2019 Birkie Race Report
I can’t quite remember, but I think the very first race report I ever wrote for Cyclova back in the day was my 2013 Birkie. I always enjoyed Ben Jonjak’s writeups (Go read Beyond Birkie Fever if you haven’t already) and any others I could find so I decided to contribute my own.
This carried forward for a few years but then things fell off track with the Great Melt Down of ’17 and the Great Disappointment of Not Making The Elite Wave of ’18. But I’ve gotten in the groove again this year. If you are really bored and want the whole history (minus the ones that don’t exist), feel free to check out the previous reports before digging into this one.
- 2013 Report
- 2014 Report
- 2015 Report
- 2016 Report
- 2017 – RACE CANCELLED!!
- 2018 – Fell out of the habit of writing race reports and not making the elite wave didn’t help.
This report will mostly follow the usual format. A little of the lead up, the race action (as best I can recall it), and then a little reflection and look ahead.
Overall my training this ski season has been better than the past. Or that is my impression anyhow without actually looking at the data. I’ve made that mistake before, living in an alternate reality. But there were definitely a few differences. More 2.5 hour plus skis. Many more. And no busted ribs mid January eliminating intervals for a few week stretch. I also believe I raced less.
I kept the normal schedule of intervals and Wednesday night races two weeks out. Pete and I did a 1.5 hour ski one week out where I had intentions of doing some mild intensity, but we ended up dorking around instead. A few pick-ups on Monday, a few pick-ups on Wednesday at the fun “race”, and then rest.
I really focused on rest, nutrition, and sleep the week of. Usually that all kind of goes to crap, but since there were only so many things I can control and those were a few of them I made that effort this year.
I’ll do a real analysis when I start building a plan for next year, but those are my impressions. They did leave me on the starting line feeling as fit and as ready as I ever have so that was a good start.
This was a whole new ballgame this year. I think the last time I had anyone other than me wax my skis was high school. And even then I think that was a rare occasion.
But… in the interest of doing everything I could to make this the best Birkie yet, I copied all of my ski buddies and had Pioneer Midwest wax my skis. They actually waxed two pairs of skis for me, but the winners ended up being the pair of warm flex S2 Rossi’s that Matt sold me after the suckfest of ’16. A fresh HSC1 grind and whatever magic pixie dust Cory (I hope you like the beer I left for you!) put on them and they were AMAZING.
They were by far the fastest pair of skis of anyone skiing around me, particularly later in the race. I probably had 10 comments from other skiers about “nice skis”, and “tip your wax tech”, etc.
On the other hand, I waxed skis for my wife, and it didn’t go as well. She has been skiing on my hand-me-down soft flex Fischers. Prior to her starting to use them (what’s mine is hers, what’s hers is hers), they were definitely my b-skis. They haven’t had a fresh grind since before I hit a few rocks and sticks with them and really sealed their place as b, maybe even b-minus skis.
Anyhow, Rex LF Black, Rex HF21, Rex 77 powder, Rex TK73 block. Pressed the Toko red structurite roller twice into the tails. She said they sucked. She should fire her wax tech. Or buy new skis. Or both.
Things looked pretty normal on this front. We were staying at Hotel Marva again this year. We really enjoy our time there. The ski ambiance is amazing. This was her first year skiing in wave 70 and her 31st Birkie. Add that with Ben’s 16th, my 6th, and Starr’s 3rd, we were at 56 Birkies at the end of the day.
We finished packing mid-morning and took off to Birkie land and hit the expo early afternoon. We spent a while at New Moon anticipating that ultra-running legend Rob Krar would be there as part of a Gu sponsored event. Sadly they failed to actually announce that he had gotten snowed in and wouldn’t be coming. So we ended up hanging out there much longer than necessary which was kinda lame. Spaghetti at St. Joseph’s before heading back to our lodgings.
We talked Birkie weather and trail conditions, “debated” morning departure time, and got all of our gear set out and ready. I slept pretty well considering and was awake a few minutes before my 4am alarm clock. My pre-race bowl of oatmeal was choked down and I packed a bagel with a little cream cheese for a snack pre-race.
I made my first panic wardrobe change before we left. Originally I was planning my light craft baselayer under my suit top and bib. I had a heavier baselayer with, but left my short sleeve one at home. I now have a second short sleeve baselayer as I decided to cut the sleeves off of one of the layers I had with.
