Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 27, 2017

Birkie 2017: Keep on the sunny side

    As the snow conditions looked dismal for Birkie 2017, the lyrics from Keep On The Sunny Side came to mind. This is largely because of how I view the Birkie. Let’s just suffice it to say, I’ve never caught the Birkie Fever. For me, the Birkie doesn’t make or break winter because:

  1. I put a lot of weight on every ski race I do. Indeed, everyone shows up for the Birkie at the expense of the smaller races. This is really too bad. Fortunately, I’ve already had some solid races this season.
  2. Even though I train for months for skiing, part of why I train is just to be outside using my body. I [mostly] love this training and the training is something in and of itself for me.
  3. The chase is better than the catch: training for the Birkie, the anticipation of it, is almost better than the event itself. This is like the anticipation for a vacation or a party where the planning and excitement are at least half the fun. Besides, because I’ve been training so much for the classic Birkie, I’ve become so comfortable on my classic rollerskis and my striding has gotten so much better and these improvements inspire me.
    On Tuesday, four days before the Birkie, three scenarios were announced. For me these became four possibilities:

  1. Race is on if we get enough snow but shorted to about 25 kilometers from the start to OO..
  2. If we get some snow but not enough to safely race, we would do a “tour” of sorts. This happened in 2007 and it was my most fun Birkie ever!
  3. Birkie gets changed to foot-only event. Uh-oh. Now here’s where there are some decisions to be made. My uncle died a week ago and the funeral was scheduled for the day of the Birkie. If it’s a running only event, I feel like I should go to the funeral. So possibility 3 is drive to Hayward, get our race bibs (lowest numbers we’ve ever had so we want these), spend the night with friends, then drive to the funeral in the morning instead of the foot-only event.
  4. If Birkie is a foot-only event, forget about driving to Hayward (maybe someone else can pick up our bibs), stay in St. Paul, and go to the funeral.

    This might sound pretty terrible to be contemplating going to my uncle’s funeral versus skiing the Birkie but here’s the deal, I wasn’t that close to my uncle (or extended family) and when considering I’ve spent 700 hour just this year training for the Birkie and that I haven’t spent 7 hours with my uncle in the past 10 years, these options make a bit more sense. 

    I mulled over all these options while on a classic rollerski two days before the Birkie. Still in suspense over the Birkie scenarios, this made it difficult to know what I was training for, except my training was largely determined by the weather. 

Then I had a dark 24 hours when I wasn’t on the sunny side. It started with the Town Hall I attended on climate change. It’s a grim topic at best. Then by the time I got home the weather forecast now predicted even less snow with the system going farther south and east. This made Possibility #4 most likely despite the high fluoro wax job I had done earlier in the day. All the details of planning were coming to fruition- loading up the car, making food, packing race clothes and touring clothes, and funeral clothes (which could double as my business casual wear for work). Despite all this packing and prep work it seemed likely I wouldn’t be going on a trip at all.  

I worked in the morning on Friday and fortunately was busy at work until about noon when I learned the Birkie was officially cancelled. Now we had to choose between Possibility #3 and #4. We could either go have a “Birkie Party” with friends or we could stay home and go to a funeral which seemed like a not terribly fun time. After approximately an hour of deliberation, we decided on #4. 
No Birkie 2017 means I can't collect anymore age class hats...and clearly my collection is already complete! Photo: Erik

Now I entered into the deep dark side. It’s always a bad sign when I’m not terribly interested to leave work. The Birkie is the biggest ski event of the season where we match our fitness to our fellow racers and see if we have made improvements. Even though I’m still learning to love racing, without this big test I felt a huge void. Moreover, staying home meant skiing laps on deteriorating man-made snow. I decided I needed a new sport for our snowless winters.

