Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team athlete and professional trail runner Sophia Laukli secured another historic victory at the 50th edition of the Sierre-Zinal trail race, becoming only the fourth American to win the race and the first since 2014. She now leads the Golden Trail World Series overall rankings.
Battling through rugged terrains and challenging elevations in the picturesque Swiss landscape, Laukli showcased her dominance in the strong field by crossing the finish line four minutes ahead of the second-place finisher and eight minutes ahead of third place. Laukli now leads the Golden Trail Series leaderboard. Only four Americans had won the mountain race before Laukli, dating back to its inception in 1974.
“I’m really still quite shocked by the result, but it feels so good,” said Laukli. “I’m definitely very proud of this result because I think it totally exceeded my expectations – along with everyone else’s – which is always pretty fun… for it to be a surprise.”
Laukli, a 2022 Winter Olympian and a regular on the FIS World Cup, has been training in Oslo, Norway, this summer while also competing regularly on the Golden Trail World Series. Compared to skiing, Laukli has not been a competitive trail runner long, but now, she is making an impact in every race she enters. After a breakthrough 2022 running season where she placed fifth in the overall standings, she burst onto the scene in the 2023 season by winning the first race – the prestigious Marathon du Mont-Blanc, where she beat her competitors by another significant margin of 12 minutes. Just weeks later, she was back on the podium in second place at the DoloMyths Run in the Italian Dolomites.
As her familiarity with international trail racing grows, Laukli is cementing herself as the one to beat. For now though, Laukli has her sights set on the next race, the Mammoth 26k back in her home country, and will continue her training for the other sport she is a professional athlete in – cross country skiing.
As she travelled from Switzerland back home to Oslo, Norway, to gear up for a Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team national team camp, Laukli sat down to answer a few questions about how all of this feels, how skiing has contributed to her overall trail running success, and what’s next.
How are you feeling after your win in Switzerland?
I’m really quite shocked. But, beyond the result and winning the race, I’m also just excited about how I executed the race. I didn’t have a huge tactical plan, but it seemed I came up with some tactics on the way and they worked out just right.
How do you feel like your cross country ski training is playing into your running right now? Or vice versa?
I’m honestly quite surprised at how well my ski training has prepared me for these races. This summer, I’ve actually been doing a bit less running and more roller skiing instead. So, naturally, I’ve been a bit hesitant or worried coming into each of these races because I’m so unsure of my running shape. But obviously, it seems to be working great. I think the main reason is that I’ve been able to train at a much higher volume with all the roller skiing (less impact/toll on the body compared to running), which has really built up my endurance even more to excel in these running races. I also think that having so much training outside of running helps the body be much more rested and recovered for the races.
You’re first in the standings of the Golden Trail World Series and the first American since 2014 to win this race. What’s your mindset right now?
It is definitely looking very good for the overall position in the series, but I don’t want to get too confident now because a lot can still happen. I am obviously hoping to win the overall in the end, so I will have to pick and choose a bit for the next few races to make sure I can peak for the finals in October and hopefully secure the overall win then. Also, knowing that there are not often Americans winning the overall, it really adds some extra motivation. Even in the individual races, it’s fun to put the U.S. more on the map, especially with some of the other U.S. women making it into the top.
What’s your stoke level right now?
In general, I know it’s good to move on from races, whether they’re good or bad, but the stoke from this one is something I am going to hold onto for a while. I have had some great races before, but I do think this is one of my best performances both in skiing and running combined, so it’s safe to say that my stoke level is incredibly high. It’s easy to be excited about a result when it’s a win, but I am just extra proud of this race because of how I paced and approached the race from start to finish. It was the first time I felt that I had actually grown as a runner and put into practice what I have learned over the past couple of years. In other words, it was the first time I didn’t feel like a newbie in trail running.
Header image: Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team athlete Sophia Laukli at the finish line after winning the 50th edition of the Sierre-Zinal trail race. Credit: @theadventurebaker