2016 Birkie


Well the season has clearly been leading up to this.  If you’ve been following along with all of my race reporting so far, it should be pretty clear that this has been my best season of racing yet.  In the spoiler alert category, that didn’t change with this race. It should also be pretty clear that my goal this season has been to make the jump to the elite wave next year.  More spoilers, there is a reason that you actually have to ski the race and can’t just look at your spreadsheets and extrapolate the result.


The week leading up to the race started by looking like most of the rest of the weeks during ski season this year.  The only change really was a continued reduction in the quantity of intensity. My final workout was just half of what it was two weeks prior on Tuesday.  Then it was a focus on rest and recovery.

I took Thursday and Friday off of work this year.  Thursday I did a little ski testing out at Balsam Branch to pick a pair of skis.  The conditions weren’t going to be identical to the Birkie, but I figured it gave me the best chance at picking the right pair of skis.  Ultimately I picked my stiff Rossignols over my soft Fischers and a pair of Duane’s Rossignols with a corn grind. Both pair of Rossignols were substantially better than the Fischers in the wet snow.

I spent the rest of the evening waxing and packing.  Wax was full Fast Wax this year. 2x HSLF-30, 2x HSF-30, Flite Warm ironed in with the base saver.  I finished it off with a pass each of the yellow and red bits in the Toko Structurerite tool. In hindsight I don’t think I went terribly wrong with my ski prep, but it could have been better.  I think my structure could have been more, and I’m not positive these are the best flexed skis for the conditions. They are the best flexed skis I have, but there are better. At no point did I ever feel like my skis were working for me and instead I felt like I was fighting them.  Some of that was just the conditions in general, but where I noticed I was losing ground to people was on the gradual terrain and downhills. Climbing I seemed to be doing quite well. That makes me think skis… but we are getting ahead of ourselves with excuses here.

Friday Starr and I headed up to the expo, packet pick-up, New Moon, River Brook, spaghetti dinner and eventually our accommodations for the evening.  The whole day was pretty fun seeing the whole CyclovaXC ski family plus all of the nordic skiing family friends I’ve made the last few years.

The Expo


Getting autographs from Kikkan Randall at the expo.

As usual alarms were set for 4:00am with a 5:00am departure slated the following morning.  I slept about as well as I ever do away from home which isn’t great, but that is why you get a good night sleep two nights before the race which I did.

Race morning went like clockwork. Up at 4, out the door by 5, on the bus at Donnellan by 6, to Telemark by 6:45.  We set-up a CyclovaXC area in one of the tents and got to work waiting. I remained pretty calm other than the multiple bathroom trips.  Eventually I got my boots on and went to check my bag and get ready for the pen race.

Unfortunately I somehow missed the timing on when wave 1 skate would be let into the first pen.  I thought I had another 5 minutes because I thought there were two classic waves between the Elite men and us.  Apparently not. By the time all of the pen races finished I was fourth row, about three or four rows in from the far right.  Not exactly the position I wanted, but far from terrible. And this year I ran with my bottle in my hand so I didn’t lose it. I saw a few people lose theirs like I did mine last year.

Looking from the back of the pens to the start line before the races began.


The race started with carnage this year.  The trail all the way until we entered the woods after the power lines was extremely soft.  People were losing their balance or buring a ski in or off the trail everywhere. I managed to stay clear of everything though there was two pretty close calls.  Wilkie recounted later that he was counting crashes, “seven, eight, nine, BAM”. He crashed twice in the opening few km.

I saw a few folks I was anticipating skiing with in the first few km, but I was trying to settle into a good pace and didn’t want to push things at the start.  Things felt kind of sluggish and I didn’t want to bury myself before the high point.

My plan called for skipping the first aid station and drinking from my bottle with Tailwind before getting in the woods.  That went fine and I got to work on the really dirty trails in the woods. The trail changed pretty drastically there going from soft and mushy but fairly clean to pretty firm and really dirty.

I wouldn’t say that people were streaming past me, but I could definitely tell I was going the wrong direction in the field on the way to the high point.  There was a long way to go in the race and I really wanted to conserve energy and nail the last 12 km of the race so I wasn’t terribly worried. At some point around 7 km Dennis Kotcon went flying past.  When he passed I was having flash backs to the Pre-Birkie where I didn’t feel great in the opening 15 km and Dennis passed me only to be reeled in later in the race when I felt better. I let Dennis go without a thought to keeping with him hoping to see him come back later in the race.  He went on to kill it finishing comfortably in the elite wave for next year.

