2015 Birkie Race Report

Well more than just a race report, but you should expect that by now.  I’ve had a few nice comments lately on my reports.  I appreciate it.  I’d probably still write them anyhow, because I like reading other people’s reports and I find it a good way to process the event.

Speaking of which, why don’t you write one of your own for the Birkie?  Ben or I would be happy to help format it and put it on the blog.  No it doesn’t have to be a novel like mine.  Short and sweet is good too.

Birkie Week Prep

Things went reasonably well in the week leading into the Birkie.  I had some pretty conflicting advice from some pretty successful skiers.  “Keep the fires hot!” and “Shut it down!  Rest!”.  In the end I did a little of both.  I actually would have preferred to get another short race in the weekend prior and ski more the week of, but the weather wasn’t cooperating.  In my mind, racing and intervals the week of the race when the temps were below zero were likely to leave me hacking and/or sick.  In the end I got some short pick-ups in twice in the lead-up and didn’t ski Wednesday through Friday.  I would have preferred to ski one of those days.

I got my skis prepped Thursday night/Friday morning.  My softish Fischer Carbonlite Skate Plus skis with Fast Wax HS-10 x 2, HSLF-10 x 2, HSF-10, HSF-10 + Toko X-cold, Holmenkol Speedblock Cold ironed in with the Fast Wax basesaver.  My skis ran great all day.  I can’t recall a time I was getting out glided and I was definitely killing a number of people on the downhills.

We headed for Birkie land about noon on Friday, got our bibs and did the expo thing, drove past the International Bridge, picked up our Pre-Birkie sweatshirts, and then had dinner at Frankies Pizza.  We retired to our accommodations which had an accumulated 51 Birkies under the roof.  There is so much energy in that place it is awesome.

Getting autographs from Brian Gregg at the Expo.  He took 8th the next day and his wife just took Bronze at the World Championships!

After the usual wake-up call and departure time debate I retired as the discussion took a turn for the macabre with pigs swinging from the International Bridge.  I was all set and quickly fell a sleep.  My Birkie rookie was a little more amped up and I guess they went to bed eventually, but I was OUT!


Birkie Morning

My alarm went off at 4:00 and I was up.  Coffee, cold oatmeal, dressing, the first of many “skis, boots, poles” and I was ready to go.  We were out the door for the drive from Spooner to Donnellan Field by 5:07.  Traffic and transport were smooth all morning long.  On the bus in Hayward at 6:06 and after a slightly nauseating bus ride (welcome to the back of the bus), we were at Telemark by 6:40 give or take.

The drop off location and short walk down were great.  The port-o-potties by the drop off were excellent as well.  Short line and a good idea for those of us well hydrated already!  I also enjoyed the quirky signs on the walk down.  The picture is garbage, but they were all similar to this.

“When Hayward you reach, look as good you will not.”  See the picture at the end to see if Birkie Yoda was right…

I was full of nervous energy in the warming tent.  The tents seemed good to me this year.  Pleasantly full, some number of chairs, and warm enough.  I took a trip through the port-o-pot lines, and used one impromptu, male only, rest break area.

Team camaraderie pre-race.

One of my process goals for the race was to get a good start.  I’ve had a habit of being late to the start line lately and wanted to be sure I was near the front of the gong show that is the Wave 1 start.  I nailed it.  Bag drop went smooth and I was standing near the entrance to the gate as they let us in.  I was maybe 3rd row on the far right.  I made the run for each gate without too much issue except the start gate.  My bottle bounced out of my belt.  I skidded to a stop and gave a moments thought to charging back for it.  I thought better of it and headed for the start.  I was maybe 5th row then.  As  I slapped my skis on the ground I realized that my skis were now holding my place so I went back and got my bottle.  Crisis averted.

T-5 minutes.  Ready.

Except Wilkie who shouted over saying he pulled his hamstring on the run up.  What!?!  Holy crap, how about training for a year to get injured with 5 minutes to go.  He toughed it out though and finished, but damn.

