Sunday, February 25, 2007

American Birkebeiner Race Report

What a trip. Everything about it was extreme. I have a deep, deep respect for Birkie skiers. Just let me put that out there first.

Laura's post is here... but she's going to be adding to it.

First, the entire race was almost canceled due to lack of snow. We woke up race day anticipating 14-18 inches of Last-Minute-Blizzard and saw 1/8" dusting. So there was really no snow as far we could tell. For a ski race... but we head off to the start anyway.

This was the walk down to the start. Note the conditions.

The start line. Truckloads full of snow had been brought in from Whoknowswhere. We guessed from other businesses' parking lots because it was all sandy and full of gravel. Imagine putting 6 foot long skis on your feet and hiking around the beach. The first 1 or 2 miles were this way.

The race was shortened from 31.7 miles to 15.6 miles. It was supposed to be only 23k, but I am here to tell you we skiied past the 23k marker, then the 24k, before finally we saw signs for 1000 meters, then 500 meters left... Omigosh. It was the longest 5k at the end. Spectators kept saying, "one more k! you can do it!" for the last 5k. If you can imagine being told this after 15.6 miles of constant elevation change. I was ready to start crying. Laura and I hardly spoke the whole race. Periodically we would glance at each other and try to force a smile and word or two of encouragment, but that was all we could. Many of you out in blogland actually know both of us and this is a pretty revealing detail in itself...

So the start is like skiing in sand. We were thinking, "what were we thinking?" until we got into the woods, where the conditions were mostly good. Except for the sheets of ice which was the story for most of the downhills (the thousands of skiers ahead of us had "snowplowed" because it was icy for them, too, as it had rained and frozen a couple days earlier). One man was at the bottom of a hill with the emergency team, shaking and freezing under blankets - rumored to have broken a hip, so we were actually REQUIRED to walk down this one. We prayed for him and for ourselves. It was unsettling.

So the condions overall may have been dangerous, but lets talk about this "constant elevation change". In all fairness, we were told in advance it was hilly. And yes, we were maybe a little cocky when we signed up and kept saying, "oh, come ON - we're Ironmen! How hard can it be?!" But my Garmin recorded it all. And now I want to apologize to all the skiers whom I probably deeply insulted with my "oh come on... comments". I'm sorry! I get it now! It's really, REALLY hard! ;-)

I don't know how to directly load the elevation page from my Garmin, but here are a few of the details.

Total distance: 15.6 miles
Total "climbs": 55
% Grade of easiest climb: 4%
% Grade of steepest climb: 35% (not a typo)
number of climbs above 10% grade: 26
number of climbs above 15% grade:18
number of climbs above 20% grade: 11
number of climbs above 30% grade: 5

yes, there were 34 climbs steeper than a 15% grade. With skis on your feet.

% grade of easiest downhill: -4%
% grade of steepest downhill: -37% (not a typo)
Number of descents we took off our skis and just walked down: 3

One of the few times we did exchange words was to say that we almost never had the chance to "skate" ski, like we had learned. It was: bomb-and-try-to-stay-alive for the down hill, then march-the-herringbone uphill, then bomb downhill... In all honesty, I can't say for certain if I would have been able to finish a full-length Birkie.

This is our finish photo. It took us 2:38:51. Then we got in the car and drove 4 hours home in a blizzard that actually took the lives of seven in Wisconsin. I'm glad to be home, glad to have done (even the shortened version of) the Birkie, and glad to have ski season OVER!!! ;-)