Monday, March 01, 2010

My First Birkie

The Elite Freestyle start.

Helicopter circling over the start area.


Birkie 2010
It’s been just about a year since I committed to the big race I just completed over the weekend. It all started at Matt and Jess’s wedding last spring. I’d heard plenty about the Birkie in Wisconsin. I’d heard that it was one of the longest running marathon ski races in the country (37 years counting 2010), and I’d heard that it attracted the biggest field of any cross country ski race in North America (8,000 + this year). Anyway, Steve Biggs and I got to talking about it at said wedding. He’d never done it (but had always wanted to), and I’d never done it (but had thought about it in passing). It was agreed that we would both do it this year. I kept up my end of the deal and signed up over the summer. Steve did not.

Thursday. 6:00 am
Sarah and I left the HQ and headed north and west. I was allowed to drive the first 2 hours, and that’s a big stretch since Sarah does 90-95% of the driving when we’re on the road. Fortunately, the Google Maps estimate of 10+ hours was way off the mark. We pulled into our lodgings at just after 2:30 c.s.t., and we even stopped for breakfast in Iron Mountain. We unpacked the truck; and given the early hour, we drove north to Cable to sign in and pick up my race packet. Early Thursday afternoon the resort was jam packed, and I can’t even imagine it on Friday (note to self: always try to go on Thursday). Packet picked up and truck unpacked, Sarah and I stopped into a local bar on the way home for a drink. After digesting the cigarette smoke, the local snowmobile trail conditions, and one drink each we headed back to Treeland Resorts for dinner and Olympic TV coverage.

Friday. All day.
I spent most of the day relaxing and waxing. We went into town to catch the tail end of the Citizen Sprints and have lunch; but other than that, not mucho going on.

Race Day. 4:00 am
I woke up before the alarm went off which is pretty much par for the course. I stayed in bed for a little while and tried to fall back asleep, but after a little while it was obvious this was not going to happen. I did a little getting ready and waited for Sarah to get up with some Netflix. Sarah got up and was kind enough to make me some scrambled eggs with cheese and toast for breakfast. We headed out for the start around 6:30. Since there are so many people and spectators involved in the race, you can't actually drive to the start. They close the road to the resort/start, and everyone is bussed in from various parking lots in the area. I'll admit that this seemed to have the potential for some serious problems. Our doubts were totally unfounded. These people have their sh*t together. Cops were directing traffic off the main highway. Volunteers were directing cars to parking spots in a massive freshly plowed field. After a short walk and a two minute wait, Sarah and I were on a bus packed full of racers and spectators alike, skis and all. In less than fifteen minutes we were deposited at the front of the Telemark Resort, and from there it was a short walk to the start.

I've never seen anything like the start of this race. There were flags and banners whipping in the wind all around the start pen. A helicopter circled overhead. We got there just in time for the men's elite freestyle start. After that I had just enough time to ditch my warm up clothes and ski over to the start. I'd estimate there were at least two hundred racers in my wave, and I was positioned about five rows back near the center. And just like that, the race was on.

I was very determined to not repeat the mistakes that I made last month at the Noquemanon. Part one of the plan was to pace myself so that I would still have some energy towards the end of the race. The second part of the plan was to eat a little more and a little more consistently. It's really hard to pace yourself at the beginning of a big race. You've got a nice surge of adrenaline going, and your body feels fresh and fast. The trick is to override all that and remind yourself that there's a long day ahead. I gave myself about a half an hour leash in that regard. After that first thirty minutes, I tried really hard to ease up on the pace. I'd get behind someone that was going a little slower than I could have gone, and I'd stay there for a little while. Sometimes they'd pull away eventually, and other times I'd eventually pull away from them. This strategy must have worked really well because by the halfway point I was still feeling pretty good. The slightly lowered pace also enabled me to concentrate on taking in a consistent 250 calories an hour. After the 27 km mark, I definitely started to get tired. My arms were getting a little sore, and my legs were just beginning to protest. Still, I was making good time and eating well up to 35 km or so. Then I encountered a small technical difficulty. I stopped for maybe two minutes at an aid station to get some extra calories out of my pack. When I tried to start moving again, I couldn't. The warming temperatures had caused a good 2 inches of snow to become attached to my kick wax/klister. I had to remove both of my skis and scrape it off to get moving again. So for the remainder of the race I had to keep moving. This was both a blessing and a curse as you can imagine. There were definitely a couple of times where it would have been nice to catch my breath for a few seconds, but the thought of removing my skis to scrape them off again kept me skiing for the finish line. The last 5 km of the race sound easy enough in theory: 4 km of skiing across Lake Hayward and 1 km up the finishing stretch on Main St., and it's all flat. Well I'm here to tell you they were a super tough 5 km. My kick was gone, and I was tired. I just put my head down and double poled for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, we skied off the lake and into town. Then turning onto Main St. you can finally see the finish line. Thousands of drinking and screaming people line both sides of the street for three long blocks. And then you're done. Some nice young lady removed my timing chip, and another volunteer put a nice medal around my neck for finishing my first Birkie. Going into the race, my goal was to finish in around five hours. My time ended up being 5:01:19. My average heart rate was 170. In the 35-39 age group, I finished 45th out of 82. Overall there were just over 1,400 men skiing in the 54 km classic race, and I finished 785th. All told I was very happy with my race. Middle of the pack beats back of the pack any day of the week, especially at the biggest cross country ski race in North America. Before I left for the race I was pretty sure it would be a one time dealio just to see what all the hoopla was about. Now I know the reason for all the hoopla. It is an absolutely awesome event. Everything about it is world class: the racers, the trail, the crowds, everything. Bottom line, there is a very good chance I'll be back next winter.

1 comment:

parrabuddy said...

Enjoyed your blog which i found thru Fatty! Felt like i was at the event with you.
put me on your mailing list please,
also appreciate if you let me know how effective the tracking system has proved?