We were “late” getting out the door this year. I think we actually left at about 10 after. Not to worry though, despite a little overnight snow the roads were pretty clear and we were quickly at Birkie Ridge and one of the first few people on the first bus. It wasn’t too much longer and some of the other regulars arrived on the bus as well including Tommy, Kevin, Kevin’s son Ryan, Duane, and Greg. The gang was mostly back together and soon on our way to the start.
After chilling for a bit and a few trips to the biffies, I went and got my skis and gave them a quick test on the test track behind the start building. Oh man, they felt good already. I did decide that I was still over dressed though and stripped my bottom base layer off. So the bottom was just Swix RaceX windbrief and my ski suit. Turns out that was about perfect for the day.
Almost to the race. Promise. Maybe.
In the week or two leading up to the race, there wasn’t much training left to do. What was done was done. So I turned my attention to race prep and planning. I already mentioned the physical prep above with enough sleep, good nutrition, etc.
No, we are talking total nerd dorkery here with split times and distances, analysis of previous elite wave qualification, searching of start lists for who was racing, etc.
The big thing for me was to plan out my eating. Otherwise, when out on the trail I think, “oh, not yet”, and then pretty soon you are at Gravel Pit bonking. So I had a plan and was going to stick with it.
The race before the race. Ah, wave 1… yeah. Not going to miss that…
First of all, it was really nice out. It was sweet to be able to ditch the bag early and stand around without being frozen solid.
Two quick stories. Possibly both were mistakes by the hard working volunteers. You crack that door with us wave 1er’s though…
First, waiting outside of Pen 3, and the Elite Wave men are gathering in there. There is quite a crowd of us wave 1 skiers waiting our turn, because we all belong in the elite wave and we want to be on the front line. Anyhow, the poor volunteer accidentally says “Wave 1 Skate”. I’m sure what he meant was the first wave of skaters… which is the Elite Wave. Well, you didn’t have to tell this crowd twice and pretty soon there is a big pack of wave 1 skiers standing behind the elite wave guys who are all looking at us like… well, like we are not so bright. We were good though and waited appropriately for them to move up a pen and then we waited.
Things went smoothly until we were waiting at the front of Pen 1. The gun went off for the Elite Wave, and before they were even all out of the start area, guys were streaming under the banner to my right. In post race video analysis it looks like either the far right side of the banner got raised prematurely or some guys pushed it up and they raised it out of instinct. Anyhow, I went from being primed to be on the first row to fourth row. Bleh. Not the end of the world and I quickly let it go, but in the moment I was kinda peeved.
Start -> Fire Tower
OK, race time! Finally.
Gun went off. No carnage. Fourth row meant I was probably 120th? Actually, my nerdy self wants to go figure that out and I might eventually here. But first… I need to get this report out.
OK, call it 100th place. My goal was to be around 20th. Time to do some work without blowing up. This went pretty well actually and by the time I hit the turn onto the main skate trail I was probably right around 20th. A little skiing to the side of the trail, a little passing on the few downhills, etc. I passed both Jay and caught up to Pete before we hit the main power lines I think. Or right around there.
As we turned on to the main skate trail I was very near the front of what looked to be the chase pack as the first 20 looked to be mostly together and had a gap. I wasn’t about to go chase the down as I wanted to relax and get comfortable and not blow up in the first 12km climb to the high point.
Pete apparently wanted to go faster. He probably stepped on my poles 5 or 6 times. He kept swearing at himself and the last time I told him to get in front of me. It was fine, and I know he wasn’t doing it on purpose and it wasn’t throwing me off because the snow was plenty soft to just pull them out.
But went to the front he did. I was probably with him for another 1 or 2 km. Then we started climbing and he started putting distance on me. I felt sluggish climbing and he was V2ing like a beast. The last I saw of him he was half way or more up the climb to the high point and I was just getting to the bottom. He had an amazing race. He went on to finish 99th male and 106th overall. Crushed it
Anyhow, back to me slogging my way up the hills. I was going the wrong way through the field again. Seems to happen every year on the climb to the high point. It didn’t seem quite as bad this year, I was semi counting and figured by the time we reached the high point I was probably sitting 40th or so in wave 1. I did be sure to eat at Timber Trail per my plan. As I suspected it would, I didn’t feel like eating at that point, but I did anyway. Almost exactly 25 minutes into the race… just like the plan.
