Terry McNatt's Birkie story:
Birkie 2009 Report
What used to be a must ski race on my multi-marathon winter calendar has now turned into more of a family reunion visit with a long hard ski to cap it off. We travel out a week early visiting my parents in Madison, meet Sue's parents and her sister's family plus later that week in Hayward. Sue and I get in some decent early week skiing in, despite the slim inch of powder on gnarly crust conditions in Madison. I'm feeling ok but sort of run down after an ambitious last week of training (winter triathlon + long run + Weston sprint + indoor track workout). Anyways, I'm enjoying the taper week of easy skiing.
Arriving in Hayward Wednesday we're pleased to see another 2+ inches of fresh snow on top of the frozen granular in the woods. We struggle to ski easy on squeaky snow Thursday and Friday as the lows hit around 0 both days. I'm feeling better, but far from chomping at the bit to ski more. The family time is priceless, but with 14 people in the house we're renting, the ability to chill is virtually nil. Add to the mix 8 pairs of skis to wax, some forgotten bags, a couple trips to the ER and one frozen exploding champagne bottle. As Bjorn Dahlie would say, Uff Da! We have 5 Birkie skiers, 2 Korteloppet (half Birkie) skiers and 1 Prince Haakon 5K skier to coordinate on race day, so the logistics and timing are mind bending given the point to point nature of the course, separate wave start times, multiple busing options and road closings where the course crosses. Double Uff Da!
Race morning arrived cold and dark after a fitful sleep with a restless 5 year old in our room. I gather a bagel with cream cheese breakfast, take a bite and immediately have the urge to yiff and spit out the chewed remnants into the trash. I had used some veggie adulterated cheese instead of plain and my pre-dawn stomach was rejecting any variations on the theme. Creative breakfasts are not recommended on race mornings. Seven of us chow, gear up and load into the van heading to the race start in Cable at 6:30+ am, on schedule. Leif my brother in law has a short cut scoped out and shortly down the highway we bang a left on forest road 302 (real name). Just before the turn Sue calls out in fear, "We're not taking the forest road are we?". The half inch of fresh 15 deg snow on the ground and light snow falling does nothing to deter Leif and into the forest we plunge. The road is certainly less wide than the Birkie trail, we meet more snowmobilers than cars on it, but we wind our way to Cable regardless, on time and on schedule.
After a short bus ride we schlep ourselves down to the immense starting zone a la the Cable airport runway. The whole scene has a carnival feel complete with music, tents, flags and of course the rainbow of skiers swirling around. I cruise around for a quick warmup, gear down to my race day retro CSU suit and assemble in the wave one corral/mosh pit. The Birkie start experience in wave 1 with 700 other jacked up ski heads is around 30 minutes of extremity numbing waiting interspersed with 2 mad scrambles sprinting up to the next corral gate through the snow holding your skis and especially poles high lest they get trampled. Finally we're all packed in at the start line, imagine Tuesday night with 8 skiers across instead of 4 and close to 100 feet of start line to fill. I'm a couple rows back, smack in the middle and hoping this will be the calm eye of the hurricane. The start gun fires and the frantic double poling begins in earnest.
I double pole for what seems like 400 meters and then break into the minimalist V2 to try and generate some speed and space. The mammoth course allows things to sort out without too much fuss, but it still seems like someone tangles up or faceplants every few hundred feet on any slight incline or corner. We finally hit the real climbing on the "powerlines" at around 3K and the course will continue to roll and climb to the highest point around 13K. I keep telling myself to ski light and save as much as possible while skiing the hills, but the fresh snow continues keeping the glide factor soft and pretty low. Fire tower hill comes and goes and while tired, I'm definitely not cooked and the next 10K go by with relative ease. At around halfway I suck down a goo and continue to grab a drink at every aide station in hopes of fueling a strong finish.
Unfortunately, at around 35K my lack of enough training skis beyond 2 hours begins to surface as I start to bog down on even the wimpiest uphills. I try to glom on to any skiers that come upon me with relative success until Bitch Hill looms at 41K, which is akin to Mt Weston times 3 just not quite as steep. I revert to single stick delerium until finally cresting the top. It seems the near redline effort of Bitch Hill has unearthed some new cache of energy, possibly some survival response kicking in. I start to ski with some gusto, fighting for my place on the trail as the final K's play out. The final 3K have us crossing lake Hayward for 2.5K before the final .5K up main street to the finish. There's a 20-25 mph headwind on the lake, and the snow is pelting us to boot. Still feeling some fight, I decide to break out of my pack and try to bridge to the next group. At 1.5K to go, this fume fueled effort sputters like the last dying gasp of a klister torch out of propane. A deep abiding feeling of leaden emptiness washes over me. The swirling snow scene of skiers undulating across the lake in front of me is peculiarly fuzzy as a I ski and ski in what seems like slow motion. At last I leave the dreaded lake and emerge onto main street amid the banners, fans, cheers and cowbells and savor the finish experience as much as possible with my addled brain.
I did get a special post-race treat before I left the finish zone and witnessed a gut busting double pole fest finish between Bjorn Dahlie and Gus Kaeding for the win in the classic division. After changing clothes it was quickly back to reality with three hungry kids in need of hot dogs for lunch. My stomache wasn't quite ready for mystery meat, but a Guiness stashed in my clothes bag filled the bill nicely. The rest of our merry band of related skiers came in and they seemed to have had super race experiences. We somehow manage to find each other in the post race crowds and another successful Birkie event was logged by all.