It has been about 2 weeks since the 32nd edition of the American Birkebeiner and no, I am not just finishing although at times on race day if felt as if it would take 2 weeks to get to Main Street, Hayward. In the end, perseverance and fast skis prevailed over a general feeling of doom.
Race morning greeted us with temperatures hovering around -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Not my ideal temperature but the bright sunshine and lack of wind made it seem considerably warmer and the rapid rise of the thermometer made the climate quite delightful for those of us finishing in the afternoon.
Cold weather was not the only thing that greeted me on race morning. An upset stomach was not something I was wishing for. Couple that with the remnants of the â€œfreakyâ€ Midwest flu that I had been battling for almost a month and I knew it might be a long day.
Starting in the 5th wave, my initial plan was to start towards the front and ski myself up a wave or two for next year. However, the unending queasiness in my gut was suggesting that a wave change was going to have to wait a year. Sucking down a Gu 30 minutes before the start did nothing to settle my stomach. I think the huge dose of sugar was counter-acting with whatever was ailing me and I knew it did not bode well to try and ski 51K â€œGulessâ€. As the cannon sounded I was able to put those negative feelings out of my mind and took the approach that â€œI will just see how things go for a whileâ€.
Approaching the power lines I was prepared for the usual â€œdeath marchâ€ up in a single file herringbone which is quite common in the 5th wave. This year was surprisingly different, for some unknown reason people were actually skiing up the power lines and in an orderly fashion. This power line euphoria quickly took a turn for the worse when we arrived at the actual Birkie Trail and skiers were literally stopped, waiting to ascend the first hill; so much for my positive thoughts.
At the second feed station, where the Kortelopppet skiers gleefully make the turn for Telemark Resort I made a conscious decision to â€œjust enjoy the dayâ€ and have a leisurely ski to OO and assess how I felt at that point. In a perfect world, making it to OO and skiing the second half of the race in a negative split makes for a good day.
Laboring up the hills for the entire 51K was no fun but I did get quite a bit of satisfaction on the downhills. My skis were so fast I can’t remember a hill in which I did not glide up on people when it switched from downhill to up.
Fast skis are something I strive for every year for that very reason. If you can ride the glide up the next uphill it really reduces the energy expenditure; all the more important on a day that I was far from 100%.
Admittedly, I spend A LOT of time on my skis and studying the weather to make sure they will run well. I even went to the trouble of building my own hot box (see Fasterskier.com archives) to maximize my goal of having the fastest skis in my wave. The way those boards were flying downhill and the fact that after the race the bases were still as black as night convinced me that my wax plan was a success. In fact, to a man, each of the 10 skiers staying at our Birkie Headquarters raved about how fast their skis were. The flurry of activity in our wax room during Birkie week certainly paid off for our â€œposseâ€ even though we were all using different brands of wax. Not to give Torbjorn and Gordon swollen heads but when they preach about the use of Solda HP05 in certain conditions — LISTEN TO THEM.
Many in our group (unfortunately myself not included) had their best Birkies ever. Jim DiDomenico was once again Illinois’ top finisher, zipping home in 2:20:05, good enough for 83rd place. Our good friend David Belz who comes over from Bolligen Switzerland every year for the race finished in 139th place; good enough to keep him in the Elite Wave and get his passport punched for Birkie 2006.
The beauty of the Birkie and especially for us 5th wavers is that the race is not about racing against anyone but yourself. It is all about improving your time from last year and also about the satisfaction of skiing up Main Street. As I was crossing Lake Hayward, still feeling ill but knowing that the work was done I could not help but smile. The lake, for the first time in years was in pristine condition, the sun was radiant, the temperature was a balmy 25 degrees and I could already hear the announcer and the thousands of cowbells ringing in the distance. Athletic endeavors just don’t get much better than that. Gone were the thoughts of -4 temperatures, rutted downhills, herringboned uphills, and nausea. Approaching the finish of the American Birkebeiner is no place for ugly thoughts, only of satisfaction and thoughts of â€œBirkie feverâ€ striking each of us again next February.