NewsToko: Field Report from the Birkie

FasterSkier FasterSkierMarch 1, 20111

Field Report from the Birkie – CXC

All winter long, we’ve been testing and finding HF Blue with Jetstream Blue over the top to run extremely well in cold weather, and at the 2011 Birkie, this was proven once again – We went with HF Blue covered by JetStream Blue and had fantastic skis.

Looking at forecasts a few days out, we knew that the weather was going to take a dive from Thursday night until Saturday, so we held off on testing too much until 6am on Friday morning. After some quick runs on the skis at Boedecker, I came back to Telemark Lodge, assembled CXC’s crack team of waxers, and we started running through skis. Part of the privileges of being on the CXC Master Team is getting your skis waxed for the Birkie, so we had 50+ pairs to wax for them, plus the CXC Elite Team skis. Between good organization, good tools and good workers, we were able to get the skis glide waxed before 7:30pm.

The Birkie classic has definitely grown, and we had about 20 pairs of skis to binder and wax. We used a mix of hard-wax binder and a few drops of green klister ironed in with it. Between the forecast and the length of the race, we went slightly warmer than starting conditions would call for — a few layers of blue hard wax covered with green. As it turned out, the weather didn’t warm up as much as we expected, but the kick definitely stuck around.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the CXC Team’s results — wins in the women’s skate (Caitlin Compton) and classic (Jennie Bender), with Maria Stuber coming in 5th. On the men’s side, Karl Nygren and Eric Wolcott went 2-3 in the classic and in the skate, Bryan Cook came in 5th, with Brian Gregg 8th, Matt Liebsch 9th and Santi Ocariz 17th.

Jason Cork, Head Coach, CXC Elite Team

Report from the Winner – American Birkebeiner

Heading into the Birkie I had a plan that I set up with my coaches over two months before. We sat down and laid out both the races and the travel that I would be doing in preparation for my peak at the American Birkibeiner.

The weeks before the Birkie were the most important. I was entered in both Super Tours and Marathon races and had a heavy training load. My plan included a two week altitude camp in Aspen, CO. I raced my Hometown City of Lakes Loppet the day before I left and ran into a lot of mishaps along the way. I felt great at the start and was ready to go. The men and women start together which leads to a very tight and busy first couple of kilometers. I was swallowed up quickly in the crowd and proceeded to try and maintain contact with the other women in the race. Unfortunately I maintained too much contact and a little tangle with another woman left me without the bottom half of my pole. I went on to race without a pole for the next couple of K, then with a long pole for another couple of K, before getting a pole that fit for the remainder of the race. I stayed relaxed and was able to hold onto the lead to the finish despite my pole mishap.

When I got off the plan in Aspen I knew I was in for a treat. The mountains were beautiful and there was plenty of snow. I was staying with a fellow racer’s parents and they were some of the best host parents I have ever had. After only a few days I knew I made the right decision to train in Aspen and race the Owl Creek Chase. The altitude was very high but the terrain and ski trails were incredible. The morning of the Owl Creek Chase came and the temperatures were soaring into the upper 40’s. I chose a pair of skis with more structure anticipating a slushy finish of the race. At the start I was on the front line ready to go. I wore my drink belt in preparation for the Birkie and took of double poling when the gun fired. I found a great spot in second place behind a fellow competitor but suddenly I was swallowed up by the girls charging behind me. I went down and found myself leaving the stadium in last place. Thankfully I had both poles intact but I had a lot of work to do to get back up with the lead pack. I made my way up through the women’s field and found myself with the lead group at the 5K mark. Suddenly the altitude caught up with me and I felt like I was carrying a load of bricks on my back. I watched as the other girls skied away from me and those who I had just passed pass me back. I stayed positive again and focused on skiing the rest of my race within my limits. During the last 5K I gave a final push and found that my body had recovered and could respond. I was able to pass seven women and finish the race strong and happy in 7th place.

The week of the Birkie quickly approached and I realized that I hadn’t skied much of the Birkie course in the last 6 years. Brian Gregg took me out daily to the key locations and as we trained we discussed strategy and tactics. As the Birkie morning approached I was feeling great and ready to go. The only question was the temperature. At a frigid -8F I arrived at the start having left one of my Toko mittens at home in Minneapolis. I did however bring my Toko Windstopper gloves and knew they would work well. But how well??? My excitement was high and I found myself jumping and jogging around a lot before the start, swinging my legs and arms often to keep the blood flowing. I have had problems with my feet hands and face in the past when the temperatures have dipped below zero and my fear lay in the fact that I had 50K to ski with temps remaining frigid the whole way. As I approached the start I strapped on my poles as the gun went off and the banner went up I found myself double poling to the best start position yet this season. I ducked into second place behind a Swiss woman and suddenly realized just how fast my skis were moving! I easily free skating behind her and standing up on the slightest of down hills to avoid colliding. Awesome!!! As we cruised through the first part of the race I was also psyched to realize that my hands and fingers were warm and cozy! I stayed at the front of the pack through the entire race avoiding collisions but never pushing too hard to bury myself. My skis continued to soar along the snow without the slightest hesitation and my hands were so comfortable even on the longest of down hills. I was able to get every feed I needed and respond to all attacks that were made.

Brian Gregg greeting his fiance Caitlin Compton as she wins the Birkie. Photo: David Owen.

With 10 kilometers to go I decided to make my move. I knew my skis were awesome and my body was ready so I took off at the front of the group. The other women responded and stayed close behind but I could sense that I was gliding a little further on every downhill and could rest a little longer. As we approached the final 2 kilometers three other women were still with me and the snow began to fall as we were crossing Lake Hayward. Amazingly I felt my skis speed up even more! Wow I thought my skis are still rockets after almost 50K of skiing. I pushed hard and felt the gap between myself and the other women starting to widen. I upped the tempo and power and found myself in the lead as we headed up Main Street. As I approached the finish I saw Brian waiting on the other side. Nothing could have made me happier and ski faster then seeing his smiling face. I charged to the line and realized I had just won as I gave Brian a huge hug.

The weather was still frigid but I couldn’t even tell through all of my excitement and happiness. A little frostbite on my nose was the only effect the cold could have on me that day. My fingers were warm and my spirits were high.

The plan worked and despite setbacks along the way everything went seamless on Birkie morning.

Caitlin Compton (52k Skate Champion 2011)

Razzle your Drink Belt Contest

Decorate your Toko drink belt and post the image on the Toko US Facebook Page.  On 15 March, we will select our favorite. The winner will receive $500 worth of Toko product in the fall when we have everything in stock. Here’s the link to the Toko US Facebok page.

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