While this story is not going to be anywhere near the entertainment value of my 2009 Birkebeiner Race Report I think I should still describe it… although a bit more briefly.
The morning started 30 minutes later than normal because organizers wanted to give it a bit of extra time to warm up. This was definitely appreciated. Still though, it was a green-wax morning, and I added two layers of V30 on top of the six layers of VR40 I had applied the night before (over a relatively thick KR20 binder). I had done as best a job with LF6 glide wax that I could but the scraping/brush job was still a bit hack because I still haven’t built a ski-form. That half hour delay made the difference in clothing choices for me and I got away with one less than I probably would have worn if we’d started at 9am. I almost certainly would have had to stop and take that extra one off as temperatures reached ~-5oC by the finish. Luckily the difference between start and finish was only to remove my outer mitts and to partly unzip my windbreaker and jacket.
At the advice of my ski coach Emily, I lined up just in front of the 4 hour mark. That meant I was 8th row back. I had also been instructed that due to my fitness and skill level it was basically impossible for me to go too hard at the start. The positioning benefits of a max-effort start were going to be worth it and I could always recover later… when I would be in front of all kinds of slower people and not have to deal with passing them later. I started absolutely as hard as I could when the horn sounded, and was seeded in what I felt like was an appropriate spot. I dealt with just a bit of congestion at the third time the number of lanes reduced and we had to merge but otherwise was able to go full tilt all the way across the lake. I went through the first couple kilometers at sub-3:30/km pace and then I lost a pole. The velcro came undone and because of my enthusiastic polling I pulled my hand right out of the loop. Luckily by the time I had slowed and stepped out of the track someone behind me had picked it up and I didn’t need to shuffle-step backwards through the traffic to go pick it up. It took a bit of time to get the strap re-threaded and I got passed by a few people but I got going again without too much delay. I guess that was what Emily was referring to when she said “You can always recover later”.
I kept the gas going full-tilt until soon after station 1. I believed at this point that I was working really really hard and I should probably try and start to be strategic and get behind a few other skiers for some drafting. This allowed me to back off my effort level temporarily from really really hard to just really hard. After a bit, drafting either suddenly became incredibly easy or the two guys I was following decided to give up. I passed them and pushed on to try and catch the guy in the red jacket. He was about 150 m ahead of us and it took me about 5 kms to catch him. Good motivation to push hard. Somewhere in there I rolled past the 10 km mark and found myself on-pace for a 3:37. I then proceeded to draft him for a kilometer or two before getting dropped on a big uphill. I had just ticked past the first hour at that point and decided I needed to try and get in a few more calories as the first couple aid stations had proved minimally successful, just a cup of gatorade at each. I let myself fall behind a ways and got a gel in. I also decided I would coast the remaining stations and get three cups of gatorade and either a piece of banana or a fig newton at each. It was a smart decision in retrospect and if I’d waited much longer I would have been in trouble getting enough energy down my throat. Things progressed and I went through 20kms on pace for a 3:35 finish.
Just before the Winter station I was passed by the leaders of the 31km race… and witnessed one of them go up a hill in three steps. The same one took me more than 10 steps. The interaction with the leaders of the 31km race was short as we split off to head down to Islet Lake on the long route. I spent another 5kms trying to reel in the guy in the blue jacket who was about 100 m ahead of me when we turned onto Lost Lake. Rolled through the 30km mark on pace for a 3:40 finish. I caught him just as we were approaching the Islet Lake station and was then passed by another pair. I tried to keep up with them in a moment of inspiration but they were flying and even skiing as third person in the train I was outclassed. This meant I skied solo back to Elk-Push having dropped the blue jacket man while trying to pursue the other two guys.
I was passed by teammate Tanner Broadbent like I was standing still on the big hill out of Elk-Push (who was skiing 55 km “Lite”) and was thoroughly humbled as I was starting to get sloppy with my weight transfer and was loosing good kick as a result of fatigue. Wax was good though and I spent the better part of the next long rolling section to Wanisan focussed on good technique. It was a good way to get through this challenging section quickly and I passed a number of people here including Jan Plavec who I didn’t even recognize as I went past.
I rolled through the 40 km mark on pace for a 3:43 finish time and got done the marathon a few seconds over the 2:50 mark. If only I could figure out how to run that fast! The long double-polling sections begin right around Wanisan and I struggled to keep myself motivated to keep double polling even though I knew it was the fastest technique for the terrain. The kilometers kept rolling past and I was really needing to start the self-motivation to keep the effort level rising in an attempt to maintain pace. I dug out a caffinated latte flavour gel with 10 kms to go and it tasted super amazing. I can’t handle them at all on the bike, the flavour doesn’t work for me in the summer, but skiing it was just what I needed. I was starting to pass lots of people at this point, almost all of them not going anywhere quickly and no-one able to keep up. I caught and passed the red-jacket guy here who I’d absolutely killed myself to keep up with from kms 10-15 and was pretty proud of myself. I slid past the 50km sign still on pace for a 3:43 finish and just kept telling myself to hold it together for another 20 minutes.
I think I passed another 5 guys in the closing 5 kms and got to the 1 km to go sign just as I got the first twinges in my hamstrings. My technique was starting to fail even when I was focussed on it and I was very glad that this thing was almost over. With about 200 meters to go I got a crazy cramp in my right thumb and laughed at myself on the last glide in to the finish with a bit of a gimpy polling technique.
Third in my AG and tenth overall in the with-pack division. About 35 minutes faster than last year!
Shout outs to: Keegan for his first Birkebeiner ever, Laura for her first time through with a pack, Danika for starting classic skiing a few weeks ago and managing to get on her AG podium. Emily for an incredible fourth place and Aaron for a fantastic third. Tanner, Jason, Greg and Paul from ERTC. Also to some intrepid 31 km skiers (which we decided would be considered a crazy-far distance to go and race if the 55 km race didn’t exist) Lenka (Fast!) Paul (Fast!), Claire, and Brent and Lianne who won’t make the mistake of arriving late to the start grid ever again. Also Corey, for an incredible performance in the 60+ AG! I’m going to learn how to ski from that man and I’ll be back for Birkie 2013!