Monday, March 19, 2018

Rune's Birken #2 - Top 25!

When you're on a roll, you just keep going, and that's how Rune's winter is going.  After his age-group win at the American Birkie, he headed across the pond to tackle the Norwegian version.  How did that go?  Like this!  Many thanks, Rune, for sending us your story so we can imagine what it would be like to ski like that, and thanks to Augustina also, for the photos, so we can imagine we are there.
Norwegian Birkebeiner 2018 
The weather forecast a few days before the race showed the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, close to the North Pole, right around 0 degrees Celsius and Rena, the start of the Norwegian Birkebeiner, at -22 C (-9F); go figure!  Having done the American Birkie in similar temperatures only a month ago, I thought this wasn’t going to be so bad.  Wrong!  I swear, -22 C at Rena feels way colder than -22 C in Wisconsin.   Maybe because Wisconsin is always cold while the temps at the Norwegian Birkie typically are a few degrees +/- 0 C…?  With the temperature that low at the start, and a forecast of temps staying below -15 C throughout the course at least until noon, it really puts clothing and day of race routines to a test.  Layers and layers, topped with my wonderful Bergans down jacket, and I was actually quite warm by the time I had finished the 20-minute walk from the farm house I stayed at to the start area.  A quick test of the skis revealed a solid kick.  This year, I was fortunate to be able to have Zach Caldwell (Caldwell Sports) wax my skis.  After Zach waxed my skis at the Worlds in January, I have complete confidence in him and probably would have skied on klister if he had said to do so (or maybe not).  After I picked up my skis the day before the race, all waxed and ready to go, I must admit I got a bit of a panic attack after Zach called me later in the day asking me to scrape off all the kick wax he had applied.  This is how attentive to details Zach is; he waxed his own skis identical, then tested later in the day and found that the kick wax application was way too thick and would drag too much.  “Scrape it off and apply one layer of Monkey cold (never heard of the wax before) and you will kick up every hill.”  So I did and, as always, Zach was spot on in his prediction.  
Based on my American Birkie result, I qualified for Wave 2, barely with a 1-minute margin.  With 400 skiers in the wave and 8 tracks out of the start, it gets really tight and the tempo the first 10 k or so is very uneven, with a serious sling shot effect in the back of the group.  This can be very exhausting, constantly trying to speed up on the flatter sections only to come to a complete stop when double polers can barely make it up some of the hills.  Knowing that it would take longer than normal to even get your core temp back to normal, let alone get warmed up, I decided to radically change my start strategy.  I lined up at the very back of the group and as the start gun went off, I was still putting my jacket in my back pack and stepped aside so that the 100 Women Elite 2 starting with us could pass.  Then I hung around the start for another few minutes before finally starting my race, which officially starts when you cross the mat and not when the gun goes off.  The strategy worked out perfectly.  I was able to settle into a steady pace, enjoying open tracks and passing skiers as the group sorted itself out and the slower skiers fell behind.   After 12k and 550M of climb, we are at the top of the first mountain. The race was going perfectly with a great kick, a steady pace, and constantly passing groups of wave 2 skiers.  It was very motivating knowing that not only did I pass skiers, but I also knew that I was already 3 minutes or so ahead of the ones I passed, due to my “later” start time.  The 2nd part of the ski equation is the glide and I was delighted to find that my glide was as good as or better than the skiers around me as we did the first long descent.  Zach scored!  Full of confidence and motivation, I skied as hard as I could the rest of the course, never really having any weak spots.  Mountain #3, Midtfjellet, is a tough one with some of the steepest climbs.  I was certainly tired but as long as I was still passing skiers, I knew things were going well. 
I finished the race in 3:20:00, which was good enough for a 21st place in my age group (800+ skiers).  Last year I was 52nd in my age group and thought that, with great skis and a great day, I may be able to break top 25 so I was very happy about reaching the goal of top 25.  A total of 8,800 skiers completed the race and I placed 415th overall.  When Petter Northug can’t even break into the top 100, I am good with 415th!       

The next day, Rune and Augustina went out for a little ski in the winter wonderland that is Norway.  Sigh ...

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