2014 Birkie Race Report

The big one.  The one I was itching to do again the moment I finished last year (at least that is how I remember it now).  The 41st Annual American Birkebeiner.  True to form, this got wordy, grab some coffee to hang out with me for a little while.
The race week proceeded as usual with the fever setting in solid.  Hourly checks of the weather forecast that was looking to bring chaos to the event, fretting about wax, thinking about packing (skis, boots, poles running through my head constantly), etc.
Greasing my skis.
As the snow storm wreaked its havoc on the region Thursday night I was getting my skis all greased up the best I could.  All Fast Wax except for the top coat.  Two each of HS-10, HSLF-10, and HSF-10.  The last coat of HSF-10 was mixed with Toko X-Cold powder.  The final top coat was with Holmenkol Cold block.  Maybe my skis are just fast in general, but as with almost all of my race reports, my skis seemed as fast or faster than those around me again.
Friday morning dawns and it looked and sounded like the real potential for the storm was realized.  I got a text from Ben saying our accommodations were in disarray, with the power knocked out and the driveway completely inaccessible.  Then I hear that the Junior Birkie has been cancelled because they can’t get people to Telemark because of all of the snow.  Heck, it took me an hour to get out of my 20 foot driveway.
But, this is the Birkie, the big one, we are going.  New for me this year was participation in a Friday event.  My girlfriend and I signed up for the 10km Family Fun ski Friday afternoon.  This is her first year skiing and this looked like a great way to get her involved and a touch of Birkie fever.  I’m hoping it worked.  Korte next year, Birkie next year??  We shall see.
Pre-Family Fun Ski
We got to walk along Main street to check-in, watching the start of the moved Junior Birkie event and the big ski event.  Then it was our turn to ski along with the Nikkerbeiner.  It was fun to see all the folks dressed up for the Nikkerbeiner, but starting behind them was a little bit of a drag.  I know, Family Fun Ski, emphasis on the family and fun, but it was a walk up Main Street behind the wood ski folks.  But we eventually made it up Main Street to the golf course and did our 4 laps for 10km.  It was actually quite nice and a lot of fun out there.  I did classic since I was skating the next day and I wasn’t going to ski on my race skis.  My ski buddy did great and it was fun to start and finish on Main Street even if we were coming at the finish line from the wrong direction.
During this time we saw that the changing tent had collapsed in all of the snow and winds.  Later that afternoon we saw the email saying it had collapsed and they had made arrangements to change at the elementary school.  A quick word about the race organizers, staff, and volunteers.  They did FANTASTIC.  Sure, everything wasn’t ideal, but when you have an event this big, this many moving pieces, and that big of a storm to throw things into flux at the last minute, perfection isn’t possible.  A huge thank you to everyone who still made this event possible.
After that, off to the expo for bib pick-up and general exploration.  The parking was a bit of a mess with multiple redirections by the law enforcement officers, but I took a deep breath and reminded myself we weren’t in any hurry, there were 10,000 people here, and this was supposed to be fun.
Then we had spaghetti dinner at St. Joseph’s with Dallas before heading back to the previously arranged accomodations that now had power (and thus running water), though we had to be shuttled up from the road in the 4wd pick-up.  Then we negotiated the morning departure time of 5:00 am.
The damage Dallas did at the spaghetti feed.
Race Day
Race day dawned early as usual.  We were out the door at 5:07 am for the shuttle down to the car on the road and then off to Hayward.  The shuttle from Hayward to Telemark was just as easy this year as it was last year.  Pull in, park, hop on the bus, at Telemark well before 7:00.  The new tent was OK, not as cool as sitting by the wall of champions, but it was better than standing outside.  Next year team CyclovaXC needs to have a big flag we post somewhere so we can all congregate.
Hanging with my girlfriend who also road the shuttle to spectate the start (which worked great by the way), Ben, and Rick the time flew by and soon we were walking down to the start.  I accidentally started my watch before heading down so I’ve annotated the map to give you the run down of the last 55 minutes before my start.
Hectic start map.
  1. Accidentally start my watch in the hospitality tent.
  2. Pick up skis
  3. Walk to the start area
  4. Potty stop #2 since arriving at Telemark
  5. Go just past the start line to spectate a wave start
  6. Realize I dropped my gear bag somewhere
  7. Nope, not in the snow where I watched a wave start
  8. Go to the onsite bib pick-up tent to get a new bag
  9. Gear drop
  10. At the side entrance to the second pen, uh, I definitely need to go again before I start…
  11. 7:30/mile in ski boots weaving traffic to get to the last row of portapotties for a last minute deposit
  12. 7:30/mile back to slide myself into the back of wave 2 with about 4 minutes to the start
In the start pen, ready to go, with a whole 2 minutes to spare.
Note to self… DON’T DO THAT NEXT YEAR.  Way too close for comfort, and despite being in wave two and not seven like last year, there is still a lot of slower moving traffic the first 5+km if you start at the back.  Pretty much right away I put aside any real concern about qualifying for wave 1 next year.  Sure, I still wanted to, but there was no use in getting all worked up about the less than ideal start.  It happened and I would just have to let the next 50km come as they did.
