Sunday, March 6, 2011

Birkebeiner 2011

This year's Birke was a good one, albeit we had to endure the harshest weather in the 6 years that I've done it. I knocked out a PR in 3:39:36.2.

My race via the Garmin:
2011 Birkebeiner by budducci at Garmin Connect - Details

This year I stayed with my friends Bob, Sue, Al, John, Paul, and Sandy at Bob's brother's cabin. This made for pretty relaxed lodging. The last couple years I've stayed with some nice people, but we were really crammed into a small cabin. The trade-off this year was a bus ride to the start instead of a two minute drive.

Friday was the drive up with Bob, we all only did two to a car because of all the gear. After everyone met up at the cabin, we piled into one car and headed on up to the packet pickup in Hayward. This is always a zoo, with about 10000 people heading there to get their bibs and swag. It was much nicer this year, as Hayward is more convenient than Cable to get to, and there was a lot more space to set up. We spent about an hour there, then headed back to start nesting and making dinner.

Dinner was a pretty standard spaghetti feed for the seven of us, then as the evening wore on, I started doing my nervous pacing and fretting about my gear. Clothing was a big concern this year, since it was to be a very cold day for the race.

5:00 AM rolled around, and I had had a surprisingly good nights sleep. Pretty much everyone got up, even though I was the earliest started by about half an hour. Sue would be driving me up, though, since she wanted to get up to the start early and get in her zone. Some plain oats were the order of the day, then making the final choice for what to wear. The temperature ended up being -9F at the start, so I wanted enough clothes to stay warm, but not so many that I'd sweat much. Getting wet from sweat in that kind of cold is a recipe for disaster. Sue and I rolled out a little after 6 and headed up to the bus. We had a pretty short wait, which is good, because it was freaking cold out, thankfully there was no wind, and wouldn't be all day.

At the start we checked out the lodge, but it was super busy (we both had to pee really bad) so we hightailed it down to the tent at the starting area. My experience starting in Wave 2 last year was that it was pretty quiet down there. That held true this year and we were able to rush off to the many empty portapotties. When I've started in later waves, this place is a zoo, with lines for all of the biffies. We had just enough time for me to get my boots and gear sorted out, without being rushed. Thankfully Sue had some vaseline for me to put on my face to help cut the cold. So, I pretty much stripped down to one layer of expedition weight long underwear and my race suit. That's right, a race suit, this is the one time a year I can wear lycra and fit right in.

I gave Sue a quick hug, dropped my bag off at the truck and queued up. It was about five minutes before wave one started, and 15 before I would. So me and my compatriots placed our skis in the tracks and jogged in place next to them to stay warm. -9, nasty. In due time, to a big cheer, wave one was off, we slid up, and started jogging again. The time passes fast in the queue, and we were soon on our way.

The first couple K were cold as our movement now created some wind. I was constantly moving my balaclava around to keep different parts of my face warm. This year, thankfully there were no big accidents in front of me, as someone almost always crashes trying to change lanes. A few winding turns and we were upon the powerlines, which are actually my favorite hills. I was far enough up that I was able to bomb these hills and not have to hold up for slower people in front of me. That made me happy, since I'm a pretty solid downhiller. At the first aid station near the end of the powerlines I took my only spill of the race. I was reaching for some water on my left and somoene went for a pass on the left, pretty bad form. She stapled me and I spun around onto my knee.

The racers spread out pretty quickly, especially after 9K when the Korie skiers split off onto their own course. By this time, I had warmed up pretty well, though a few downhills would be cold, and had built up a frosty layer on my beard that helped keep my skin warm. It was a gorgeous, and did I mention cold, day to ski through the woods. I only saw a couple of crashes all day, and none were truly heinous. I never really got passed much, nor did I pass many people, and skied a very steady race with even splits. There were some pleasant times skiing right next to someone and exchanging some kind words.

I was only checking my watch every 11K, which is about every 20% of the race. After 33K I felt really steady and good and just kept the hammer down to see if I could not only PR, but get under 3:40 (which I barely did). Some 40K in was Bitch hill, but I barely recognized it since there were no partiers on it. In past years, there were always a few ladies on it dressed in costume and loud music playing. Maybe just too darn cold this time around. Once topping that though, the worst is over, and there is only one more big hill, then a lot of flat to the end. Really, once hitting the fields its time to spend all you've got to zip through the last aid station and face the lake.

The lake really isn't that bad, just 2K of dead flat wide open space. Once I hit that, I just put my head down and pushed as hard as I could, trying to hang on. The reality is it only took about 9 minutes to cross this expanse then you could hear the roar of Main Street. A short incline off the lake and a couple of turns, then the finish line 300M ahead. The street was lined with thousands of people cheering, and it was an all out sprint to the end, with the caveat of just don't fall. I passed Karibaldies where we all meet up afterwards and I saw Bob shout out at me...then done.

It was only 5F above at the end, so I hustled off to take care of myself and get dry clothes on and some fuel in my body.

What a great event this is. In addition to a PR I had a new top speed of 30MPH on my Solomon Equipe 10s. Definitely pretty zippy on such tiny boards.