Here's someone who knows how to do it: Carol skied the Birkie last year, figured out a training plan to have a better race this year, actually followed through on that plan (what is her secret?), and had the race she wanted. Yay, Carol! Here is her story of the skate Birkie:
This year has been about trying to go a little faster. Not a lot faster, just a little. After all, I’m still a full time working mom. It seemed achievable because the conditions were so bad last year.
I stayed a bit fitter after last year’s race. I lost weight. I ran. In January, I increased the amount of distance I skied each week gradually, through 63 k, 75 k, 98 k, 107 k, then tapering with 58 k.
On the big day, my father started with the other people in the “Spirit of 35” wave. These are the old timers, some spry, some bundled up extra warm, and all ready to go. After the singing of our National Anthem, they went at 7:50. A very quiet start, I found it quite moving. A few minutes later the reenactors went out in their traditional costumes and wooden skis. Then I stepped back and listened as the women’s elite top skiers were named. Promptly at 8:00, the women’s elite skiers were off. The next wave of top men and women skiers came into the pen with a roar, startlingly rowdy after the other quiet starts.
I had cold hands and feet with an hour to wait until my wave, so I headed into the warming tent. I took off one boot and attempted to warm my toes with my hands. It didn’t work, but I tried the other foot all the same. I chatted to the people around me, and we exchanged what little information we had about where to drop off bags and what time to get in the pen to make our way forward to the start.
At the right time I headed out to the start area, dropped off my bag, and headed into the pen. It was miserably cold. My hands and feet hurt from the cold, and I considered using handwarmers, but decided against it. Then we were getting in position and putting on our skis. Why was I doing this? Then we were off, and I was done with the thinking part.
It’s flat and fast, but the snow was all mushy from 7000 prior skiers. It was crowded, and I found myself getting really irritated at everyone else. They were in my way, or stepping on my poles, or messing up the snow. I went too fast up the hills out of irritation. It was most unlike me. Each 5 km section has one major hill in it, and that first one warmed me up. By 4 k my hands were warm.
The first feed station is at 4.5 k. I had energy drink. Then off again. My feet warmed up at 6 k, and that was even better. At 8 k, I was dizzy, and realized I was dehydrated. Second feed station at 9 k, I had three drinks, stopping just short of a tummy ache, to try and get it together again. Soon I was no longer dizzy.
Somewhere in there is the first big downhill. There’s always a crowd at the top waiting and we waddle forward like little penguins. Then it was my turn. Someone fell in front of me, so I sat down and tumbled too. Cursing, I moved to the side and shook snow out of my clothes. I resolved not to fall any more. And I didn’t.
At the next feed station, I drank a lot more. This feed station had Gu squeeze packets and oranges, so I had some of them.
The next feed station I had to use the porta-potty, so I must have solved the dehydration problem. Soon after that, the Kortelopet people peeled off the left side, the snow was less mushy, and the density of people was greatly reduced. At 13 k we passed the high point. At 17 k I remarked that we were 1/3 of the way complete, and the guy next to me commended me on being able to do math during the race. I gradually found my rhythm and picked up speed.
It is a blur from there. I remember a lot of hills up and down. I remember passing and being passed by the lady with the flower hat and having a nice chat, but I don’t remember what we said. I remember recognizing we were at the midpoint at county road OO. Somewhere in there I changed my skis left for right to extend the wax. I didn’t fall on bobble head hill, where the snowmobilers jeer at you hoping you’ll crash. I enjoyed waving at the cheering spectators, because it made them happy and make little more noise. The encouragers need encouragement too. Up bitch hill, I realized that I was faster than most everyone else around me, so I took it a little easy to have a sustainable pace. I liked that the people at bitch hill had put signs along the trail before and after their position with encouraging words. After this, no one passed me. I passed several racers who were more spent than me.
I had been watching for bib 17256, Debbie Kolp, who I had met online in Washington, and I saw her! It was so exciting! What are the odds?? [ed.note: this was so fun! Good to meet you, Carol!]
The sun came out and the wind picked up as I got to the open area after the last feed station. I stopped and put on my husband’s balaclava again to warm up. Lake Hayward was nice and flat, but the wind was terrible. I asked a spectator to pull my hood up for me, and she did. It blew off again immediately and I just kept going. I had a good rhythm on the lake and again passed several spent skiers.
At the temporary wooden bridge over Hwy 63, and I heard my name. It was Will Whiton from Washington, who had finished hours before with wave 2. I was so surprised! He shouted encouraging words, and ran alongside the trail as I went over the bridge and down the other side. Where did he get that energy? Uphill on Main Street seemed like a long way. Finally I clicked through the bib number reader. There was a row of people right there in red first aid coats. They were between me and my medal. One asked me “How are you?” I must have answered lucidly enough, because they let me pass. A volunteer stapled my second year pin to my bib, and there was Will, offering to help carry my skis. So great to see him! In the end, I did the race in 7:04 this year, compared to 7:29 last year.
At the car I found out about my father’s injury. He fell on the last downhill. He caught his ski tip and pitched forward to land on his face. At the finish line where I passed through the line of first aid workers, they didn’t ask. They simply whisked him off to the first aid tent, cleaned the blood off his face, applied ointment and a band aid, and sent people off to get his 39 year pin and his bag. He called mother, and she fetched him from the first aid tent. He was understandably shaken by his fall, and we headed toward home.
Today we are both quite a bit better. Dad has a lovely shiner, but is recovering quickly. I'm looking forward to being home in Washington with my family.