Rune and Augustina are in the snow heaven that is Norway right now, where he double poled the HalvBirken last weekend and came in 8th in his age group, feeling strong and fit, before he heads to the Big Daddy Birken next weekend.
But first, he had a little warm-up ski at the American Birkie, where he not only demolished his own age group, but also put some serious kick-ass on the 40-somethings! Here is his story:
This year, the organizers were about as lucky as possible, as opposed to last year’s rain-out and ultimate cancellation. 6” of show 5 days prior to the race and another 6” 2 days before, with cold temperatures throughout, made for fabulous conditions and firm tracks. Although the -9F at start was about 20F below predicted temp -- didn’t see that one coming!
While the skate field has its steady participation of top level European racers as well as a number of US top guns, one never really knows what to expect in the classic field, and I have learned to not get too caught up in how I fare out of the gate. Two years ago I shot out to a top 5 spot relatively easily. This year there was a cluster of about a dozen skiers shooting out at a much higher speed than the next group of another dozen skiers or so; I quickly realized that the 2nd group was more my speed and settled into a relatively comfortable speed within the group. Most years, I have kind of been in between the top guys and the rest and skied quite a bit of the race by myself. Skiing in a pack of 10 – 12 skiers was a little different than I was used to and, instead of going as hard as I could at all times, I was finding myself skiing near the front but never leading the pack and focusing on just staying at a steady rhythm, figuring that this group will dissolve on its own sooner or later. And that is just what happened. Some skiers took a little more time at the feed station at OO than others and didn’t have the speed to catch up with the group after the feed, so soon we were down to about 6 skiers who stayed together until Mosquito Brooks, a mostly flat stretch with lots of double pole and great opportunity to draft. Most of the work in the front was done by a young kid who never seemed to mind that he had half a dozen to a dozen skiers riding on his tails. Good for him, I thought; hopefully he saves some for the last hills.
Some of the most substantial climbs at the Classic Birkie actually come at the end, and staying in the pack conserving energy paid off big time. I was able to hold a steady pace up the hills, now skiing mostly outside the track since the kick wax was starting to wear off a little and the temperatures were reaching a balmy 20F or something like that. Shortly after Bitch Hill (the hill seems so innocent when training but during the race, it deserves its name!), I realized that I had a gap behind me and from there on, it was just to give it all in the last few hills to get as much of a gap as possible before getting onto the flat at the end. I kind of felt sorry for the kid who did all the work for us, but such is life at the Birkie trail; years of experience pay off and he might think differently about pulling the entire race next time. By the time I got to the lake, no one was in sight behind and it was just to let the arms go all out the last 3 K. I finished in 12th overall, won my age group as well as every group from 40 years and up, and was quite happy with the race and how the skis performed.
As I am writing this, I am sitting in a cabin in Lillehammer, Norway: tons of snow, miles upon miles of groomed trails and temps in the teens to lower 20s. The conditions for the Norwegian Birkie are looking spectacular and I am excited about the upcoming race!
Now for some serious eye candy from snow heaven, I mean, Norway. Augustina and I want to live in that cabin forever and eat Norwegian pastries every day!