Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Ranking Ben's Birkies

Approaching OO with my kids in the background.  Photo credit: Dad

Non-skiers often ask what your goal time is for a given race.  It is hard for them to understand how big a difference the conditions make.  A road running race like a marathon can be substantially impacted by weather conditions.  But skiing takes it to another level.

For this fairly atypical race report for me I'll first talk about a few numbers that really bring that point home.  Then, since those numbers aren't really what I was hoping for, I'll talk about some other Birkie numbers.  Finally, we'll get to the excu... er... reaso... er... well, we will do some pondering.

A Birkie PR of Sorts

For context, this was the 7th Birkie I have completed.  Relative to my similarly aged teammates, that is a pretty small number.  That is what I get for taking 10 years off from skiing after high school.

My second Birkie number is 2:40:50 which of my 7 Birkie's is my fastest.  So #1 all time.  On the surface sounds great right?

Plotting my Birkie times.


On to the third number.  545.  That was my overall place.  495th place male.  <sarcasm alert>Just a skosh off the top 200 men for the 2021 elite wave</sarcasm alert>.  Actually, despite the fastest time ever, this was my #6 Birkie by place.

So much for getting better every year.
I won't deny that this result is pretty disappointing.  I wasn't out for the win, and there was a really strong field this year that would have made even staying 200th place like last year a pretty tall order, but this sort of regression wasn't in my thoughts.

We'll come back to what may have happened in a bit.  First let's do some more ranking.

More Rankings

How about we talk about the weather?  Start temps around 20F, finish temp around 32F, afternoon beer drinking and spectating temps pushing 40F.  Sunshine and blue skies.  Just a slight breeze (and not a headwind on the lake to boot).  Yeah, I'm going to go with #1 weather wise.  It was an absolutely glorious day to be out skiing and hanging out.

A photo of the start of the Elite women skate race.  Blue skies and sun all day long.


And the trail conditions?  Let's see, I skied out of wave 7 on my first Birkie.  Uff, no idea what the original trail conditions were like that year, but wave 7 was not ideal.  2014... there was a little snow.  OK, a lot of snow.  I don't remember 2015.  2016 was soft for at least part of the race.  2017... outside of that one not being one of my 7... well actually that is the point of that one, no one got to ski.  2018 was warm and slushy.  2019 pretty dang nice actually, just a little fluff on top.  Blah blah blah, 2020 was excellent.  So let's go with #1 trail conditions.

Hard to see, but that firm and well groomed trail behind the lead snowmobile there... it was like that ALL the way to Hayward.

Next let's do spectators.  I had a record number of folks out cheering specifically for me this year.  My parents got up early with my aunt, picked up my kids and wife and I had a crew of 6 cheering for me at OO. #1 again.

Not my spectators, but my hosts for the weekend and every one of my 7 Birkies.  I think that was about to be 56 combined Birkie finishes in the car.


Summary Ranking

OK, so we've got 1, 6, 1, 1, 1.  I think that averages out to a #2.  Yeah, that sounds about right.  Probably my second favorite Birkie after last year.

So What Happened

So, barring a full blow by blow race report like I might normally do (and have notes for almost all of this year's races, just didn't actually write anything), what on Earth happened out there?  I'm not really sure.

Being bib 200 and a strong field, I felt pretty safe starting near the back of the elite wave.  I felt OK as we headed up towards the Power Lines.  I didn't want to go out too hard and blow up.  I have a habit of blowing up in first 10k of the Birkie.  A quick look over my shoulder on the Power Lines though and there were only about 20 guys behind me if that.  Hmm, that's pretty close to being out of the Elite wave right off the bat.

Then things went down hill figuratively and never came back up.  My legs felt tired.  There were only a few short stretches after the high point and before OO where I felt decent.  And during that stretch just before Boedecker the lead group of five wave 1 skiers came blasting past.

I don't know that I would call it a full on bonk feeling, but definitely low energy and tight muscles.  Some stomach discomfort too.  Same feeding plan as last year so that probably wasn't a contributor.

After Gravel Pit and while the wave 1 skiers were streaming past I probably checked out mentally.  I'd try to grab the back of a group and would make it about 30 seconds tops before falling off.  Do that eight or ten times and you kind of stop trying.

Theories

Let's run through a few theories.

Life stress.  The body doesn't know the difference between training stress and life stress.  There is definitely stuff weighing on me.  Then again, it was also weighing on me at the beginning of the season too while I was racing better.  Or at least better relative to everyone elses performances.

Sleep.  I could get more.  I tried to really put that at the top of the list in the last two weeks.  I certainly didn't feel any more sleepy tired than I had earlier in the season.

Illness.  I know I had some friends not perform as well as they wished due to actually being sick.  The rest of my house was suffering through stuffy noses, sore throats, and the like for the week before.  I never had more than a slightly snuffy nose.  Continued that way after the race too.

Power to weight.  Hmmm.  I say each year I should do something about both sides of that ratio.  This year I maybe slightly improved the power side.  But I also unimproved the weight side.  After watching all of my team mates during strength at practice I know I have a lot of room for improvement.  I also know, that despite being down considerably from my heaviest, I've got plenty of room there too.  The Birkie isn't exactly a flat course those opening km either.

Mental toughness.  I do think I'm a bit of a headcase when it comes to the Birkie too.  I don't judge my self worth by my Birkie result.  It is important to me though.

Peaking early.  Not quite a November Turkey, but I'd rather be racing my best in February instead of January.  Last year I think I raced less and had a better result at the end of the season.  This year I think I race more frequently, but shorter distances.  I'll actually have to run the numbers eventually.  But maybe I hold back in workouts and racing for a few weeks longer.

What's Next

Well, the race season isn't over yet.  Great Bear Chase in a little over a week.  I'm going to do the skiathlon again just because you don't get many opportunities to do that format.  I'm hoping for something less than the epic bonk I had last year.  Then there is the World Cup format sprint races at Theo and the World Cup itself.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the best in the world!

Then a little offseason and starting to think about 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Nice thoughts Ben! With fast trail conditions, weird things happen. Also, this was a year big guys had an advantage because they didn't bog down on the uphills and could really carry momentum through the rollers (imagine racing against a tandem that doesn't have to climb). You had an awesome race, and yes, 56 Birkies in that car! Whoa!

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