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Sophia Laukli’s dominance of professional trail running continued this weekend with her victory at the 50th running of the Sierre-Zinal trail race in Switzerland. The Stifel U.S. Cross-Country Team member took the victory by a surprisingly wide margin—over four minutes—ahead of the second place finisher, and almost eight minutes over third place. This was the fourth race of the Golden Trail Series. Coming into the race, Laukli was ranked second overall; by the end of the day, she was ranked first overall in the series.
There was a deep field of Kenyan, Chinese, and Somali runners that Laukli would need to overcome, all of whom boasted outstanding road and trail credentials. Laukli had expressed concern to FasterSkier that this 31 kilometer (19.2 miles) race didn’t necessarily suit her skills and that road runners would pose a significant threat. The course is not considered technical, but it is steep, and that part does fit Laukli’s strength.
The race is noted as a venue where road marathon and trail runners collide for supremacy, each benefiting from advantages on different portions of the course. For Laukli, it was another journey into unknown territory as she has never raced this distance on a relatively smooth trail. But all year, she has defied expectations and fought through her lack of experience to consistently finish on the podium. Laukli looked strong the entire race and at about 13k pushed herself up into the standings to be the second place woman, and shortly after that she grabbed the lead. Laukli glided into the finish to a cheering throng of spectators, with a performance that defied expectations—from both the pundits, and from Laukli, herself.
“I’m definitely still a bit shocked with the result,” Laukli told Fasterskier. “But really could not be happier with it! Tactically speaking, I don’t think a race has ever gone that well for me, running or skiing, and I think it helped that I didn’t have any huge expectations.”
Laukli admitted to being just as surprised as everyone else by her victory in this smooth-trail, non-technical, speed-oriented race: “This certainly worked out,” she beamed. “But it really wasn’t until I crossed the finish line that I actually believed or acknowledged that I had won, so it was a very very good feeling to say the least!”
Laukli’s unexpected success in her “hobby” will only add to the difficult decisions she has to make about her summer training schedule. She told FasterSkier that she intends to race the Pike’s Peak Ascent September 16th, even while the nordic skiing dryland training season is in full swing. Choices, choices . . .