The race to the race begins on the way to my one long training race, the Jackson 30K classic. After much packing and bustling about Newton, Alex and I are shooting up 95 heading for 2 Santa Lane in Jackson NH. My phone rings. Sue is frantically telling me about the frozen busted pipe spewing water into our basement crawlspace. Fast forward to the flat double pole section of the 30K, approaching our last lap around the wave. Instead of visualizing the course and skiing it well, I wonder how deep our new “koi pond” is in the crawl space. Fast forward to the big storm on Bill Koch Festival weekend, shoveling, coaching and herding lollipopers instead of skiing. Then KABOOM! half a tree is knocked onto our 6 month old minivan by a passing MasTec utility truck. The losers cut the part blocking the road, but leave the one on our van pinning us in and then take off. After Ed, a random orienteering skier and I heave the tree off our car, Sue dries her tears and heads home. The long day ends with an abbreviated ski and some quality time with broken glass, duct tape and a makeshift plastic van rear replacement window. Two nights out to see our daughter in the middle school musical equal two nights up till midnight, plus packing, waxing, coordinating car insurance. Then sprinkle in a bit of ongoing home improvement construction and a crawlspace spelunking adventure to find a similar pipe to the one that burst the week before. Man I feel tapered and ready to rock a Birkie!
With the van in the shop, my friend, officemate and fellow cheesehead Mike gives us a ride to Logan Friday morning. We barely wedge into his Highlander with 4 huge just under 50lb bags, plus 5 loaded backpacks plus a ski bag stuffed with 7 pairs of ski poles, 7 pairs of skis, 3 pairs of ski boots, 2 pairs of snow boots, a couple coats for padding and a partridge in a pear tree. The trip to Logan and on to Minneapolis are both pleasantly uneventful, and I even took the highly rare opportunity to read for pleasure. I’m not talking computer screen, but a real bound paper book, so old school! BUT before we can even sit down after unloading the rental car at Sue’s sister’s in Minneapolis, our youngest son realizes he paid more attention to the computer bag than his backpack. After driving back to the airport and retrieving the abandoned bag from the friendly Minnesota State Police, I sneak out for a quick sunset ski with brother in law Leif just before the mercury drops into the single digits. Only 8 days to the Birkie and counting.
After a crisp and squeaky Minnesota am ski we load up the rental and head home down to Middleton a close burb of Madison Wisconsin. After crossing the border the cheesehead state of mind is evident. I see more drivers in their tuks, more people sportin their winter camo gear and ice fishermen in their huts or just sittin on their 5 gallon buckets. We stop for gas and as I’m out stretching my legs and soaking up the winter sunshine a local farmer in full overalls and mud boots remarks, “That sun shore do feel good, maybe it’ll melt summa all this sno we ben gittin.”, friendly as all get out he was. Yes we have arrived in America’s Dairyland, where the cheesehead state of mind is contagious. We visit with my parents and brother in Middleton, tour the Capital building, catch up with other old friends and get in a couple skis at the local version of Weston, Black Hawk Country Club. I’m feeling ok, but way south of chomping at the bit, so I guess the Birkie fever hasn’t spiked yet. Of course it could be all the traveling, plus the unfamiliar single digit weather, plus all the dinners out including the local Culver’s for butter burgers, french fries, frozen custard and everyone’s favorite fried cheese curds! All of a sudden it’s Wednesday and time to head North to the wilds of Hayward Wisconsin, Musky Capital of the world and home to the American Birkebeiner, 4 days to the Birkie.
After almost 5 hours on the road we head off the main drag into the Lac Courte Oreilles region 15 or so miles Southeast of Hayward, navigate an alphabet of county roads, E to N to CC and finally arrive at our Birkie base camp for 2013 on Chief Lake. Sue’s parents are already there and we are all pleased with the modern and spacious accommodations this year. We go for a quick exploratory ski/hike on the lake with the kids and come back pink cheeked and numb as the mercury drops with the sun. Barnebirkie morning brings sun and 20’s, perfect for 1,000 kids to glom up and ski 1, 3 or 5 K en mass to the hot chocolate and cookie tent. Kyler goes big with the 3K, and despite his excellent start position in the 2nd row, he gets tangled up multiple times with other skiers, costing him a sure podium spot. After a couple cold ones including my favorite the Bitch Hill Belgian Ale at the Angry Minnow Brewery, we grab our numbers at the expo and head back to Birkie base camp. The rest of the Keeney/Carlson/McNatt clan arrive until we number 12 plus 2 dogs, 2 days to the Birkie. Sue goes down for a few hours spiking a true Birkie Fever, but manages to nap it away. After a snowy Friday am ski on the trail, it’s time to wax 4 pairs of skis, carbo load and try to hit the hay on the early side. I finally felt mildly fresh skiing today, a good sign for the big race, but the snow continues relentlessly all day. The last party member Peter arrives at base camp and immediately begins waxing for the morning. Twas the night before Birkie and all through the house not a creature was stirring except for me struggling with the usual pre-race restless jitters before a gawd awful pre-dawn wake up.