So anyhow, yeah, it was crowded for a while.  And soft.  Has anyone heard that the trails were soft yet this year?  Oh you did?  Well, you heard right.  Where I was at, you could occasionally find a line for a short stretch that wasn’t all chewed to heck, but it wandered across the trail and would disappear eventually.  I can’t, or don’t want to, imagine what the trail conditions were like for later waves.
I spent all of the time up to OO slowly working my way through skiers from my wave.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as last year skiing out of wave 7, but it still wasn’t overly fun.  That said, as you will read eventually, I may have been over cooking it anyhow and shouldn’t have been as worried about it.
When I reached OO doubts were starting creep into my head.  23km down, 27km to go.  Can I do another 27km?  Not getting a resounding yes back from my body at that point wasn’t comforting.  My calves have been cramping lately and they were threatening to cramp along with the rest of my legs.  They never went into lockdown, but there were twinges and weird feelings going on.
A brief intermission from the race reporting.  It was an absolutely beautiful day to be out on the trail.  Even though it was cold and windy, the majority of the trail was sheltered from the wind and I never felt cold.  The snow on trees, the bright sun and clear blue skies!  I stopped (figuratively only) to remind myself to look up, look around, and be thankful that I could be out on the trails that day doing something I love doing in some of the most beautiful scenery.  Definitely worth all of the effort going into the race.
OK, back to the race.  Coming into the gravel pit aid station I was going downhill (feeling wise, not in elevation) in a hurry.  32km in and 18km to go.  I distinctly remember looking at my average pace and starting to think about how much time I had left on course before telling myself I didn’t want to know.  Now normally I have to really concentrate on doing the math in my head.  Wouldn’t you know that on this day it did it all on its own and it wasn’t pretty.
Coming up on the 39k Club I was thinking about the Ballad of Lone Wolf.  He took his first Birkie experience to the fullest while I was head down hammer mode.  I was looking for a little for a little encouragement where ever I could find it by the time I skied past the shot ski this year.  Did I do it?  Sadly no.  The ski was setup with four shots, and had there been one or two other people there ready to do a shot, I just might have.  But, I didn’t want to wait, so I put my head down and continued my trudge towards B Hill.
Oh man did I not want to face that sucker.  I was imagining a 50 story building made out of knee deep sugar to ski up.  Surprisingly though, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Pretty soon I was to the top and nearly home free.
Well some more stumbling and survival V1-ing and I made it to the Landgraf statue and the view of the lake.  Now I never met Dave, coming to this Cyclova family after his passing, but I have heard nothing but respect and admiration for him from everyone who knew him.  Thus, in passing, I gave my nod to him, his influence on the people around me and the race I was participating in, and continued down to the lake.
And had my first ever shot of Jagermeister.  I’m not a big drinker, but I needed a shot to make it across the lake.  I don’t think they had many takers when I passed since I got a decent cheer.  It went down easy and left a nice warmth in my belly.  Which was promptly ripped from my body as I stumbled into the headwind across the lake.  I was done, empty, nothing left.  I don’t know how many people passed me on the lake but it was quite a few.  I knew I should tuck in behind someone and save some energy, but I just couldn’t and plodded the lake all alone.  A look at the results and there are 8 wave two people who finished less than two minutes ahead of me.  I think most of them passed me on the lake.
And then there was Main Street, and the finish line, and some guy offering to take my skis off, and some guy interviewing me and Mike Phrenetton, and some stumbling in the snow to say hi to my spectator,and getting my 2 pin.  There was some food, and changing in the celebration tent, and saying hi to a few folks, and checking of results.
An imitation of a skate down Main Street.
Post Race

I haven’t had time to really digest and analyze the results yet.  From what little I have it looks like an interesting year.  My race was OK, not the great race I was hoping for, but not bad by any stretch of imagination.  A few stats:
  • 12 minutes slower than last year
  • 40th out of wave 2
  • 57% back – 532 place
  • 57% back last year would have been around 1000 place
  • My spreadsheet is a complete mixed bag, better than last years Birkie, but not as good as a few other races this year.
Using the standard % back calculations from the past few years, I am on the bubble of 2/3 again.  Even if they change the standard though I don’t think I qualified for wave 1.  And I’m OK with that.  I’m certainly interested in results, but not so much so that I miss out on the process.  It was beautiful out there, I got out skiing a bunch, and I got to hang out with my friends.  Does missing wave one take away from any of that?  Nope.
Done, and happy about it.
What’s Next
I’ve got one more ski race on the docket this year.  The 48km Skate Pepsi Challenge on the trails of Giants Ridge.  I have skied there a bunch, but not in recent years.  I’m really looking forward to this one.  I’m hoping it is the typical March slush race.  I’m tired of the cold.
Then someone signed up for a 50km trail run at the end of April.  I suppose I should do some running…
Two pins to add to the Birkie medal ribbon.

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