US Ski Teamers Noah Hoffman and Sophie Caldwell came to town today for a little dryland workout with the BKSL team as well as a few junior and master CSUers. The sun shone, it was pleasantly warm, the snow piles were slowly melting and the kids had a good time, capped off by the required game of wolves and reindeer. Then indoors for a Q & A session. Thanks Noah and Sophie!
Ann and I had planned to ski the Birkebeinerrennet (translation
Birkebeiner race) for over 25 years, but we were delayed with our family and
careers. Chris Bean, Robert & Lisa
Nadler are all long term ski friends from college, so when they called to
finally make our trip a reality we jumped at the chance. Some might argue that the Vasaloppet is the
most historic race as it too stems from historic events in 1505 and is a huge
race, however to Ann and I, the legend and incredible Birken race was always
the original and the big one. Imagine
that the Boston Marathon with all its history were actually run on the plains
of Marathon to commemorate Pheidippides announcing victory in
Athens. As long time skiers it was time
Legend of the Birkebeiner Race
The race has been skied since 1932 with huge
numbers of Norwegians participating each year.
The race honors the 1206 rescue of and 18 month old prince Hakon from an
opposing army. Two of their best skiers are given the task of skiing the
baby king to safety over the mountains in a brutal storm. It is legend and desperate times so the exact
story is probably not perfect, but it is clear that Hakon as a grown king later
unites all of Norway ending 1000 years of civil war and this ushers in Norway’s medieval golden
age. The famous drawing of the skiers with shield, spear and baby child
appropriate as they did in fact ski with one long pole which could often be
used not only to ski, but also as a spear or other implement (we saw poles with
ladles and many other innovations in the museum). The race now regularly draws
over 10,000 with up to 17,000 start numbers. A lot of Norwegians have now carried the baby king to safety.
You have to plan early for these big
marathons. The Vasa sold out in 83
seconds last week and we were uncertain we could get into the Birken race last
spring. However, we found a package that
was a terrific location near Sjusjoen called Nordsetter with a nice lodge some
logistics, 3 meals and the all important entry, so the 5 of us signed up and
booked inexpensive flights. It always
seems easy when you say yes, but we knew it was going to take some planning. It pays to be a CSU coach if you have to figure
out a race of this magnitude as we know how easy it is to mess up logistics,
training, health and ski racing.
We decided to stay the first day in Oslo but we should have gone
earlier to watch the Holmenkollen as the world cup was in town. Also, you can ski right from the subway with
skis on the train. We did go to see the jump, ski course, museum and more as it’s
unique to see a famous venue on some hills just outside of Oslo. It is an easy subway ride from the center of
town as long as you don’t mind sitting next to folks taking their skis and
poles out mid day ski. Business people
yes, tourists yes, shopper of course and yes I see the wax is purple klister from the guy next to me. The first advertisements I see as we get on
to the train are about ski racing. We
are at the home of Nordic skiing. That sort of helps as we lug huge duffle bags,
ski bags and Birken packs through the various train stations.
two great friends from school that I had not seen for some years. Kjell Sobak and Don Skantze. Kjell was a silver medalist (and 4th)
in Biathlon in the Olympics and he won the Vasaloppet. He also taught me a ton about skiing long ago
when it was all a mystery. He knows exactly how to deal with young Americans
who could run fast in fall XC, but were still not quite there in XC skiing. Kjell, what do we wax? His stock answer. Read the tube. We all had a terrific dinner right near the
parliament and Kjell gave the 5 of us a private tour of the city which was just
fun. You can see Robert and Lisa showing that these sculptures had nothing on US skiers. From there we went by train and bus
to Lillehammer, which had its own challenges even though the trains are superb.
We skied for 4 days before the race. I realized long before the race that while we
were all skiing pretty well in classic, it was not going to be my focus to
shave off the last minutes in this race.
Just too many moving
parts and especially this trip was our chance to
see so much skiing and ski history in
Norway. So we skied a ton. You can ski across these long gradual classic
striding hills on perfect tracks with views and beautiful scenery literally
forever. 50K, 100K, I am not sure, but I
imagine there ware `1000s of Ks so ski if you’re really just kept linking up
loops. There is a GPS on every piston
bully in Norway and the app shows you very efficiently what tracks were set in
the last hours or days. While you ski
there are signs at each intersection that point to the next town and tell you
whether there is food and they had huge maps for those of us without a clue.