One of my goals was to relax and not ski so tense. Normally I find my lower legs extremely tight and almost painful early in a race. Probably partially just tense, partially trying to not ski on other peoples stuff (mostly successfully, but not entirely either). This time my legs actually felt fine, but my lower back was painfully tight. Like, get in a tuck, but have to stand back up again because it hurts tight. It was somewhere around the descent off of the High Point where it finally started to loosen up for me.
I seemed to recover nicely on that downhill too. The HR came down and the bleeding of places finally slowed to a halt. I figured at that point I was probably sitting around 40th in wave 1. Definitely not where my prerace analysis said would likely be the cut-off for the Elite Wave. There was a long ways to go though.
Fire Tower -> Boedecker
After rolling through the Fire Tower aid station where I just grabbed a cup of something on the move per my plan I continued to settle in. I think I pushed a bit to try and get on the tail end of a train up ahead. There was a guy or two in no mans land and I think I closed it down or yo-yo’d with them, but the main group of what looked like 5-10 guys wasn’t really getting any closer.
The climb to Boedecker sucked. It always does. But I felt like I was making ground finally. One of the things about that climb is that you go around a slight bend and the slope flattens out for just enough time to then really kick you in the teeth with a steep section. And once you crest that it is a false flat for a few hundred more meters before you finally start the gradual descent to the aid station.
I sucked down another gel and grabbed a cup of something on my way through the aid station. Oddly enough another per plan feeding almost exactly on the mark.
Boedecker -> OO
At this point I finally felt like it was time to start counting. Pass one, get passed by one, pass two, get passed by one. Turns out I have a hard time counting. Seemed like I was net positive, but it was hard to tell.
On the last run-out before the climb to OO Douglas Scott who I’ve seen on course (but never beaten) came up behind me along with Jay. I had to ask Douglas what he was doing back here. The answer was something about being behind a crash at the start.
I had maybe only looked back over my shoulder once or twice prior to this in the race so I had no idea Jay was still back there. A review of the Strava flyby data shows that he was never more than about 10 second behind me to that point.
We were about to catch the group in front of us finally so I stayed on the front (well, other than Doug who passed and went on to put 5 minutes on me) and pushed up the hill towards the aid station and OO.
The climb up the new bridge wasn’t bad at all. When we skied it a few weeks back I was afraid it was going to be too narrow and it would be a congestion point with the classic skiers. Turns out I was ahead of all of the classic skiers so it wasn’t a problem at all.
On the other side running down into the Korte start area I continued to execute the nutrition plan and sucked down some Tailwind from my bottle.
OO -> Gravel Pit
I also tried to execute the number one key to success. It probably looked really painful but I forced a damn smile anyhow. I did this several times during the race and it was hard each time. It actually probably took several tries with each one to get anything resembling a smile. I think it helped though. Gotta remember this is supposedly fun to go hard and make it hurt.
Somewhere along the way here I caught up to Fred Kueffer. After hitting Picnic Table Hill I must not have ever looked back again during the race. From the results it appears that I put almost a minute into Freddy by Lake Hayward, but then he must have got on his horse because he closed that down to only about 15 seconds at the finish. Nice kick Fred!
Gravel Pit -> Mosquito Brook
At Gravel Pit I grabbed another gel. Shockingly, this again appears to have been nearly exactly on the planned time. Looking at the graphs this is about where things apparently slowed down from the year before and I ended up finishing about 8 minutes slower than 2018.
Ever since about OO I had been right around Jake Stiele skiing in a CSS suit. He seemed to be pretty happy to be on the front and was doing a lot of work. I’d ski up on him on the downhills, but he would put some hard efforts in on the flats and uphills. So I followed him pretty much all the way from Gravel Pit to Mosquito Brook.
Mosquito Brook -> Hatchery
Eating on plan I choked down another gel going through the Mosquito Brook aid station. I knew this was where the race started so I was hoping to feel good. I’m not sure I felt good, but I didn’t feel bad. I’ve felt BAD before. The 39k hill didn’t even hardly register. Not that I was blazing up it or anything, but it was bigger in my mind.