Beep beep beep argh! Time to wake up and try to stuff in enough calories for 50K without too much gagging, oatmeal and a bagel to start with. I feel like a small bag of doggie poo poo, which is unfortunately normal for this witching hour time of day. Leif, Marcia, Lars, Moe and Peter all end up in the Carlson Subaru, while Sue and I roll in the rental out into the murk towards the 50K race start at Cable. Sue’s parents, our kids and Anika will follow later and ski the Prince Haakon 12K, and we’ll all hook up later at the Main street finish in Hayward if all goes as planned. The ride up Mosquito Brook road to the shuttle bus to Telemark Lodge to the start line is smooth, and I’m left with an hour plus to warmup, gear down and enter the starting corral system. I’m feel fine, just plain old vanilla fine, still no fever, but the 2 stage race to the actual start line does fire up some adrenaline, especially when some wave 1 hooligans are jumping the gun and ducking under the gate even before it’s lifted. I finally get to put my skis on in about the 3rd row. There really is no row order as we are packed in like sardines, my tip sitting at boot level with the guy in front of me and straddled by the guy behind me. An orderly NASCAR start is not in the cards.
After 5 molasses minutes the gun finally fires and we’re all off toward the finish in Hayward. I have a good start and things sort out quickly. I only witnessed one boner move this year with a guy inexplicably and instantly going from full speed V2 alternate to full body face plant at around 1K. The weather is a balmy low 20’s, but the inches of fresh snow from yesterday make for a soft and slow track. I roll with the head of wave 1 heedless of the extra energy going into each uphill stroke hitting 9K in 30:24 in 331st place overall. The 10K split is slow, but I’m still skiing solid and staying with my group. The next 10K are uneventful, just solid work getting up one soft, slow uphill after the next. My skis are running well on the downhills, but I’m starting to bog down on the ups. I grab GU #1 to ward off the bonk and hit OO at 22.8K in 394th place, but things are slipping and I don’t mean my skis. My quads are starting to feel way overcooked already, and I’m panting like a big dog on even the wimpiest uphill. I try to meter out my efforts and manage the lethargy creeping into my body. After 30K it starts to get ugly with my form breaking into a slog on every incline. Appropriately, my watch is reading “Laps Full”, and with 15K left to ski my race is indeed effectively over as the cramping starts. Starting as a 9V zinger coming up my inner quad at the bottom of each hill and kicking out spasmodic clenching if the hill is too long. I slam my final GU and creep past the 39K snowmobile club party, scan the line of wound up woodsmen and women and breathe in the alcohol laden atmosphere. Appropriately, they are CRANKING Micheal Jackson’s mega hit Thriller as I slowly, stiffly and jerkily zombie V1 up the pre-bitch hill climbs. At 38.1K I’m in 487th place and falling without a parachute watching conga train after conga train leave me in their wake.
“And though you fight to stay alive, Your body starts to shiver, For no mere mortal can resist, The evil of the thriller”
video (scary!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdL496Oc3VQ
Lurching up Bitch Hill at 41K I’m on of those lameos who comes to a creaking halt just over halfway as the quads melt down. Mercifully, the course offers some downhill relief where I can lock in the tracks on moderate downhills and actually keep up with the skiers around me. I’m feeling encouraged with only a few K to go and only a flat lake to cross to get to the finish. I jump onto a passing few skiers and match their tempo, bad idea. My right leg doesn’t just cramp, it locks stiff, and I’m forced to double pole straight legged for almost half a K. Only 2K to go and I once again manage to actually skate across the lake, past the 1K to go. With only 500 meters now remaining we come off the lake and my left quad locks on the miniscule shore bump. I double pole a few strokes, but then hell bent to finish this race begin a grotesque V2 Franken Skate to the finish line. Birkie 18 is finally, mercifully done and put down in the books.