Race Plan/Goals

Before I dive into the race, I’ll outline my plan/goals so you can follow along through the report and see if you grade me out like I grade myself.

Process Goals (Control what you can):
1) Don’t Bonk – Combination of pacing and nutrition
2) Get near the front of the start ready to race
3) Arrive at the race healthy and with all my stuff
4) Have fun

Results Goals:
A) Elite wave.  What self respecting first waver doesn’t think they belong in the elite wave?  No seriously, this was a long shot goal.  I honestly did not believe it would happen this year, but hey, I can’t say I wasn’t thinking it.
B) Top 300 male.  This seemed hard, but achievable.
C) Top 400 male.  This seemed like a small move up from 469 last year and about a solid possibility based on this year’s races.
D) Wave 1 qualifying time.  Geeze, I better not take a step back at least.


Almost a thousand words and I haven’t even started yet.  Maybe you should refill your coffee?

OK, I had a lot of angst about this start.  I have heard a lot of about the Wave 1 start, and pretty much none of it good.  Something about skiing with 600 other skiers amped up on Birkie Fever all who believe they should be in the Elite Wave.  I expected complete carnage which is why I participated in the pre-race pen race.  It turned out fine from my perspective.  I saw one person go down, but otherwise it was clean.  I can’t say what happened behind me.

Incredible photo of the start from www.DavidJOwen.com.  I can’t quite pick myself out in there.  The snow falling at the start was so cool.

Again, my goal was to stay towards the front early and stay out of the chaos.  My plan was to keep the pace high, but not too high, until the power lines and then settle in.  Plenty of room for people to pass on the power lines and not get too worked up.  This all seemed to go pretty darn well.  Through the first aid station I was doing alright.  A touch too hard perhaps, but I felt WAY better than the Pre-Birkie.  I felt in control, not all tense, and I didn’t feel like I was pressing at all.  Heart rate until the power lines was definitely low, but a touch high averaging 174 with peaks of 178 climbing them.

I skied right through the first aid station with my own bottle and gels on board not wanting to get tangled.  Off into the woods the trail was plenty soft on the edges.  Untouched fresh fluffy powder along lots of the trail still.  I continued to try to settle into a reasonable pace.  I was getting passed and not passing and doing my darnedest not to care.  Heart rate from 5-10k averaged 174.  Still too high, but again, I continued to feel in control compared to two weeks prior.

Coming through Timber Trail I took my first gu and maybe grabbed some water to go with a swig off my Gatorade I was carrying.  The climb to the high point continued to be a little hot.  I was letting people go past and not trying to stick to anyone.  Finally after cresting the high point things started to settle in.  From there through the climb to OO I really settled in and felt pretty good.  A little spiky on the climbs such as Boedecker, but on average just cruising.

The climb to OO was a beast as usual.  I tried choking on my second Gu at that point.  It was hard, and hard to swallow.  I probably got about 2/3 of it down I think washed down with some Gatorade from my bottle and a cup of water.  I was feeling pretty good at this point.  I felt like I could be going harder, but I was really concerned about a bonk so I kept telling myself to hold back.  My only concern was a side stitch that I normally don’t get while skiing.  I thought maybe I wasn’t processing the calories I was taking in.

Mike Phernettton and I had been skiing within sight of each other basically the whole race.  As we headed down Picnic Table Hill he told me I had the skis and the fitness for the day.  I thought he was probably right.  I don’t remember much through the next stretch past Gravel Pit other than skiing as relaxed as possible.

Then a few wheels fell off.  It was shocking really how quickly it happened.  I hit 33km and suddenly my vision started going funky and my arms felt like they didn’t respond right.  Oh crap.  In my haze I knew I was bonking but somehow convinced myself that taking in more calories wasn’t going to help because my stomach was still uncomfortable.  I thought just make it to Frank at 38km and get some Coke.  In hind sight I had only had maybe 180 calories from my two Gus and another 50 from my Gatorade.  For two hours of work that isn’t going to cut it.