It also felt like 39k and Bitch Hill were further apart. I’m not sure, things are a little hazy in here. I do believe there were a couple of guys who caught me on Bitch Hill but I managed to hang on to them. One of them was Mark Mehler who was hard to miss as a pretty tall guy wearing a Wisconsin Biathlon suit.
Mark was doing a good effort at the front and I was happy to have someone setting a strong pace for me. My skis were really starting to out perform the field here too. I got quite a few of my comments on the descent from Bitch to Hatchery Creek.
Hatchery -> Finish
At Hatchery Creek my buddy Keith was the chief medical officer. I was supper pumped to see him and his boys there. A quick high five and per earlier agreement, dumped my now devoid of gels (I was sucking on the last one) and nearly empty water bottle with him. I grabbed a cup of water and got ready for the last two climbs.
I’m actually not 100% positive of the names of these last two hills. Rosie’s Hill, Sunset Hill, 77 hill. Anyhow, the climb from Hatchery Creek up past all of the lots for sale is a doozy. Not particularly steep, but it just rolls and rolls and rolls. Last year this is where I lost contact with Pat Jopp.
This year I was sag climbing with a few guys including Mark. That means I was at the front at the bottom of the hill and I was planning to be at the back at the top. I knew my skis would keep in in contact on the way down. We were also chasing the fourth place classic guy who passed us in Hatchery Creek.
Up and over Rosies Hill. Down across 77 and up that three tiered monster. It wasn’t really until here that I was thinking, “Hey, this thing is almost over”. I tried to up the effort a little on that climb, but could tell I was on the edge when things got a little woozy feeling right before the last pitch.
I stayed in contact though and my skis were awesome on the run down to Wheeler Road, through Duffy’s Field and onto the lake. Oh, but at the top I got a cheer from Josh Stamper and whoever was with him. Sorry whoever was with him, I wasn’t sure who it was, but they shouted Josh Stamper and pointed and I was like, “oh hey… gotta go!”
Anyhow, Mark pulled over as we got on the lake. He wanted someone else to lead. I said sure, lets try and work together. So I went to the front… and stayed there. We were reeling in a few of the elite ladies, a couple of bonking wave 1 and Elite wavers. I still figured I was outside of qualifying, but I didn’t want it to be because I didn’t work on the lake.
We came off the lake, around the bend by Marketplace where I heard my aunt and uncle cheering for me, up the bridge, down the bridge, and then punch it up mainstreet. There was one more guy (happened to be Dave Duede from my era of HS racing) up ahead and I told myself he was number 200 so I better go chase him down. I didn’t quite get him, but oh how close to being right I was…
Post race Mark told me he looked back as we got on the lake and we were towing a train of 8 or so guys. So I feel pretty good about leading the whole way and not getting passed before the finish line.
OK, so I finished, and was happy I worked hard. I saw Artie in the finish area and heard he had an amazing race and finished 67th overall. We made it to the changing tent and I saw Pete and heard he was top 100!
I broke out the boot beers (you know about boot beers right? You stick a can of beer in your boot and put that in your bag to send back to Hayward. Then you have a beer to drink immediately after the race) and was passing them around when Dennis came over and showed me the tracking app. HOE LEE SHEET At the time I was sitting in 197th place male. I was shocked. I figured I was probably 220th so I hadn’t even gotten around to checking. That was exciting and also frightening. There is usually a few guys from later waves who had no business being there and will bump those last guys down a few places.
So I spent the next several hours refreshing my phone every thirty seconds.
But… today… a week later… I’m still sitting in 200th place. ELITE WAVE QUALIFIER BABY
So, so, so much better than the 201 predicted from my Vasaloppet. But oh so very close.
OK, this is getting way too long and I’ll never get it published. If you can’t tell from the bold text I’m pretty excited. Sure I could have wished to not cut it so close, but the goal was Elite Wave qualifying and I did that.
Now to not let it be so close next year!
Maybe later… I’m sitting on all sorts of interesting data now.
Great Bear Chase next weekend. It is normally the end of season party. It will be a good time.
I say normally, but not this year. Bill Oyler, Pete Woeste, Clayton Keim, and myself have formed Master Blaster Parade and will be doing the four person relay at the 24 hours of Wirth the following weekend. Yep, sounds dumb. That should also be a good time.