A young volunteer thankfully removes my skis for me as I stand there afraid to reach down or bend my legs at all. After changing I cheer in our gang one by one. First Sue with the race of the day, a first ever top 100 women finish, less than 10 minutes behind me. Then Maureen, Marcia. Then Sue’s parents arrive with Carson, Lucy, Kyler and Anika. Then Leif skiing his first classic Birkie. Lars unfortunately ended up yiffing at halfway hanging with Jaime Doucett of all people who was also under the weather. With Peter is closing in on Hayward Sue and I begin the bus shuttle and drive back to Birkie base camp on Chief Lake. Race stories, beers and carbs are cycled though until we all succumb to sleep. Sunday morning after blueberry pancakes, packing and one last car pushing out, we drive back to Minneapolis and back to Boston. Driving back home wedged into our Smurfs Transport minivan the snow is falling lightly. I watch the flakes drifting though the Mass Pike lighting and vow that next year my quads will be ready for Birkie 19.
Epilogue: Back to Reality
Monday morning Sue retrieves our now fixed minivan only to learn that neither the MasTec insurance company or ours have done diddly squat while we were gone and it’s still unclear how this will all get paid for. Uff Da! Those stinkers! Tuesday driving in to work I’m stopped in traffic and get rear ended and slammed into the car in front of me. One car out of the shop, the other in, at least my skis and I escaped damage, and I was able to race at Weston that night. Double Uff Da! doncha kno!
And Bob Burnham's
|Anne finishing 2nd from the 9th wave in her age group!|
|Bob, Anne, Lisa, Jamie, Evan and Jimmy at the finish on Main St, Hayward|
Epic : Ann, Jim and I loved skiing at the Birkie and the race shows that the Midwest has over 10,000 touring skiers they can get to do 25 and 50 KM of skiing. That is a remarkable concept that we need more of in New England. Think if they converted some of that energy into JO skiing. Wow – the machine might make CSU look small. New England has really high quality races and racers and lots of junior / college racing, but at the touring level, the Midwest has really achieved something in their dozen marathons with the Birkie as the king! As for the Burnham clan, Jim was 106, Bob 218, Ann was 426, but 55th women and the big news was 2nd in her age group while starting with bib 19286 (which is not quite that many skiers).
So what is this all mean. So for Ann 1 equals classic 9 equals wave 9 – or the back – and there are about 400 between Korte (25K and Birkie 50K in classic and maybe 850 in the corresponding skate waves? With elite waves, there are 21 waves I think. Oh Joy. See the photo – of 1 wave! And you get the concept. So we estimated that Family Burnham with Birkie, Korte classic and after 28 K Birkie skate, passed between 4000 and 5000 total skiers. I passed the fewest as Jim and I were with Jamie in wave 5. Note that with the exception and me and Jamie for 25K, Jim probably won his wave by an hour...
So what is it like to pass 10 skiers a minute for over 3 hours. Well in classic, it is daunting. You get to a hill with 3 lanes wide of touring herring bone skiers all splayed out and deep light powder on the sides. You guess where the spots will align, because track is not really effective. Also, how many people asked us, why are you going so fast, what is the rush, it is 54 KM. Of course you nicely go by and say I have a lot of people to pass, hunt for the harder spots of trounced track or sometimes double pole the herring bone. The Midwest is flat, but the Birkie is a bit on the relentless side. Alex warned us that it is glacial with 50 feet up, 50 feet down for the whole race. Still not say Trapp, but lots of hills. Hence, passing does get exhausting both mentally and physically, but we had an objective. Finish the race, without really risking a terrific hurt dance, and have a time that moves us way up next year if we choose to return. We all accomplished that pretty well. Note that I did get passed, two Russian Men, who clearly were elite passed me from 20 minutes back. The fastest was about 18 min out of first and I would argue from wave seven he lost more than 18 min. So it is not just New Englanders that get stuck in the back on year 1! Note that V2 alternate was invented by Gunde Sven, who in my day was the dominant skier probably more so than anyone today. He came to the Birkie, got stuck back from the elite wave and may have skied fast enough to win, but the winner is who crosses the finish line and not the “chip time”, so he did not win.
Once you accept that then you will have a really fun time. The classic is easier to pass than the skate as I spoke with Nat Lucy in the finish… Believe it or not, the Midwestern skaters did NOT trash the last 26 KM of the classic tracks! Herring bones were trampled, but the tracks were ok for soft snow – back to Ann! Bravo Midwest – would we be so nice? So try the Birkie someday and encourage some of the better touring folks to try one of our half marathons in the east! If you want more, you can always camp at the Canadian Ski Marathon -) Bob