Monday, February 22, 2016

Rune Rocks the Birkie, 2016

First in his age group, eighth overall ... how does he do it?  Just like this.
OMG!  What a difference 25 degrees can make!  First, I just want to say how much I love my new Madshus redline white base skis and the best klister ever invented, Rode Multigrade.  After years of bitterly cold conditions (at least it seems that way when coming from Seattle), there was a complete change in the weather the days leading up to the race and the temps the last 48 hours before the race were well into the 30s, home field advantage for us Snoqualmie skiers!   While the Midwesterners were freaking out and there was a stampede at the local sports store on whichever klisters were recommended by Boulder Mountain Nordic and the like, there was full control in the wax room at the Hoidas.  My instinct was to go with what I know works, Rode Multigrade.  Per Johnsen came to the same conclusion and our call was confirmed when Tore Saupstad, a Norwegian wax expert visiting for the race, announced after the last round of testing on Friday, “Multigrade with a dash of Rossa is perfect!” 
Race day arrived and as predicted, lows overnight did not dip below freezing and it was a lovely 34 degrees at race start. 

In years past, getting in a good position into the first hills has always been such a mad scramble, risking poles to manage a position among the top 25 skiers.  This year, I noticed while warming up that the pole plant in the tracks out from the start lane was really poor, while the skate platform to the right had something that resembled 5’ wide frozen hard packed lanes.  My strategy was to forget about the tracks, line up to the right and double pole one of those hard packed lanes to the end of the runway (about 500 meters). 

The strategy worked and when I had to leave the skate lane and merge into the tracks, I was in 2nd place with lots of room to merge into the tracks.  The leader, who ended up winning the race 12 minutes ahead of the next skier, was already several seconds ahead.  There was no way I was going to set the pace for the rest of the pack so I dropped back a few places and let the younger guys set the pace.  The field stretched out rather quickly and the lead group was down to 6 or 7 skiers within a few Ks.  The pace didn’t feel particularly fast, but the occasional peek at the heart rate monitor told a different story, hitting the redline on every hill.  Oh well, I felt good, skis were phenomenal, both kick and glide (no idea what Boulder Mountain Nordic put on but combined with the underlying structure, it worked!) so I decided to focus on rhythm and stayed with the group.  After 15k, the front 3 had a gap and I was skiing with two other guys at the tail end, nothing unusual about that, except that this year, I had such incredible glide that I by default ended up pulling our 3-man group and after 25k, we had caught the front 3 so that by Double OO, other than the lone skier way ahead, I was right there with the lead group, something I have never done before this far into the race. 
The group again separated, a couple of skiers came from behind, so by Mosquito Brook (42k), there were two of us skiing together in 8th and 9th place with a significant gap to the next skiers ahead of us.  One of the things, among many, that I have learned about the Birkie is that you have got to have energy for the hills on the last stretch of the race.  There are three significant long climbs after Mosquito Brook, Bitch Hill being one of them, that can really make or break (which often happens) a skier’s Birkie performance.  I was able to drop the one skier up the first hill and focus now shifted to what it always does at this stage, pure survival.  To make things more interesting, the organizers this year added another climb, so just when I thought I was done with the three major climbs, the course takes an unexpected turn and there is this one long climb ahead of me.  As Per said, the worst thing about the extra hill is that you can see all the way to the top, and it was a long grueling climb and the reason the course was 56k this year. 
The Lake didn’t disappoint and again proved to be the steepest uphill lake I have ever double poled.  This year, the warm temps made the top layer into a melt which had nowhere to go but to be plowed into a deeper and deeper wet and messy soup of water and ice by thousands of skiers.  The finish couldn’t come soon enough after the Lake. 

With Augustina waiting for me at the finish line, cheering me on and excited about the race, an 8th place finish overall, winner of my age group (oldest skier ahead of me was 33), this year’s Birkie turned out better than I ever could have hoped for.

Thank you, Augustina, for the photos!.

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