For every glorious attack, there is an equal but opposite glorious grasping in the back of the pack. It’s not the winning move but it’s the move of someone who will not fold. The flailing reaction of a resilient spirit. Heidi SwiftYup, lessons were learned. Going into the Birkie, I was wondering if a training diet of bike commuting and roller ski intervals, not to mention large holes in time where I did no training at all because I was sick or tired or working super late or whatever, would be enough to carry me through 55k of never-ending ups and downs, and the answer, at least for someone of my ability and skill level, is a resounding NO. Right from the first 5k, I realized I was in for a long long day; I sorely missed the pop and leg strength that would have come from some good long trail runs and some after-work sessions lifting heavy weights. I even, in the first 5k, found myself hoping I would fall on a hill and break a pole and get pulled from the race, and that has NEVER happened to me before! (Yeah, I know there's pole service at the aid stations, but I would have pretended not to know.)
I've also never been so freakin' cold. This is the view from Joe and Cheri's gorgeous home right next to the Birkie trail:
Pretty, huh? But this is the temperature the first day I was there. This is Fahren-freakin'-heit, people, and my brain didn't even know how to understand it!
The next day, the day before the race, it was -15F and I went out for an hour ski to see if I could figure out what to wear. I was super cold; my throat squeaked shut when I took a breath and my asthmatic lungs shriveled into frozen little prunes. Race day warmed up to +15F and I figured I could wear one less layer than I had the day before, but I was wrong. I was cold all day, shivering, stiff and unwieldy on the downhills, creaky on the uphills. My face hurt in the cold, even with dermatone slathered all over. The extreme cold might have even led to a rookie mistake on my part; when we waxed skis the day before, I kept adding more layers of kick wax -- more green, because it's cold! And more blue, because it might warm up! And then more green, because it will be colder first thing, and then more blue because, well, just because. One of the guys in our house asked me if I was planning to ski all the way back to Cable after the race, because I had so much wax on. Um, no, smarty pants.
But I probably had too much kick; my skis were flying fast on the downhills, thanks to Per and Joe's fancy powders (wasted on me, really, but I appreciated it!) ...
but I was able to walk up too many hills that others were herringboning or bounding. So I felt draggy on the flats and ups, but maybe that was because I was so cold, or had too much wax, or just plain wasn't in the right condition for this event. It was a long long day, but once I decided I wasn't going to have a great race and neither was I going to drop out, I just put my head down and kept going, uphill after downhill after uphill after downhill.
So was it fun to be so far back in the pack, cold and struggling, wheezing, plodding up endless hills, finally crossing the finish line after seven and a half hours, fer cryin' out loud, with a raging cough that still hasn't calmed down? No, of course not. But was it fun to spend the whole day skiing through a snowstorm in the peaceful quiet north woods, on real snow -- so soft you could poof it off your car with a brush instead of chiseling at it with an ice scraper -- fat snowflakes landing on my nose, chatting with the awesome aid station volunteers, making friends with other skiers I leapfrogged as we made our way to Hayward, knowing Per was waiting at the end to whisk Sandy and me home to Joe and Cheri's for saunas and hot showers and scrumptious dinner (cupcakes! wine! lots of wine!), and then delicious sleep? (Thanks, Snorin' Brian, for relinquishing our bunk room to me and sleeping on the couch so I could sleep!) Was it fun to spend a long weekend with Joe and Cheri, who are so amazingly warm and gracious and caring, and their fun friends? Yes yes yes! The good parts were worth way way more than the pain, and they're the parts I think about now.
And there were lots of other good parts to that weekend. We went to the VIP Birkie bash, where the most awesome chef was manning a pasta bar. Yum, home-made pesto!
And I got to spend a couple of minutes with the amazing Holly Brooks, hoping a tiny bit of her awesomeness would rub off on me. Two days later, she demolished a strong international women's field in the 51k Birkie skate, winning by almost 30 seconds and re-claiming the FIS leader's bib.
I knew she was going to be running a Fast and Female event on Sunday at the high school. I'm a huge fan of that program, so I asked her if she needed another volunteer, and she did! The event is aimed at girls aged 9-19, hoping to keep them interested in sports as they enter the dangerous teens. We had activity stations, dancing, kick boxing, snacks, and a talk by Holly about her incredible race, and made a music video to wish the US Ski Team good luck in Falun. I was put to work at the ski erg relay, where I used my height to pull the handles down so the little girls could reach them!
Then, with no time for lunch, it was time to head for Minneapolis and the airport, and here is where a whole string of totally serendipitous events happened. First, Per gave me meticulous driving instructions for getting to the airport, but I missed a critical turnoff and found myself meandering down some empty little country road kind of in the middle of nowheresville, western Wisconsin. I kept following this road, knowing it was the wrong one but hoping it would somehow magically turn into the right one, and watching precious minutes tick away on the clock. Just when I started to get really worried about how lost I was, I came to a big beautiful interstate heading to St Paul. I knew I'd rather be going to St Paul than continuing on this little road to Iowa or somewhere, so I jumped on. Almost immediately, I saw an exit for a rest area. Sometimes rest areas have maps! (which my rental car did not) So I pulled in and saw one car in the parking lot, with a man just getting in. I ran over to him and asked if he was familiar with this area, and he said no, he was just passing through, on his way to the AIRPORT!! Saved! So he showed me his GPS so I could figure out where I was and where to go, and off I went to the airport.
I thought for sure I would have missed my plane by now, but it turned out it left a half hour later than I expected and I made it -- serendipitous thing number two. And this is the third serendipitous thing: my seat assignment was E, which I figured was a middle seat, and I wasn't sure I had enough energy to squeeze my tired achy coughing self into a middle seat. But it was an aisle, with a very nice older gentleman across the aisle for a little conversation.
Fourth serendipitous thing: Marcy and Pete were on my plane! And when I mentioned that I hadn't eaten since morning and was hoping the airplane food wouldn't be too awful (oh ha ha ha), Marcy went back to her seat and came back with a home-made turkey sandwich, not that icky pressed fake turkey but real turkey, and some home-made cookies. They stay with their aunt in Duluth when they come to the Birkie, and after the race she makes them a big fancy Thanksgiving dinner. Then the next day she sends them off to the airport with sandwiches and cookies, which they then amazingly and generously shared with me. I am quite sure that was the best turkey sandwich I have ever had in my life.
In Seattle, it was skier reunion time at the baggage carousel. Marcy and Pete were there, of course, and also Kent and Super Tony, on their way to the Engadin next weekend, and Andrew and Sonia, back from their fifth Birkie. The final good thing: I had an airport parking pass, which is my company's but can be used for personal travel if no one needs it for business. As tired and sickish as I was by then, I was so so happy to skip the shuttle express winding through Magnolia and Fremont before it gets to my house and just jump in my car and go home. An hour after I got off the plane, I was in bed, my ski stuff strewn all about the house.
So now I have a whopper of a cold, so I'm going to lay low for a while, recover and rest up, and then start putting some thought into how I can squeeze in better quality training around the constraints of my real life. Because that mean old Birkie slapped me down this year and I need to go back and show it is not the boss of me.