Champion Rebecca Dussault on her Birkie Experience

Chelsea LittleMarch 3, 20102

Rebecca Dussault, a member of CXC Team Vertical Limit, won her second American Birkebeiner on Saturday. Her victory was perhaps all the more impressive considering that she came down with an upper respiratory infection 5 days before the race, and she was unsure if she would be able to race until Friday afternoon. Check out FasterSkier’s interview with Rebecca from November for more background on the Gunnison, CO native.

Rebecca Dussault, Maria Stuber, Jojo Winters, and Taz Mannix
Dussault (far right) skiing the first few kilometers with (l-r) Taz Mannix, JoJo Winters, and Maria Stuber. Photo: Kelly Randolph.

FS: You won the Birkie last year. How many times have you skied the Birkie? The atmosphere of the race is amazing – besides the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious races in the country, what keeps you coming back?

RD: Ever since I was a teenager looking at the photos in the “HALL OF FRAMES,” I wanted to win this race and be forever immortalized along with some of the greatest skiers of all time.  I couldn’t believe when I did it once and now that I’ve done it twice I’m rather speechless.

This was my third Birkie and my first one was in 2004 was against a very strong international field of skiers.  I had a terrible race because my orthotic melted the night before the race and caused severe cramping in my foot starting at 7km.  I ended up skiing alone and finished 7th.

Last year’s win was perhaps one of the most special victories of my fourteen years of ski racing.  I had only done one other Birkie before that and I remembered the race being mainly uphill.  I was glad at the finish of last year’s race to know just how much is actually downhill.  That race is of course branded into all of our minds because of the spectacular photo finish.  I really hoped the race this year wouldn’t come down to that.  I love sprinting, but not necessarily after racing 50km.

I came back this year for a couple reasons.  This is a race that really suits my strengths.  As a ‘poor-fessional skier” I am also motivated by the large prize purse. I also really enjoyed the Birkie and all of the festivities leading up to it this year.  It was fun to have my family there this time and involved in races of their own.  I was really proud of our 3 year old who did his first race in the Barnebirkie.  Our 8 year old son Tabor won the Barnie 2km which was exciting for him.

FS: How do you prepare for this race – do you think a few years of experience help you with the Birkie? Do you have more confidence going into the race after having won it before?

RD: Having done the race a couple times before is the best preparation.  Knowing what that course consists of is a huge advantage.

This year I didn’t do anything special to prepare other than lots of racing. Last year I had skied a lot of marathons heading into the Birkie and was riding off the confidence of recent wins, but this year I was coming off a lot of 5, 10 and 15km races with mediocre results.  These distances certainly helped my speed and strength.  Perhaps I was still floating on my long distance fitness from a summer of 2.5 hour triathlons.  I also did some winter triathlon racing in Norway in mid-February to try and lengthen out my race fitness.  I think it helped.  I feed effectively during marathon distance events, so provided I hit every feed, I usually feel energized the whole way.  I have a love affair with marathon racing and am always really confident knowing my own mental toughness and tactics.

FS: Tell me how the race unfolded. You won by about thirty seconds – much more than last year – how did the top women work together during the race? When did you break away from the others?

RD: The top women were sorted out after about 10kms.  I took a couple aggressive pulls at the front as we climbed toward the high point hoping we could string out the field and sort out the top ladies.  This worked and for the next 30kms there were 4 of us.  We worked together very efficiently.  Each person gave a pretty much equal effort.  I was guessing that given my recent illness that I was definitely the weakest in the group, but having done other Birkies, I also knew how slowly we were going and how much harder I could go.  Coming into the 45km point where you cross hwy 77, I just decided to lift the pace a bit again.  I was really surprised and relieved when I gapped the pack.  I had excellent, fast Salomon skis and was able to pull away more as I glided through Duffy’s Field on my superior Toko wax job.  I put down the hammer. I was certainly a little nervous to cross the windy Lake Hayward alone, but I had to do it.  I came across the line in tears.  I went from being not sure if I could race to winning the BIrkie.  I was so glad to have this victory to share with my many friends and family who lined Main Street to cheer and watch.  I was just  repeating, “thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus!”  I was really grateful to have had the strength and grace to pull that off.

Dussault skiing in the pack with Kristina Trygstad-Saari and other top women. Photo: Sharbel Dussault.

FS: The men’s field included some excellent European skiers. What do you think attracted them? Were you disappointed or relieved that the women’s field didn’t have any Europeans? Not to disparage the many excellent American and Canadian women who raced, but the women’s field lacks the depth of the men’s field in domestic racing – for example, the Madison SuperTours featured only 6 women – what do you think the underlying reasons are for this?

RD: I was glad to see the European presence again this year.  They have always helped to raise the level of racing in the Birkie.  I am just sorry for the men who, lately seem to be having a tougher go at it.  In this instance I was glad to not have any stronger competitors that I already had to deal with.  At one point I looked back and said to myself, “Yep, there’s all the usual suspects,” referring to the 8 or so women trailing me.  The gals who showed up have been consistently strong domestically and they contributed to an exciting race.

I am not sure why the Madison Sprints and the Birkie had lower numbers for women. It costs a lot of money to travel these days and unless you are fully funded or are in the money it may not be worth it for some women. I know that I don’t ever miss a big money race.  Not when I’m the one putting the bread on my family’s table.

FS: What are your plans for the rest of the season? Next year? Will you be contesting the 2011 Birkie?
RD: My plans are to go home and rest for a couple weeks before Short Distance Nationals.  I am really psyched to race the 30km skate against the returning Olympians.  I will take part in a couple local fun events.  One is a backcountry race called, of all things, the Super Tour.  The other is an uphill-downhill telemark race which I really revel in winning.  It is such a good time and a good test of the body.  We’ll see what happens for next year.  I am not in a position to commit to anything.  If I am racing, you can be sure I’ll be at Birkie. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Thanks to all the many volunteers and organizers.  They put on an unforgettably successful Birkie.

Chelsea Little

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    March 3, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Way to go, Rebecca! It makes me feel a little less badly about getting wooped up on by you in the CB citizen’s races! =)

  • nordic_dave

    March 4, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Hey Rebecca, yes I know about the prayer aspect going on during suffering in a race. #13 gets duct taped to any ski I race on.

    You may remember why as I enjoyed my dialogue with you and Laura McCabe Saturday night after the 2009 race.

    I am so glad your husband ( Sheribel) is healthy again?

    You are definately the fortunate one as Laura and I can tell you about other aspects in life.

    Yes “Thank you Jesus” for granting you this hard fought pleasure and victory is quite appropriate. And also a way of showing the humility of a great champion.


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