Saturday, February 23, 2013

American Birkebeiner 2013

My first Birkie! What can I say, there were certainly some cons, like big crowds, long lines, slow shuffling up the steep hills and other mass-sport related distractions but they were fare outweighed by the pros, like physical and mental challenge, fun tag games trying to weave an ideal route while passing the big crowds and being with many friends.

I passed a few of my club mates and it was nice to give and receive encouragement at those time. I actually bumped (very lightly) into our host John, who let us stay in his family cabin in Minong. I had descended a hill and following coach's orders I maximized glide from the momentum and did not pay attention, ever so gently touching the last guy in line up the hill. When I passed him, it turned out to be John. I was passed by fellow Sisu Skier Per, who due to big gap since his last Birkie (he likes the crowds even less than I do) and without a time from a qualifying event found himself in Wave 6, one wave behind my own. He caught up to me after the first 10 km in a particularly crowded passage and I heard him coming: "Passing on your left! Passing on your right! Oh hi Christian, looking good!" He finished in 2:55. Awesome!

Last and certainly not least there was the great instruction, coaching and encouragement we received from Sisu Skiers and the warm welcome we received from our club mates at the finish line! I will certainly do it again!

  Conditions: with an average temp of around -2 it was very mild, lots of soft, fresh snow which made me think of Sisu Ski Fest and most skiing I've done in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

  Waxing: Gear West Birkie wax service, not cheap but better than I could have done. It felt like that by the time I began the last third it had been skied off. This is the wax review by Gear West (I inserted the actual wax type in parentheses which I received from Tom at Gear West):
Sat and Sun we applied a low fluoro basecoat (Swix LF6) based on current trends and forecasted temps.   Swix Team tested on the Birkie trail Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday morning we applied the recommended HF Wax (Swix HF5), loaded the skis in the van and hauled them to Hayward.Swix, Matt Liebsch and Gear West wax techs tested Thursday and Friday mornings. Friday after testing we determined for Waves 1, 2, 3 we would apply a top coat appropriate for the new fresh snow. Waves 4, 5, 6 we choose a top coat (Swix FC100) for corn snow conditions and for Waves 7, 8, 9 we applied a top coat best suited for heavier and wetter snow.
   Skis: Atomic Worldcup Skate '11, bought on sale at the beginning of this season. Nice step up from my '10 Race Skates, several ounces lighter.

  Boots: '11 Salomon S-Lab Carbon Skate. They fit my foot, my second pair of this type of boot.

  Poles: Yoko 8100, the orange sticks. At km 40, something detached on my right hand strap and I did not have a good hand grip any longer. I decided to finish with the poles in spite of this inconvenience. I have not closely investigated, but it may be just a Velcro strap that came undone.

  Clothing: thin waffle shirt, vented Nike Pro Combat shirt, Sisu skin shirt, X2 compression tights, Sisu skin tights, Fit socks, Sisu ski fest hat, MNOC buff, Yoko WindStopper gloves. Close to perfect, everything was wring-out wet at the finish.

  Goggles: Oakley Half Jacket XLJ with yellow tint glass, very good. Have had those for a very long time.

  Breakfast: 1 1/4 cup of oat meal with brown sugar and raisins, 1 banana.
  During race: Hammer gel: 70 g of Hammer gel berry, 14 g Hammer gel espresso from squeeze bottles. This corresponds to less than 3 gel packs but I think it is easily more. I never can get everything out of the gel packs. 1.5 L of Gatorade from powder in S-Lab XA Advanced Skin 12 Set, which I tried out extensively during longer skis prior to the Birkie. 3-4 cups of energy drinks I picked up during the second half and a couple of banana pieces.
 Never hit the wall and never cramped, so I must have done OK in the nutrition and pacing department.
Post-race: Since the line for the free chicken noodle soup seemed too long, I re-hydrated and fortified with 3 pints of beer, a hamburger, a brat, a Snickers bar and a Twix bar.

  Physio Observations:
  Garmin HR monitor: Average HR, at 157 bpm definitely closer to race pace.
  Omron body composition scale: A couple hours after my beer and junk food binge I weighed in at 81 kg, which is normal for me, high after such an effort. However, my body composition showed body fat of 10.4% over 42% of muscle mass. Typical is more like 15% for body fat 39% for muscle mass. New record.

MNOC friend Darryn worried that I didn't have enough fun. How does this look? I hope my
technique looked a little better most of the time but at least I look like I'm having a good time.
Some analysis, with an eye on next year's Birkie:

Here are the official results from Bib # 5276.

I created a spreadsheet file for the skate results from the pdf available at the official site. It can be accessed here. Based on that,
  • I finished 6th from Wave 5 starting from the back of that wave.
  • Faster than 94% in Wave 4, 76% in Wave 3 and 35% in Wave 2 
  • Physically passed at least 650 skiers from waves 2, 3 and 4. 
Based on the Birkie's current wave placement rules (see wave placement tab I created on my spreadsheet) I should get into Wave 3 next year. That aught to gain me at least 10 minutes I wasted being stuck behind masses of slower skiers. On the other hand, being stuck probably helped me pace myself.

One question I have is whether a highly technically skilled skier has less of an advantage in these soft snow conditions over a less skilled but physically strong skier such as myself. I dropped several competitors who looked like much better skiers than me. I'd pass or catch up to them in the hills but they pulled ahead on the flats. Bitch Hill did them in ...

During the last uphills, there had been a hint of a cramp building in my inner thighs but it never materialized. When I reached the lake, I was able to cruise past another good number of skiers. At the finish, I was greeted by my friends from Sisu Skiers.
Done! Thanks for snapping the pic, Ben!

I walked to the bag pickup and based on the overwhelming number of bags still there for wave five I sensed that I had done pretty well in my wave.

A see of bags awaiting the skiers. (Photo by Emily Green)