I have found that there are two ways to race the Birkie: go out hard and try to stay with the lead pack as long as possible (ambitious), or start out more moderately, pace oneself and ski the most efficiently possible (smart). With this year being my last year in the 45-49 category, I am starting to think my strategy ought to shift to the latter.
I thought going in to the race that we might see more depth in the competition from the MidWest skiers, given their fabulous snow conditions this year, while we NW skiers are lacking in the on-snow department. I think both held true and it felt like a deep lead group this year, which I was able to stay with for the first 12 km or so. At that point, the pace picked up and became a little too fast for comfort. With a gap behind me, and other than the occasional drop-off from the lead group, it ended up being a solo race most of the course.
Conditions were cold (5 degrees), overcast to sunshine, with a foot of fresh snow which they could have done a better job grooming the first 28k. After we joined the skaters at OO, the tracks were firmer and faster as the skate course receives much more grooming attention than the classic-only course.
At 42k, all by myself, I could feel the tank was about to go empty and this year, Bitch Hill really was a Bitch! My speed had slowed and by the time I got to the Lake, a train of 5 skiers passed me, dropping me from a 17th overall to a 22nd. In a normal year, it wouldn’t take that much effort to get behind and keep up double poling, but with the strong headwind and windblown snow, we may as well have been up on a naked mountain top. I have never suffered more in the Birkie than going across that Lake!
All in all, happy with the race, won my age group which was my goal, and now have to figure how to make the energy last more than 2 ½ hours, and I guess the one I need to consult for that is Gunnar, one of our Kongsberger Members. I ran into him at the awards at 7 pm after the race. Gunnar is 83 years old, came in at a time of 8 hours. By then, he figured he may as well go straight to the Award Ceremony and see if he would get any hardware, no eating or changing. I gave him a ride to his hotel afterwards, and as we pass a restaurant, he says, “I may go up there and get some food later, when I feel like eating.” “What? Gunnar, you haven't eaten!?!” He said he doesn’t feel like eating for a while after a race. “But Gunnar, you raced for 8 hours!!!!” I will never complain about trivial stuff ever again.
And then I begged, Rune, please tell me how you managed to find a way to train in this dismal dry winter, when crybabies like me stayed home and whined? I have important lessons to learn! And here is what he wrote about that:
How to prepare for Birkie with little to no on-snow skiing. The short answer is rollerskiing, specifically double poling. Fortunately, we can double pole rollerski around here until the cows come home. Then there is the pure training volume and that is more of a mental trick, because by end of November we are used to getting a fair portion of training on snow, and it is hard to mentally keep up the volume with dry land only.
Now, the trickiest part is stride. Rollerskiing doesn’t even begin to address the need for stride training. There is always Tiger Mountain, which provides for strength, but hillbounding doesn’t prepare for the efficiency of proper striding. Sometimes we just have to turn the negative into a positive and for us this year, that was called Amabilis!! Normally, one seeks out more gentle terrain in early season skiing, but there is nothing gentle about trying to log kilometers up and down Amabilis. What it will do is give a solid base in striding, for those who found the time and effort to head up there.
With this, I felt I had three out of four bases covered heading into the Birkie. The area I was not adequately prepared was longer ski outings and races. Normally, I have three 30k races under my belt by the time I head to the Birkie. This year, they were all either canceled or shortened. I have relied entirely on local skiing this season and felt the lack of long on-snow sessions as well, hence, hitting the wall after 42k, or 2 ½ hours.
Thanks, Rune! Next time we have a less than optimal winter, at least I have a blueprint to follow.