Classic 56 km
Feb. 20 2016
This defines the downfall and frustration of my experience with my first American Birkebeiner. It was not the race I had hoped for but I am extremely glad I crossed that finish line and did not quit. Now that I have done it in the worst conditions… It can only get better right? I know I can do better next time and hopefully have a bit better luck with waxing. How else do you learn these things in life but to struggle through.
After a restless sleep filled with nightmares of the 40-degree weather, rain, klister, and the start line it was time to fuel. With a nervous stomach food is tough to balance before a race, but I get down some coffee, a power bar, and an egg sandwich.
Dressed and ready to go its time to head to the Nordic Ridge parking lot to get on a bus to the start. But first we need to pump up the stoke with a bit of Birkie Fever thanks to MaKenna Stelpflug.
Packed in tight on the buses we head to the start line
Taking Care of Business.
We are dropped off by the busses at the start, but it is a must to wait in line for a porta-potty, and hope it’s not as terrible as the others (this is almost never true… sometimes a snow bank is the better option). Unlike the men throughout the race who can take care of business along the side of the trail, us women have to carefully time things before hand so we can make it to the finish.
Its time to change into fresh socks, which is probably one of the best feelings I have before the race. Now it’s into the start gates for me. I am trying to keep my nerves down as the man next to me is screaming for his friend right into my ear, which is not helping. Finally Wave 2 is called from the gates to the start line and I am ready to go. I feel good, excited, hopeful, and ready to take on 56 km.
It’s on! My skis are kicking and gliding and I am so happy seeing as I had not had the time to check them or even ski Rossignol R Skins before. The crowd is huge and I am trying not to get in the way and avoid the clusters on the hills. I am impressed with the R skins ability to kick up anything, so I try to get ahead and out of the bigger slower crowd.
After about 5km of fighting through a blur of race suite colors, the sound of pounding drums is ringing in my ears. This is the first aid station. Now there is a decision to be made… to stop and take fuel over time or not to stop and possibly get away from the crowd. With the words of the Dad in my head, I decide to stop at the station but swiftly grab an energy cup and keep skiing.
My stomach has been in knots since the beginning of the race but is starting to calm down. The next aid station is approaching and I know I need to eat GU at this one because the next leg is the climb to the “High Point”. I decided I would drink a water or energy at every station but a GU at every other station.
I am feeling great. My skis are kicking great, my technique feels good, and my glide is surprisingly good for skin skis. I am in a leapfrog battle with another strong women who also a pair of skin skis on too. I would pass her on the downhill and she would catch me on the climbs. This went on for another 15 km or so and it was the peak of my race. I felt powerful and strong. After the fire tower the long downhill gave me the advantage and I pulled away from the leapfrog game.
I have a good pace and am in a rhythm with my strides. I feel like I could go forever like this. This is my happy place. I see a ski patroller and he says I am the happiest skier he has seen. And in a couple minuets I was about to find out why everyone else was not so happy. Just ahead the rain started. It was mostly misting but the trail is definitely wetter. My glide slows on the downhills and it is becoming hard to double pole. The skins are wet and are dragging a bit more but the kick is still working.
I still feel good and its about 27 km into the race now, which means OO (Double O) station is coming soon the mid-point in the race, and also the biggest aid station. Here I watch 3 people take their skis off and head off the trail.
Photo: Skinny Ski
I can feel my energy going down. My body is cramping. My shoulders are hurting, my hamstrings are so tight it is hard to stay in a tuck, and my lower back does not want to stand up straight anymore. I told myself that I am not “bonking”. Bonking: this is the point in your race where you lose your energy, strength, and power. My Dad and Sister warned me of this… their words running through my head like a broken record. I had hydrated and ate at the stations and was frustrated with the slow downfall, but I was NOT BONKING.
Things have really started to go downhill. My leapfrog teammate strongly pushed past me as I basically walked up the climb to the 39 km club. This is the party station. There is a shot ski, music, dancing, and a lot of smiles. I was not one. I wanted to be that happy. I wanted to be as happy as I was 15 km ago.
Still raining the drops started freezing to my glasses and I was soaking wet. I was freezing. My toes were numb, my arms and legs had a weird sensation of numbness on the outside with burning and cramping on the inside. But I was not bonking I just needed hydration or at least that’s what I told myself… at the next station I had 2 cups of energy, 3 of water, and a GU. This had to help me… Right?
This might kill me…
Whenever I race and I feel tired I always tell myself “This will not kill you, keep pushing” For the first time I was not believing it. Could I survive this? My body feels hypothermic, my toes are sending shooting pains up my legs when I try to kick because they seem dead. I could barely hold a tuck and my sides were unbelievably sore to the touch when I had to put my poles under my arms. I am not moving very fast at this point but I feel like I cannot breathe. Asthma attack? Or Panic attack?
A man skiing up next to me says, “keep your head up hunny, and stand straight. You can do this.” I wanted to hug this man because these are words I imagine my Dad telling me. Instead I can barely get a thank you out.
8 km left and they seem to be getting longer. Why is this not over yet? Where is the damn lake? Everything is blurry, my body is done, my brain can only think about putting on foot in front of the other to move forward. Suddenly I am grabbed by the arm… in shock my brain can’t understand why I have stopped. A mans face is looking at me and his mouth is moving but I can not comprehend. He asks again “Are you okay? Can you breathe?” In my head I am thinking can I breathe? Am I okay? I tell him I am okay and thank you so being concerned. I am trying my best not to fall to my knees and cry but I know I can do this. Why was this happening?
I see it now. The lake that everyone has been telling me we were “close to” for the last 15 km. Just get across the lake and its over. I can see the other side but it seems to never get any closer. The lake is slush from the rain and warm weather, and there are puddles of water over my boots. Soaking my already frostbitten feet in ice water. I keep my eyes on the other side and tuck in behind a man. Finally the end comes and I can see the bridge with people cheering but I just want to get this over with. My last burst of energy I spend up the bridge and down the other side. I can see the finish. I can’t believe it.
5 hours… 56km… It was over.