Monday, March 23, 2015

Birkie fever 2015

Terry told the pre-race story with such humor and eloquence, that I will just add a little bit of my own personal Birkie race experience.

  This year had to be a building year for me. I kept telling myself that. After a year plus of two arthroscopic medial knee meniscectomies and rehab (really quite minor but surgeries nonetheless), I needed to begin training slowly and cautiously and TRY to be patient.  I also set for myself very modest race goals: #1) ski steady and even effort the entire way and then if feeling good #2) a strong finish including hammering up the new 10%+ grade hill/mountain bridge in the last 500m of the race and # 3) don't step on anyone's skis or poles this year!!! (Not so easy when you are skiing with 400 similarly paced skiers)

  So, I went into the race with less than the usual longest training ski at just over 2 hours, and only two Tuesday night lung burners under my belt.  Still, I felt really good and had dreams of a strong ski the entire way(my fortunate experience for the last few Birkies). I started in my usual position, right hand side about 4 rows back. I lost a place with the super competitive run up #1 ( this year they enforced the no skis on rule) and then tied with a guy in SC run up #2. Let the racing begin! We were sharing a track at the moment, but we worked it out through a heartfelt discussion. First, he asked me if I was a strong double poler. Based upon my big Weston Vasaloppet experience this year, I told him I actually was pretty good. Then, he told me in all honesty he ALMOST made wave 1 last year if it wasn't for a fall late in the race....blah, blah, blah. In the meantime, someone poked my shoulder and pointed out that I was now getting yelled at by an official Birke start line dude because I wasn't in my own track.  All this occurred in about 40 seconds! And the race was starting in just 20 seconds. Geez..we were solving this little dilemma on our own. Of course, I believed his story and relinquished my uni track for him and snuck in behind, wishing him luck and vowing to note his number and where he ended up finishing. I WAS hoping he reached his wave 1 goal this year after all that. Of course, my memory failed me after about 25K of looking at 4 digit wave 2 numbers and I will never know the outcome. At least it provided some distraction. Another distraction was the hot pink tights dude who lined up in the first row! nice outfit, was he really serious. I kept a lookout for him but didn't see him again until I spied him pulled over at about 35K!

  Nothing much to report early on except for slow Ks through power line hills due to the soft snow conditions, but I was keeping up with the skiers around me so I wasn't too concerned. I noted to self that I appreciated the brief slowdowns and single sticking that one had to do on the steep little hills due to traffic. Hmm, normally I am biting at the bit to push through the skiers. But it was early and I was still warming up, right?

  Again, not much to report until OO at about 24K. My brother in law, Leif was skiing the 54K Classic Birkie and we had calculated the possibility that I might see him at OO where the trails merge for a bit.  This thought perked me up, so I kept a lookout for tall, classic skiing men with wave 2 bibs and wearing red vests, as we paralleled the classic trail. Not too many of those out there!! The skiers around me must have thought I was certifiably nuts because suddenly I started yelling LEIF!!LEIF!!! LEIF!!! because I thought  I had spied him. People looked at me strangely and gave me a wide berth, there were no LEAVES on the trail?!! Later on we looked at splits and I must have seen a Leif look alike, we were not even close to intersecting at that point!!

  All my energy must have been used up with that incident because right after, I started seeing spots on the trail and I couldn't read my watch when I checked my 25K spilt.  Was I bonking? Were my aging eyes suddenly failing me? Did I even take energy drink at the OO aid station? I couldn't remember. Fortunately, there are several downhills until the next aid station so I coasted along and made sure I didn't wipe anybody out.  At the next station, I really stopped and almost got rear ended by another skier, and drank two full cups of energy drink. In retrospect, I should have taken the GU offered but I don't really like that stuff. The drink kicked in, but I decided not to push starting at 35K as was my usual plan. B hill was coming up and the mountain bridge still lurked near the finish.  At the 39K hill, in my opinion more difficult than B hill, I noticed a woman offering what looked like a very large box of Whitmans chocolates. I could recognize that golden box anywhere! My lucky day, I needed the sugar and slight caffeine it would provide. I bolted over there, nearly jeopardizing goal #3 and almost stepping on a fellow racer's poles to find out it was shots of "some kind of strong liqueur" woah, that would have been fun. Instead I took the small chunk of energy bar offered to me by the next spectator. I couldn't even get that down and spit it out on the trail, lovely!!

