Monday, February 24, 2014

The Birkie

I had Birkie fever this year, not too bad, but this was the one race I was traveling for and hoping to actually perform well at this winter.  The elbow tendonitis, combined with orienteering team trials happening in four weeks, led to much more running than skiing this winter, and a serious lack of arm strength, but I figured running keeps me fit, and I've had some good 10k skate races this year anyway, so the Birkie should be a lot of fun and I'd approach it with a good attitude and enjoy the heck out of the day.  If you can't win it physically, win it on the mental side!

I flew into MSP in the midst of a blizzard, got to spend a night and a morning with Marjorie and family (yay for robot-shaped blocks to play with!), and then met up with Ari and Ali to complete the giggle-mobile and drive up north.  The roads were a sheet of ice, but we got there safely, if slowly, and even managed to sneak in a ski once we'd arrived, so I could test wax and skis and try to work out some of the travel kinks from my legs.  Woooo Birkie!

Saturday morning was cold, possibly below zero, maybe just hovering above, but with massive winds.  We were up at 5am to ingest some oatmeal and coffee (ooooh boy, after a "caffeine taper", that first cup tasted so good!), and then it was off to the races.  We had spent the night at a friend of Ari's cabin, with a long narrow driveway that was barely plowed, so our little rental car with Texas plates struggled to get back up the hill.  With four pushers we got it out, check out how dark the world still was at 5:45!

Unfortunately, we had a piece of bad luck today, when there was a massive traffic jam to get to Hayward. I guess they didn't fully plow out one of the parking areas, and this meant that they had to send folks to some other parking lot, and this was taking a ton of time, so all the buses that shuttle racers from Hayward up to the start in Cable were stuck in a big ol' traffic jam.  The bus ride is supposed to be about 25min, and we had planned in an extra hour of oh-shit time, but apparently that wasn't enough.  Our bus ride took just over 1.5 hours. This meant that Ali and I a) got to pee on the side of highway 63 in front of all the stopped cars (talk about performance under pressure!), and b) missed the start by about eight minutes. They weren't doing chip timing this year, so your time starts when the gun starts, putting us at a disadvantage. It was also mega super duper windy, so not having a pack to work with was an even bigger, unmeasureable disadvantage.

We eventually got to Telemark, and Ali and I jumped off the bus (after much begging, since the driver wasn't supposed to let anyone off until the designated drop off spot, and we weren't moving and were behind a whole lotta other buses), and we raced to the start in full race gear. Ali found the hole in the fence to get to the start before I did, and got 45 seconds or so on me by the time I was on snow. The first wave classic skiers were lined up, and I threaded my way through them and out onto an empty trail, with a disappearing Ali in the distance.  This is not your typical Birkie experience - if anything, most people are complaining about how many people are in the way!  I am sure there are at least 1,000 people out of that 11,000 person marathon who would gladly have taken an uber-windy empty trail over passing thousands of other skiers.  But, the fact remains that I was now facing essentially an individual-start 50k race, into a strong headwind, while everybody else (other than Ali, who was in the same boat) was drafting in a pack and working together.  As a point in case, my heart rate when I was skiing alone was in the low 180s, but when I could tuck in behind a group of passing guys for a bit, it would drop to the low 170s.  Those extra ten beats can mean a lot more energy saved, and a lot more speed gained when everyone in the pack is resting and alternating leads.

I could see Ali ahead of me and skiing with a lot more oomph than I had at my disposal; my body really doesn't work without a warmup, so I think even if I'd been on the snow at the same time as Ali I wouldn't have been able to match the pace. This was a major bummer, because it was mega super duper windy (oh, did I mention that already?), and if I had been fast enough I think working together would have definitely helped us both. Darn.