I took my first Gu at Timber Trail aid station after the high point.  In this rolling stretch I was skiing around Mark Rathbun and Craig Rudd who I had skied with at SISU at the start of the season.  I found I was climbing well but anytime the trail went to what should have been a relaxed V2 or downhill I was struggling to stay with anyone.  I would describe the feeling as over skiing my skis. It frequently felt like I was pitching over the tips of my skis as they weren’t gliding well.  The Boedecker and OO climbs were good and I was able to over take a few people on those hills.

Climbing to OO. Photo Credit: Barry Mullin

I took my second Gu at OO and crossed the road and for a little while I started feeling better.  There was a decent group just up the trail and I was gaining on them. Somewhere before Gravel Pit I managed to just catch on to the back of the pack only to get shed again.

I took my final Gu at Gravel Pit and set out to find the hills at Mosquito Brook.  This stretch got a little lonely with fewer people around. While I wouldn’t say that I was suffering terribly I continued to feel sluggish.  There wasn’t any snap or pop to my skiing. Picked up my bottle just before Mosquito Brook from the CyclovaXC group and prepared to climb.

I hoped to find my conservative (ish) effort up to this point leaving me in a good position to climb well while other people were blowing up.  I continued to find myself climbing pretty well. I certainly hadn’t bonked yet like I have in previous years so this was good. At the same time however I didn’t find the carnage necessary to make up huge gains.  There were a few people here and there but not many. There were also a few people flying by me like they had started the race at OO. That was what I had hoped to do.

The past three years I have bonked pretty hard on the climbs after Mosquito Brook.  This year my energy stayed reasonably constant which was nice. I was suffering a little bit of nausea through this stretch.  I’m not quite sure if this was related to the actual consumption of calories or insufficient water. It was definitely warm out there and I probably could have used more straight water.

Cresting the 77 hill and looking down at the lake I was in no mans land again.  There was probably a good 30 people less than 500m ahead of me but I was getting a bit demoralized at this point.  I knew I was outside of the top 200 and I was tired though I don’t think I was in full on bonk mode. Looking at my HR for the lake crossing it is really low.  This is usually indicative of a bonk but I think this was poor mental toughness this time.

As I hit Mainstreet I felt there was a group behind me so I pulled it together enough to put in a reasonable sprint and managed to cross the line without being passed.

Finally charging for the finish line.  Photo Credit: Barry Mullin

One of the interesting things about my finish was actually looking at my time.  I had several folks ask me during the race if I thought this was a fast or slow race.  Despite wearing a watch and looking at it several times to check my HR I never once looked at pace or time.  My response on course was that it definitely felt slow. Turns out it was a 19 minute PR despite being the longest course yet.


So, yeah, PR time by 19 minutes, best gender place ever by 105 places (improvement of almost 25%), and yet here I am stalling writing this report based on disappointment.

So was it bad skis, fatigue, did I peak too early, was the race too big for me, do I not have enough endurance for 50k, were my predictions bunk…  Those are all of the questions I’m going to be asking myself for a while.

That is a snippet from my Prebirkie report.  I think that is probably the key here. I needed to have a good race to meet my lofty goals.  I did control everything I could as best as I could. I’m pretty happy with my total race execution except the last 5k or so where I think I got a little mentally weak.

So I will eventually get over my disappointment.  It has been a great season with lots of gains, including the Birkie.  If goals were easily achieved the reward for reaching them wouldn’t be as great.  This leaves me plenty of room for goals next year.

I’ll spare everyone the detailed analysis.  It generally concurs with my feelings that this was my “worst” race of the season.

What’s Next

Ski season is winding down pretty fast.  There are still races after the Birkie though.  This weekend I will be hitting up the 24k classic race at the Pepsi Challenge.  My boys and I are going to make a weekend of it and enjoy our time. I just get to suffer for an hour and a half in the middle of it.

After that, I might head up to the Great Bear Chase or I might just stay home and close out the season with the Slush Race at Hyland.  Either one could be fun.

Then ski season is over.  If we ever get a dump of snow I’ll ski, but I’m not going out of my way to ski the man made loops any more and there certainly isn’t anywhere else to ski locally.  The attention turns now to bikes. Mammoth Gravel Classic, Almanzo Royal, Tatanka 100. And running too, the Sasquatch Dash Series is in the planning stages so stay tuned for that.