  On I went, holding my own but not powering up the hills as was my norm at this stage in the race. I lost sight of the small, quick tempo woman skier(yes, maybe even faster than my tempo!)  She scampered up all the final hills pulling far ahead of me. Still, the lake awaited.  I came down onto the lake and passed a man dressed all in Orange. For some reason he had to share with me that he was " taking it easy because he might have broken his wrist" I wasn't sure what to say except the PT in me answered, "you might want to have that looked at and make sure you ice it". Still he tucked in behind me and drafted me for a K or so. Anyway, another woman came up on me and pulled ahead. I was able to keep her pace and so we skied into the slight headwind towards the finish. She slowed a bit so I took the pull until we came off the lake, hmm, I felt pretty good and maybe I could push strong to the finish with her and possibly sprint in?

  Then, she booked around me in the soft snow as we tried to navigate around two men skate skiers. The bridge lay ahead, looking ominous.  I was still just behind her at the bottom, but I barely made the summit(mind you this is not a long bridge) I might have even come close to swearing at the top of that thing. I wooshed down the other side in a skittery tuck and my finish was not pretty at all, arms flailing, forget any attempt at V anything and I was done. My lake partner girl had put 20 plus seconds on me in 500 m!!! I found her after and thanked her for help across the lake.  I must have looked bad because a Birkie medical dude asked if I was ok. I was limping from a nasty blood blister on my left arch and I was completely done but I did not bonk!!! (not quite)

  The long gimping solo walk to the school to change, trying to balance skis with that awkward white bag full of my warm clothes, was torture. I kept my eye out for Terry but didn't see him yet. Anyway, on to the changing zone. The funny part was when a man perhaps more spaced than I, tried to start changing in the ladies space!!! Didn't the post-race nursing mother give you a clue!!

  I found Terry and we shared our positive race experiences and he downed a beer or 2. He had a great race this year!  Best finish in a few years and Birkie number 20!!I had no idea where I would place this year as my finishing strength had waned a bit. Goal #2 of a strong finish up the bridge didn't quite work out.  I knew I reached my 3rd goal, barely, and didn't step on anyone's poles or skis. We picked up our results receipt and I was happy with what I saw.  Same age group place as two years ago(12th) and still in the top 100 for women(94th). Two items to change before next year's race: train more and learn to like GU!

  We watched for my sister and my brother in law. We missed Leif's best classic finish ever but then spotted our family, Carson, Lucy, Kyler, nephew Lars and Grandma and Grandpa Keeney, my parents. Carson and Lucy had terrific races, both placing and skiing faster than ever in the Prince Haakon 13K. (Distance confirmed to be longer due to new finish line.)

  Everyone was happy and we waited for Marcia, my sister, who also had a terrific race. And she LOVED the bridge and it's awesome finish line view (which I didn't even notice) Ironically, the Minnesotans were at a distinct disadvantage this year as they had to train on manmade conditions in little loops all season. Welcome to our usual world!

  Lots of food and stories back at the cabin. We played board games and drank post-race beverages of all kinds. I always reflect on the race and then cannot wait until next year. It keeps drawing me back, our fun visit back home to see the family, the Birkie trail, the town of Hayward, WI, the cheese curds! It is truly a special place and event. Thank you to our families for another great visit and for making it happen. To sum it up, my sister gave me a sweatshirt this year that I love with this written on it:


Birkie 2016, here we come!

Sue McNatt

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