One day we skied to a town called Hornsjo and a
neighboring hotel 12 km away for some hot soup and a return ski
back. We were dropped off 2 days prior to the race at the 29K mark and
skied to the big ski town Sjusjoen, which sits at about 3000 feet, then up over
a small windswept Mt Lunkefjell where Ann found evidence of Ski O, then back
home to Nordsetter. The day before the
race we were driven back up to Sjusjoen and skied the final 13km all downhill
to the Birkebeiner Stadium- the main venue for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.
Like the uphills, the downhills are long and gradual, so it is much different
from anything we ski on at home. You
must carry the baby king! Birken
requires an 8 pound pack with shirt, windbreaker, pants, hat, mittens and buff,
plus whatever else makes up the weight.
Top racers get them pretty skinny, but we wanted to change clothes and
carry wax and food, so our packs were a bit larger and we adorned them with
various patches, while two of the packs featured dolls of the baby king.
The big day starts with a bus pickup at about
4.30 AM as it is 2.5 hours to get around the mountains, past Lillehammer, down
the Fjord (more of an inlet from the ocean vs. the huge cliffs along the coast) in a huge line of silent early morning buses
and over to the next Fjord heading to Rena.
Now we have to ski back. The race
organization is phenomenal. We arrive in
front of at least 50 swix benches, irons, waxes next to warm drinks and
porridge at the venue and of course a lovely tent with a raised wooden floor. Such luxury. Of course we argued for days about the
changing wax as it was frozen slush down low and powder over hard pack up
high. Then it snowed the night before
the race, but not at the start where there is an immediate 14KM (you
that correctly) uphill. Not wanting to
be short of kick, we put on the lightest coat of klister possible and covered
with blue and violet range stick wax.
Our mistake was both in the klister and warmer wax. You can actually double pole in the fast frozen
tracks and live pretty well for a few Ks with less kick, then go with great
skis for the rest of the race which were in the highlands. Toko green stick base binder and blue or extra
blue (viola) would have been a bit better as we were a little slow on the
double poling in the high dry powder, but hey with 3 giant hills (14K, 6K, 8K
aka low mountains) I was happy to have kick.
Starting long after the Elite waves, we skied
up the track the first K and watched the race start. Therese Johaug (aka number 2 in the world
only to Marit) immediately skis off the front and by herself sets a record. But
in the men’s race Sunby admits that a non world cup skier cup skier blows his
doors off double poling the entire race and leaving him by 10 seconds with 2 KM
to go. "It must have been your skis”
says the announcer. No he says, despite
my kick wax, my skis were flying and I caught him on the downhills, he was just
much stronger in double poling. There
are just a lot of great skiers in Norway.
We started in waves 2, 11, 13, 14 and 18. Alas, I was stuck in 14 with Ann in wave 13
as I had skated the American Birkie last year and they discounted my 2 year old
time. At least I could ski up to Ann and
say hello to someone in the race. A quick calculation shows that the beginning
of the snake was finishing before the last wave had started, so this
spectacular wave of skiers was over 54 km long.
Wow. I also calculated that if I
included my wave 14, I skied past 1850 skiers and had 3 beat me from my wave
and one from wave 15 so I certainly exceeded my seed if nothing else. The rest of our team was actually placed
almost perfectly which is the case for most Norwegians. The race is 6-10 tracks wide, most of the
racers are skiing technically well and all the skiers go at the same pace due
to their superb seeding. (I was the
fast skier stuck back as I had not followed their seeding rules, but I
just wanted to try the American Birkie skate last year). Robin Anderson was on our plane & she was
the top non elite women’s wave as they have a second top women’s start soon
after the men begin.
What I most remember about the race is this vivid image of
thousands of skiers winding far up these long hills in a huge snake across the
open country side with bright white low mountains and unusual terrain. It is unique site in a breathless terrain. However,
it was a deceptive and exhausting race.
Maybe because I had to change tracks so much, or went a bit too hard, I
had nobody to draft at my speed or it was just the long super skiable
hills? You did get some really nice long
downhill rest sections and long double poles, so I was a little surprised how
tired we all were going up the final climbs.