I held it somewhat together until the CyclovaXC feed station just before Mosquito Brook.  Just a quick aside… this was AWESOME!  Knowing I was going to get a personal hand-up and someone cheering specifically for me was so cool.  Many thanks to Frank, Neal, Todd, and Maaren for manning the station.  And thank goodness I didn’t peg Neal in the camera lens with my bottle.  I wasn’t sure who it was that I almost hit but tossing my bottle I just about hit him right in the face.  Afterwards I asked him if it was him and he said he didn’t think so.  In review of the pictures though… incoming!

The next picture has the bottle mid-air between me and the camera.  Glad I missed Neal!

OK, I tossed my nearly empty bottle of Gatorade for a fresh one and a glass of flat Coke.  Mike was right behind me and we took off together.  I rolled through the Mosquito Brook aid station and prepared to climb.  I wobbled my way up the Mosquito Brook/39k hill.  A little rolling after that and Mike came even with me and asked if that was Bitch Hill.  I grunted no and pointed around the corner as it came into view.

Mike took the lead and I exploded spectacularly.  I just about came to a complete stop about 2/3 of the way up.  Just about dunzo.  I somehow finished the climb and watched as Mike slowly increased the 20 second gap he put on me on the hill and disappeared into the distance.  I wasn’t quite into death V1 skate mode, but close.  As with previous years I don’t remember much about the rest of the trip to the lake.  I do remember thinking about how far I had to go in terms of laps at Elm Creek though.  “Just 3 more Elm Creek laps to go… I can do this.”

Last year as I hit the lake all I could do was V1 and watch people pass me and disappear.  This year I was able to find a pair of skiers to draft and hold a respectable V2 behind them.  As we neared the exit to the lake I was even able to pull around and lead off the lake, past Market Place, up the bridge, and onto Main Street.

The trip up Main Street was pretty cool.  I dug the bridge big time.  I really felt like it gave me the momentum to “power” it in to the finish.

Soaking up all the glide I can off the bridge.

Almost there.

Birkie 3 in the books.  3:07:21.  437 Male, 477 Overall.

The Start of Post Race Analysis

So how did the goals shake out?

Process Goals:
1) Don’t Bonk – Well, uh, yeah, guess that is a no.
2) Get near the front of the start ready to race – Win.
3) Arrive at the race healthy and with all my stuff – Win.
4) Have fun – Win.  I didn’t emphasize it above, but really, it was an awesome weekend as always.  Results are only part of what makes the Birkie fun.

Results Goals:
A) Elite wave – Yeah, this was super stretch anyhow.  Missed by 16:28
B) Top 300 male – Missed this by 8:26
C) Top 400 male – Missed this by 2:24
D) Wave 1 qualifying time – Assuming they return to the same % back they used for the last few years other than last year, I just squeaked in under 3:08:14.

Another marker, I believe the 25% club for the M35-39 age group is 3:05:23.  So missed that by 1:58.

So process wise, 3/4, results wise 1/4.  So yeah, disappointed with the results, but I can’t be too disappointed based on nailing most of the process goals.  Had I nailed the first process goal, I could possibly have improved the results goals as well.

I haven’t gone all nerdy on the data yet.  I’m reasonably certain what I will find is that this is a better result than last year, but not as good a result as the earlier season races may have indicated was possible.  That is why  you actually have to do the real race, not just write VB macros in Excel.

In all, it was a fantastic weekend as usual.  Results are a small fraction of what makes this a fun event.

What’s Next

One more race this year.  Pepsi Challenge at Giants Ridge on 3/7.  I was going to classic it, “just for fun” as Tommy would say.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to skate it now though.  Another opportunity to practice this marathon thing and see if I can’t figure it out.

Oh then there is this…

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