After a rather lackluster season, mediocre at best, and struggling with my lungs ever since the Bavarian Cup 3 weeks ago, I was becoming cautiously optimistic that the body was getting back to normal in the days leading up to the Birkie. Arriving at Telemark Resort at the crack of dawn, half awake, I didn’t really know what to expect from myself, but my goal was to ski a steady, controlled race.
The conditions were near ideal, with 10 degrees and light snow at the start. This idea about skiing steady goes out the window when the gun blazes. The only available first tracks were far to the right at the start, which means I had to double pole like a mad man and then go diagonally across all the lanes to merge with the “field,” which started out in the far left tracks. My philosophy is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission in a ski race, and I have no problems stepping right on top of someone’s skis in order to break into the line, hence a few cuss words from whoever’s skis I stepped on as I joined the field somewhere around 20th to 25th place.
After about 5 k, the field was down to approximately 25 skiers, skiing in a surprisingly tight pack. Some of that had to do with the new fresh snow, which made it slightly slower for the leaders, and a serious rubber band effect around the 20th skier, where I was most of the time, breaking at the bottom of the hills and skiing onto each other, only to have to sprint up the hills to avoid letting gaps occur. The first 27 k we are on our own course (classic) with a fair amount of climbs and dowhills. There were times I thought of advancing in order to get a better position and to have less of a rubber band effect, but after redlining pretty good on the hardest hills, and needing many minutes to recover, I quickly abandoned that idea and thought that, as long as the pack stays together, around 20th is a fine place to be.
And I was in pretty good company, having the pleasure of exchanging a few words in Norwegian and skiing for quite some time, right next to, or behind, Vegard Ulvang!
At about 40k, we merged with the skaters, and the line started stretching out a little. There are a few longer uphills from 41 until the lake, and my thought was to ski as hard as I could in these hills to possibly advance. At this time, Vegard took off, as if he just knew that the field was about to stretch out, and secured himself a top position (like he has ever done races like this before!?!). I, on the other hand, did advance, but not by catching on the lead; instead, I was now picking off skiers who couldn’t stay with the pack. I skied steady to the end and ended up 14th in the pack, 17th overall, as there were 3 skiers in Wave 2 who had better times. Having glazed-in tracks and avoiding the herky jerky skiing probably made for smoother and faster skiing for the first 30k (until we merged with the skaters), hence some good times out of wave 2.
Overall, a great race, felt good, great kick and good glide, just a beautiful day on the Birkie Trail!