Somewhere in my excessive planning, when contemplating the above Possibilities, I decided to walk home via the library where I would look at some travel books for an anticipated trip to Europe later this year. It was sunny outside and exercise cures all and slowly I was seeing some light on the dark side. Once in the library, I became so engrossed in travel books I completely forgot there was a world around me. By the time I left the library and started walking home things were looking up. Then I walked by a skate board shop… “hmmmm, maybe that can be my ski replacement sport,” I mused. 

Erik and I spent the evening together, running, then putting together a 3D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower. Then we learned about the impromptu Hamsterbeiner and suddenly I could see the sunny side!

I enjoyed some quality time with my immediate family at the funeral and then we were off to Hyland to ski a few laps. Given my classic skis were waxed with high fluoros for Possibility #1, I decided to classic ski. Once I added some START yellow hard kick wax I got enough kick to be satisfied if that is my last classic ski of the season.

As everyone knows, the best part about funerals is the food afterwards. There was quite the collection of jell-o salads. I'm so glad Birkie 2017 was cancelled so I could appreciate this. Priceless:)
Ironically, by staying in the Twin Cities, we got to do a race. The Hamsterbeiner, sponsored by Pioneer Midwest, was a 10 lap (25 kilometer) skate race at Elm Creek on Sunday morning. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a 20 lap option! According to the Facebook page, there looked to be some stellar competition at the event and I realized getting lapped twice was likely to happen to me for the first time in my life. 

To get into race mode, I watched the World Championships skiathlon. It certainly did the trick and made me glad to be racing. I think I even caught #Hamsterbeiner fever! Erik asked me about my race strategy which was to pretend like I was racing a bunch of 5 kilometer races. I don’t have much top end speed, but what I lack in speed I make up for in endurance. I was ridiculously hoping for a time of 1:15 which is five 15 minute 5 K’s back to back which is a pretty aggressive goal for someone with an all-time PR of 14:52 for a 5 K!

The race field was small with only one other woman. The start was very chill and with only 25 racers, there was hardly any need to double pole. Course conditions were perfect for me- fast transformed snow with a hard base but with soft corduroy on top (I’m not a hard track skier). As usual, the field got away from me quickly with 3 guys off the back who I vowed to try and catch. I skied hard until I caught those guys on my second lap and then tucked in behind one of them for almost a lap until I blew past him after I V-2’d up a hill where he was V-1ing. By the fourth lap I was all on my own. I kept up a hard pace I hoped to maintain for 25 kilometers and was already feeling tired by the fifth lap- a good sign I was skiing hard. There also isn’t much time for rest on the Elm Creek Hamster wheel. 
I tucked in behind this guy for most of lap #3, then he blew up big time as I lapped him on my final lap! Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Mostly though, I skied the Hamsterbeiner by myself. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Even though I was winning the women’s race by a decent margin, I still kept pushing and racing. In these races I’m really trying race as many guys as possible. I lapped a couple people and the top guys lapped me on my lap 4 and 7. It was fun seeing people (including Erik who was using his skis I had waxed for Birkie Possibility #1) along the course as there are so many places where the course comes together. After skiing by myself for 5 laps, I was really happy to see a guy in front of me as I started lap 9. Now I had more incentive to ski fast. It took me over a lap to catch him but I was glad to pass him! Just before finishing, I double lapped the other woman. That makes me feel better for getting double lapped myself.  

Getting lapped by the lead guys for the first time. Yes, that's Sergio Benaldi from Italy (2 time winner of the Birkie) out in front followed by a couple guys from the SMST2 team. I swear, the only time I let up easy in the race was right when this photo was being taken because I didn't want to cut Matt off. You can even see me looking for him in this photo by Mark Lahtinen
In the end I finished 15th of 25 racers where the top two racers were former Birkie Champs! My time was 1:16:17 which is not too shabby for me given my PR 5 K time. I won a chocolate-caramel apple (yes, no bling to take home) and was back on the sunny side!

In the end, attending a funeral and racing the Hamsterbeiner definitely made for an unforgettable #EpicBirkie2017!

Channel 5 news even came out to do a story about the Hamsterbeiner! My skis and feet have a starring role.

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