’m doing.” Laukli still doesn’t follow a specific running program, choosing to focus on her ski training. This approach has raised a few eyebrows with competitors in the running series.
“If I were them, I think I’d be pretty annoyed,” she mused. “Everyone’s asking me how much do you run a week [the answer is very little compared to her competitors], and how is that even possible? I love answering…but if someone came into skiing and had never skied, and podiumed at a World Cup, it would be hard. It’s cool for me, but I know it’s not cool for them, I also acknowledge how it’s kind of a bummer for them. There’s nothing blatant or direct [in terms of ill will]… a lot of these women are older seasoned mature athletes, which is nice.”
When asked to describe her recent successes, Laukli focused on how it affects her attitude and her mood during an otherwise challenging summer training season: “It’s awesome, I’m living my best life,” she said. “Everything’s working out for me… and I know that’s going to end and I’m dreading when that’s going to end. I am so aware of how good it is for me now and that I can pull all of this off. I think long term it might be unrealistic.”
If Laukli continues to do well, she is now on board with competing in the tour’s finals in Italy, October 19th . Stay tuned to see if a professional skier can also be the champion of professional trail running.