2015 Pre-Birkie Race Report

Executive Summary

Honestly a little disappointed in the results.  On the other hand, the goal of using this as an opportunity to practice race strategy and execution had some benefits.

Get your reading glasses ready.  Lots of words, and very few pictures to follow, and those are only interesting if you like charts and graphs (and who doesn’t?).


I was originally signed up for the 35k Mora Vasaloppet instead of the Pre-Birkie.  It would have been my first Vasaloppet if you don’t count the 12km race I did when I was probably 13.  I was really looking forward to the race, but due to the unfortunate weather we are having they had to resort to a race on Lake Mora.  While I commend them for making a race happen, and by all accounts I’ve heard, it was a good one, I just could not bring myself to ski more tiny laps.  I wanted a near marathon length race before the Birkie to work on pacing and strategy.

11 days before the Pre, I played hooky from work and took off to Birkie land to do some skiing.  We got two skis in that day.  25 km out of the North End trail head skiing Power Lines to the High Point and back.  Then we went to OO and skied south to almost Mosquito Brook and back.  The second half was by headlamp trailing somewhere behind the groomer that was grooming the 2″ of fresh fluff from the day before in.  It was by far the best ski of the year.  I ended up pushing that ski to 40 km with the last 15 km pushing reasonably hard.  I felt awesome and it was my longest ski day ever.  It did wipe me out a bit though.  I took it easy for a while to recover and then probably extended that recovery a little too long skipping out on any hard workouts the whole time.

The result was I came into the race a little cold.  Lesson number 1 for the day.


I had a strategy going in to the race:

1) Start close to the front
2) Go hard across the lake
3) Reign it in on the initial hills
4) Ski smooth and strong through the turn around
5) Push with what was left

I did not execute that plan.

I got to the race a little later than planned.  Parking was busy, the walk to the lake was longer, and I had to pee for the third time in the last half an hour and I wasn’t going to pee on the playground like I saw a number of people doing… seriously, anywhere but the playground guys.  Sheesh.

The result was I got lined up about 4 rows deep.  Two back of Wilkie.  So much for getting close to the front to go hard on the lake.  The gun went off and we were off.  It stayed clean from my vantage point, though I did hear a pole break behind me.  The gal was pretty pissed off and I heard quite a bit of swearing.  Before getting off the lake I caught up to Tim or he drifted back to me.  There was some skating, but a lot of double poling the whole way.

Up and off the lake, we hit the hills.  Things were pretty fast and furious.  The lines in front of me strung out quite a ways up and off into the distance.  I was pushing hard not to fade further into the pack.  Over the next 2 km until the descent down to 77, my HR averaged 178.  At one point in time, my ski threshold was lactate tested at about 172ish, and I have a max of 192.  In other words, I did not reign it in on the initial hills.  All the way through Mosquito Brook Hill/B Hill/39k/whatever you call that one I averaged 176.  So for the first 10 km/32+ minutes I was well over my threshold HR.  Probably not a good thing for a race that is going to be over 2 hours.  Lesson 2.

Going a touch too hard… for a long ways.

Also through that whole stretch I could NOT ski comfortably.  I have trouble for the first half hour of skiing to relax and not tighten up.  I seem to have poor balance and fight to control my skis.  The result is that my back tightens up as do the muscles on the front of my shins.  This takes far more energy than it should.  I’d call this a lesson, but I already knew this and I’m not sure how to fix it shorting of skiing for 30 minutes before a marathon…

Finally come about Gravel Pit I started to feel like I knew how to ski.  Instead of resorting to V1 to stay on my feet I was able to V2 comfortably and actually have good transitions through the terrain.  Of course I was already feeling the effects of 45 minutes of going hard and something on the order of 500+ feet of climbing.

This was about the last time I saw Wilkie.  He was roughly a minute up on me at this point but I could see the bright green CyclovaXC suit and his red hat disappear over the hill in front of me.

I skied reasonably well up to OO.  Picnic Table Hill I believe it is called, the big climb heading north to OO, was churned up fairly well, but I made it without blowing up.  I skied well across OO and put my head down for what I knew were going to be a few more climbs headed away from the finish line.  This is a mental battle to know you are now getting further from your destination and every time you go downhill, you are going to have to climb it.

I was somewhere between skiing OK and blowing up all the way to the turn around.  I even managed a little hard push shortly after the turn around to catch a guy in front of me to hopefully draft a bit.  Then the Boedecker hill.  I heard a few other names for it while hanging at Coops after the race.  I can understand the source of those names.  It took a good chunk out of me.  I wasn’t completely blown, but I was on the edge.

Thankfully it is mostly downhill from there to OO.  My HR was dropping, but I knew that wasn’t because I was recovering, it was because I was bonking.  I had gels with me, but I had not made them accessible enough and hadn’t taken any.  I had Gatorade in my belt and had been taking that, but I was about out of energy.  Maybe partially for a lack of calories, but certainly from going too hard too early.  Lesson 3.

Why didn’t anyone tell me this race was all up hill?

The climb to OO was hard.  Really hard.  I put my head down and kept going.  I’m pretty sure my vision was narrowing on that climb.  There was a whole pack in front of me, but I could not keep in contact with them.  I crested the hill and used what I had to get all the way back to the last descent as we turned back onto the Birkie skate trail to turn north for home.  I saved just enough to push up that last climb and sprint out the last 50 meters… for 85th place.

Post Race Analysis

So I said I was disappointed with the results.  I am.  Not devastated, but I was really hoping for more.

I already highlighted a number of lessons from this and those are things in my control for next time.  That is a positive thing.

I’m glad I managed to not blow completely in this race.  Maybe I’ve had enough marathon blow-ups now to learn.  This was a partial blow up.  I am going to keep telling myself that giving a little more ground at the start, can turn into gaining a lot in the later half instead of only giving a little at the start and then giving it up huge when I bonk hard.  Maybe I’ll even believe myself in less than two weeks and not blow-up at 40 km this year.

So, cold hard numbers wise, again, not a complete disaster.  My slightly refined correlation, which now only takes into account the more pointy end of the race (to reduce the scatter caused by the less pointy end which I believe has more variability from race to race/year to year) still indicates an improved Birkie.  I can put a little more stock into this comparison as well because it is a marathon length race.  Everything else so far this year has been under 20 km.  You can use shorter races to extrapolate, but there is going to be more error.  Just like using the Daniels VDOT tables or the McMillan calculator and estimating your marathon based on a 5k, estimating the Birkie based on a 5 km race at Elm Creek isn’t the best indicator.

74 racers in common between the 2014 Birkie and 2015 Pre-Birkie that were within 60% of the race winner.
Improvement over most of last year’s races except North End Classic and Pepsi Challenge which were definitely my best races last year.  Pretty much across the board this year, my least favorable result.  No one said marathons were easy though.

So, now it is time to internalize those lessons, come up with a strategy for the Birkie, fine tune the engine, and stay healthy.  And do a little more snow dancing.  Not too much though.  Enough to clean things up and shore up the thin spots, but not enough to flounder in like last year.

Go Green.

One thought on “2015 Pre-Birkie Race Report

  • February 8, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Birkie strategy is easy…hammer to the high point, preserve your lead to the finish line. Race is over after 14k!

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