My short stops for food and drink to sneak past another 50 turned much
longer munch fests at the feeds and after 35K as I was just shuffling, but my
energy returned after a long flat double pole and at the end it was much easier
as the last 13 K are mostly downhill sections to the finish. I know I could have skied the race a bit faster,
but it was just such an epic event with perfect weather, skiers and tracks. My only minor complaint is that with 8755
good, aka serious racers who carry goo, they can drop a lot of goo. I mean 10,000 goos that are mostly in the
tracks! Ouch, you get good at picking up
a foot here, there and everywhere. They
have an environmental campaign to reduce litter, but it needs work.
While endless analysis with my friends suggests a more perfected
race could well have been much faster, it is not realistic to think even with
my top race and the absolutely perfect luck, I could have taken more than say 10
– 20 minutes off my time. (wax, less
pre-race ski, travel, more training – less work, no drafting in the wind, endless
passing, goo packs, bonking for 20 minutes, slowing down on the downhill, forgo
my inhaler, did I spill jelly on my skis and maybe the sun was in my
eyes). Regardless, we all skied well,
but my 2nd place in master’s nationals at Craftsbury was replaced by 268th
place in my age in the Birken and even 20 minutes faster is still a ways back. We mostly did make the 25% age group, yippee. Wow do they have depth. Ann
was 39th and got a mini
trophy. I was very happy to see her finish as the
final downhill was really fast, a bit icy with some ruts and you ski downhill
about 4 abreast. Ann had a partial tear
of her medial collateral ligament on Jan 7, so her recovery is astounding. She
was just thrilled to ski into Olympic stadium after such an epic journey and
was very emotional at the finish. You
could not have asked for a nicer day and better scenery and yes I did look around a lot. Then
a bus ride took us to the famous Hakon hall Olympic hockey venue seating 11,000, showers, ski vendors and the like. Note I
found electric braking roller skis
with a trigger on you pole handle and a fold up 3 pound wax bench that would
fit in a ski pole tube.
Sunday featured another
pre- 4 am wake up to make the 5:10 AM Lillehammer
- Oslo airport train, but our group was still chatting about the race so the
travel, though so the trip was not so bad. I could go on with stories and details, but
it is a terrific place to ski and race and I would highly recommend it if you
ever get the chance. If you are going to
the Birken feel free to ask other details.
The last of the NENSA Marathon series was the Sugarloaf
Marathon. I was totally psyched about
going up again this year after I had such a good time skiing it last year in
really good, and unexpected, conditions.
With more snow and colder temps heading into it I figured the skiing
might be even better.
On Friday a stalwart group of CSUers piled into Tom Simon’s
car (Mark Daughty, Robert Faltus, Andy Milne and myself) for the trek to Pat’s
Pizza in Auburn for an excellent pre-race dinner (and cheap too!) and then the Wilson Lake Inn and then the morning
schlep up to Sugarloaf from there.
Robert, being the shortest, got relegated to the cheap seats in the back
from whence a zinger would be hurled into the conversation every now and then, lobbed
like a grenade of ridicule. That kept
the conversation going non-stop for 3 hours as we entered the land of no cell
phone service. I was trying to find out
the results of the EHS races in Rumfaaad and its tough up there even though we
were driving right past the road to Rumford!
After a reasonably restful night, more so than usual the
night before a big race, we headed off to Sugarloaf in the early dawn
light. There was much less snow in
Farmington than in my back yard, but as usual driving up the road to Sugarloaf,
it started piling up those last few miles before the touring center and it was
clearly powder snow upon our arrival.
Now, one of the best features of the Sugarloaf Marathon is the very low
schlep factor. On a scale of 1 – 10 this
race is a 2. Not bad. Lodge is right there, the stadium is right
there. No muss, no fuss, walk up, drop
the skis, go register. No logistics
planning needed whatsoever. Clinton was already there, having just done the surgical
strike by arising at 3:45 for the long drive up from Boston for the race! Other CSUers were trickling in such as Drew
Messinger and Cici Cruz-Uribe up from that hotbed of Nordic skiing, Falmouth, MA,
Jody Newton and Gray Holmes and Ari Ofsevit.
CSU made up a significant portion of the field, once again!
