Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eugene's Birkie

Five done!
To reduce the pre-race stress and fluoro inhalation I had my skis waxed at Finn Sisu. The skis were really fast, I never got passed on the downhills, but myself have often passed the front skiers when going out of a long downhill draft. Thanks guys! By the way, about fluoros: it is dangerous when the vapors are exposed to extreme heat over 230 C and especially open fire (they produce some toxic compounds). I never use my gas stove during or after waxing with powders or HF. If possible one needs to avoid vapors going into the kitchen (close the doors and ventilate).
Otherwise the preparation got into routine over the years. Carbo loading last three days, driving to Hayward on Friday, pretending to myself that its just a weekend trip and try to get a good sleep at night,.. entering start area from the warming lap after the classic wave 1, putting the skis in the second row, taking of warmups 5 min before and climbing over the fence to the truck (this year the fence was higher, but some lady helped me with the bag, thanks!) and finally - celebrating the year's training with sking the best race I have ever done!

After start. ABSF photo.

I got well of the start, close to the leaders and next to teammates Nate and Derek. The leaders broke away shortly after hitting the powerline hills. At the top of the first climb I found myself in the front of the chasing group and skied the entire race in this 10-15 people pack. With a tougher than usual race on soft snow and warm weather I took two energy gels with me and got energy drink at every feed station (except the last two). I think this and the three days of carboloading (eating as much as possible, but no protein food) really helped me to stay strong throughout the race.
I was leading when entering the second station at 9 K, took my cup successfully, but found myself down on the snow as I finished it. Some people skied over my pole and luckily it was ok, but the guy next to me had his pole broken. Sorry, I am not sure what happened, but since it was at the aid station I hope you had the replacement quickly. I then skied in the pack for a while, then got a friendly pole push on one of the downhills and got in the lead again before the OO. On the long climb I made a little gap on the group. Wow! Usually the first hilly part of the Birkie was the toughest for me and I always had a hard time to keep it up. I am in much better shape this year. Perhaps, it is because I made a lot of trail running on long hills (Battle Creek, Afton SP) this summer/fall.
 
After OO
At about 37K I started feeling dizzy and with some more long climbs left I got worried about running out of gas. By the time I fulfiled my social duty of leading for 50K/10-15 skiers in the pack = 3-5 K and stayed at around 3-6 position thereafter. I ate my second gel at 41 K and tried to get a feed, but got showered on both last two aids. I encouraged myself that if it gets too bad I could at least soak my race suit (and with the warm weather it also had some extra electolytes in it!).
 
Nate, me and Derek captured. Photo from Julie Joy Wenner.
 Things got fast and nervous after the last long climb at 45K as it got flatter and closer to the finish. I skied a lot parallely to the pack. After some sprinting/maneuvering around elite women (who started 20 min earlier this year) I was ready to go second into the lake and the final 3 K, but rationalized that one windshield is good but two are better, and let another skier go in front of me. Shortly after entering the lake the first skier started making a gap and the second did not seem to be willing to close it. As a few skiers from the back sprinted around me I quickly merged in and secured the fifth position in the line. I was able to ski the next 2K somewhat relaxed with long glides and at about 800 m to go started the sprint, just early enough to reach the lake exit first. The trail got very narrow for about 100 m and I slowed down to relax a bit since no one could pass here. I then got passed by one and started sprinting again. At that point I felt strong pain in my quads and had to control each movement to stay up, but was able to keep up the pace and stay ahead of the rest of the pack. Nate and Derek finished just seconds behind. Great race for Vakava!
I had a significant progress in each of my successive Birkies. 323th, 149th, 71th, 56th and now 35th! Time back from the winner also got down: 37 min, 26 min, 14:25, 12:50 and now 11:44. My last three I skied in the pack of 10+ people and not only the pack got faster (it were mostly different people each year) but I also got closer to the front of the pack (in terms of positioning throughout the race and finish). For further improvement I will have to get myself ready to ski on my own...


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