Anyway, I decided that I couldn't let that get me down, this was my race now, and I couldn't control the stupid traffic jams, but I could control my attitude and my skiing.  So, I focused on skiing comfortably, and keeping my lower legs relaxed (frozen feet had led to cramped calves), and the first 8k went by pretty quick. I definitely felt the hills; it was slow cold windblown snow so not much glide to be had up those hills, but I had good energy and had warmed up enough by 8k to start skiing more aggressively.

The lead men caught me at 10k, and as subsequent packs came through I tried to use their speed to infuse some more energy into my skiing, but my arms and shoulders were starting to get pretty tired. The guys are just so strong! I am so weak! But any little bit of drafting was helpful. By OO, slower guys were coming by, and I could get longer drafts, even with the accordion effect. I could tell how badly I was doing based on the oldness, fatness, or joker-ness of their suits, and how quickly the old fat funny-dressed guys dropped me.

My triceps started spasming around 35k, but by then I had a tired guy that I could keep up with, so we skied together for a while trading leads. He dropped me on one of the hills after Bitch Hill, but now there were more bonked guys so I was occasionally catching people. I kept counting the number of ladies I caught and passed, but it was a distressingly small number.  I ended up skiing with some dude in windpants, and we traded leads for a while, with him doing the bulk of the work across the lake. We were moving well across the lake, closing on a group that apparently had more girls in it, but didn't quite make it up to them.  Not a good showing in the results.

So, definitely not the race I'd hoped for. It was a bummer to have good energy but have my muscles give up on me, and a bigger bummer to have had to ski alone for so far. I did a really good job controlling the parts I could control, but some things were just bad luck. I'm trying not to be too disappointed, but I am.

Example A of a silly suit.  I believe those may have been wings on the back of his track suit?  Unsure.

I found Greg after the race, and we cheered in Ken, who had had a rough day in the soft slow snow.  Fun to see those guys!

Yay for ski-o team representation!  This is the small-medium-large puffer coat edition =)

So will I be back next year?  I'm not sure.  I'm pretty upset about how it turned out, given the massive investment of time, money, and energy, and I don't know that I need to experience that again anytime soon.  I had hoped to quit doing this race because I had done well enough to satisfy my competitive needs, but now I may just quit this race because I'm permanently frustrated with it.  There's always some excuse, and part of that's me (messed up the taper, or tied my boots too tight, or started in wave 2...). May as well have my excuses happen on a local scale.


Anonymous said...

Hey Alex, Nice Birkie write up, !.. i can relate completely as i was there too for my 3rd time (in a row)and my travel buddy this yr. also was among the many that missed his skate wave 5 start too being in that traffic jam.. But Somehow this yr i was lucky myself to make my wave 2 start with plenty of time though ,and got to sit in that fallen down circus tent there for about 30mins that morn. just freezing & waiting, and that was even driving up from Spooner ... Possibly its because since just getting on the front row this yr. in my wave became my main priority, after when last yr. i learned the hard lesson while i was cheering my friends on and taking pics from the sidelines in their elite wave starts in 2013 ,and so i ended up very last row then in my wave 2 start as i only left myself the 20mins remaining to change/strip down and get my boots on & throw my bag in the truck etc... PS- i just linked over to Ur story here from trying checking on results from Weston this Tues. nite, i was the guy in Blue & white cycling clothes that ended up skiing in Ur group that nite ( and with that nice fellow "madshus"Robert also}...And must add i don`t know about U out there Tues evening but im certainly still not feeling quite fully recovered from last weekend either?! PS- I see in the end You still did REALLY Great overall out at the Birkie this time, And i certainly Hope You do decide to just keep going back again every yr. too !!!

Alex said...

Hey Kurt, welcome to my blog! Glad to hear you made your start, I raced my first Birkie from wave 2, and that was fun, we had good packs and worked together well.

Tuesday was a bear, I nearly dropped out, except you can't drop out of a fun race. I was so tired! Glad you showed up. Wes usually emails out the results to anyone who has registered, but if you only just registered maybe he doesn't have you on the email list yet.