I hustled out the door to test my skis, but perhaps more
importantly, to test myself. A week ago,
while taking photos at the Westonloppet I tweaked my piriformis or something in
there somewhere and was having trouble skiing all week. Yup, it wasn’t feeling any better and so I
went in and Tracey Cote, the Colby coach, switched me to the short race. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get
a chance to chase Nirmegh (NWVT) or Tom or Mark or Robert. Last year had been so much fun, but sometimes
when you get older you get smarter, at least about some things…… This gave me a chance to get up on the bridge
into the stadium and watch the start of the long race with Sugarloaf in all its
glory arising behind the stadium. (See
photos posted a week ago.) Fabulous mountain for sure! Everyone took off, some faster than others
and as they disappeared into the woods for lap 1 I went down to get ready for
my race. We took off as some of the
faster marathoners were already lapping through. At the start I was presented with a couple
right turns and my butt was not happy going in that direction. This might be a long short race! I wasn’t effective at V2 or alt V2
either. Well, there is always double
pole, so I threw that in where necessary and on we went. V1 was good and going around left turns was
good so at least I could go up hill ok. I
I’m happy to say that the skiing was truly fabulous with
firm powder snow. Plus, no wind, it was
in the mid-20s and so not freezing either.
Hey, we deserved this after the conditions we’ve skied in all
winter! My first no buff race in a long
time! Basically, the story of my race was that I
couldn’t hang with anyone so I just cruised along trying to wake up from lack
of sufficiently strong coffee. At this
point I thought how happy I was to have moved to the 2 lapper as I was
systemically tired. Andy went by on the
long uphill towing a whole group along, including Ari. They were looking strong and I just moved
over to get out of the way and they were gone before long. The high speed descent was a bit interesting
given my injury with its sweeping right bends that normally you step turn
around, but that set off alarm bells in my gluteal area and I ended up just
steering around it, which in the perfect snow was just fine. At this point I noticed that Raul Siren was
lurking behind me. Raul and I have had
some great races together going back 20-25 years and so now I had a reason to
step it up and try to stay ahead of him.
The Sugarloaf course they now use is really fun and the 2nd
half of it has lots up smaller ups and downs, many corners to try to maintain
speed on and nothing that will kill you aerobically or otherwise. It wasn’t long and then we were off on lap
2. On the long uphill Elisa Bradley and
Izzy Caldwell caught up. I was able to
hop in behind and hang with them most of the way up the hill before they too
disappeared, gapping me where I couldn’t effectively V2. Once again, on the long fast downhill alarm
bells clanged from my butt muscles and then onto the fun part of the
course. I was not moving very fast, but
just fast enough to stay ahead of Raul.
When marathon skiers went by I’d hop in for as long as I could to gain,
if not a draft, at least some motivation.
I felt and skied better on lap 2 and before long tackled that final
nasty little climb into the stadium and I was done. Not a very inspiring race, but it was great
skiing. I watched Gray and Jody come in
and then grabbed my warmups and camera and headed out onto the course to watch
the rest of the gang on their 4th lap. Andy came by still towing Ari and a few
others. Looks like Andy did all the work,
but then Ari sprinted around him at the end. Greg Harkay came up the hill having an excellent race, then Mark came by looking very relaxed and smooth and clearly having an
excellent race with Drew right on his heels.
Mark managed to stay ahead at the finish. A bit later Brett came up the hill and I told
him Robert was right behind. He had
thought Robert was further back and so that motivated him to pick it up to the
finish. Robert was chasing but was
unable to close the gap by the finish. Steve Moreau was having a fabulous race in what I believe he said was his first marathon! Nice! Cici then came up the hill looking pretty strong. And then I waited for Tom. Where was he?
I waited some more but decided maybe I should ski back. As soon as I got back Clinton
was coming around the corner for his finish looking pretty good for a guy who
got up early and drove from Boston
to start his day! And then more
waiting. Did Tom drop out? No, finally, he came over the bridge and
around the corner into the stadium, totally wasted. Tom had visited BonkCity
and dragged himself over the line, barely.
Inside several CSUers scored prizes for placing in their
respective age groups and several scored a Swix hat for being endurance
warriers, having completed at least 4 marathons in the NENSA marathon
series. And like that, the season was
essentially done. We piled back into
Tom’s car as the sun popped out for a while, feeling very spring-like, and
headed for Boston. Andy graded papers, Mark drove, Robert lobbed
one-liners from the back of the bus until he fell asleep from a days hard
efforts, I resumed trying to download results of the EHS relays and reading out
the awesome CSU results and Tom and Mark bantered in the front. For a couple of us it had been one race too
many. For others an excellent day. For all it was one of the best days of skiing
of the year in a year with a lot of good ski conditions.