Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, February 26, 2018

Birkie Bash 2018

I’m always extra nervous before the Birkie because this is like the World Championships for citizen racers and I always want to do well. Add to that all those uphills and lack of confidence is my striding ability, and I’m quite a mess the week before the Birkie. So this year I decided to be a bit more proactive on managing my stress and become my own sports psychologist (because I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person). Here’s the three things I decided to focus on:

First, follow the wax recommendations. I don’t know why this is sooooo hard for me. Maybe because when I first started waxing the wax companies didn’t post wax recommendations (or if they did I wasn’t privy to them) and so I always decided how to wax based on the forecast. While I now look at these recommendations, I also always look at the weather forecast and somehow think I can “outsmart” these recommendations. So this time around I told myself to just follow the wax company recommendations, especially for kick.

Second, focus on skiing technically well. I’ve previously declared my intention to actually stride the Birkie and I’ve done a ton of work on this (at least on the classic rollerskis where I’ve seen much improvement). Hopefully if I follow my first pillar my kick will be good, and the glide should be good, so I should be able to stride. Skiing well also involves good technique and power with double poling, implementing some kick double pole, and skiing the downhills well.

Third, enjoy the day. This is probably what those later wave skiers are doing (or at least until they get really tired) but something that would likely make me happier if I took some time to do this and might even help me ski faster. So as part of my racing strategy, I made it a point to put some energy towards appreciating the scenery which will involve looking in the woods. I’ll set me watch to beep every kilometer and after that I will take a look in the woods to enjoy the scenery.

The day of the Birkie was gorgeous with a combination of new snow and frost hanging on the trees. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

Of course there’s also the race logistics of making sure I arrive to the start on time, figuring out what to wear, and feeds on the course. I’m notoriously bad for not taking any feeds on the course, and I’m trying to change that. I always overeat for breakfast but this year am going to try and eat a bit less and then take more feeds on course. Erik assures me this will make me faster overall despite taking a few extra seconds to grab some feeds.

Before the race I didn’t think too much about my pacing. I tend to do a good job of self-pacing out there and hold back a bit before OO. I like to ski my own classic race, especially with so many big uphills on the first half of the course and then start pushing the pace after OO.

I also thought about all the hours I’ve trained and raced this year to be prepared for Birkie 2018 and all those hours over the past 16 plus years. And then that Olympic Gold Medal won by Kikkan and Jessie on my birthday week was certainly extra inspiring!

So how did I do with the above?

Well, I finally sanded (or more correctly, Erik sanded, after we disagreed on the grit of sandpaper to use, but fortunately Google resolved that argument) my kick zone since stonegrinding my skis. Then I actually used a hard wax binder (that I think I put on too thick and really should have put outside to let cool) before corking in 7 layers of V45 (the “warmer” kick wax recommendation by SWIX. This combination felt a bit draggy, especially early on, and was slightly grabby on the lake but otherwise gave me great kick. Again, I think I put the binder on too thick and didn’t heat it in quite enough to get it really smooth either. I arrived to the start late as usual and did a very short test loop. My skis weren’t icing so I didn’t make any adjustments.

When I got in the start pen with the other Elite Wave Classic skiers, I noted there seemed to be lots of women, particularly fast looking women. I didn’t have much time to chat and got in about the fourth row behind a fast looking woman. When the gun went off it seemed we took it out harder than in previous years. I found myself double poling outside the tracks. While it would have been nice to be in the tracks, it was also easier to get around people outside the tracks.

I'm bummed I was too slow to ski with this guy:( Vakava is talking about getting new suits next year and I think we should do something to this effect. Photo: Bruce Adelsman
Once we got on the classic only trail I tried to ski with a couple women. Usually I’m totally exhausted by the time we get to the Powerlines but this year, probably due at least in part to good kick and a slightly shortened trail to this point, the Powerlines came pretty quickly. As we headed back in the woods I was skiing with another woman and a pack of Elite Wave Classic guys. One woman cruised by us and we never saw her again. Our pack stayed together until just before the big climb to High Point. Here I lost my group and a big stream of Wave 1 guys, who started 5 minutes behind me, kept passing me. I tried to do some striding up to High Point but was probably only successful about half the time and otherwise could only muster a shuffle/run. I guess striding half that hill was significantly better than I think I’ve ever done before and I had felt relatively good up to that hill so progress, not perfection:)

After High Point there’s some flatter areas and downhills which made every uphill that much worse. I was already really tired- but remembering back to years previous, I don’t think it was any different than any of those other years.

My buddy Dave passed me 3 kms out from OO when we really started climbing. He wasn’t particularly fast up those big climbs to OO and he didn’t gain too much on me but really took off double poling at the Korte start area.

I did finally change my watch from miles to kilometers and set it to beep every 1 km. Mostly I felt it vibrate on my wrist. Every time I thought about looking in the woods and enjoying the beautiful day, but mostly I just focused on the trail in front of me to keep my balance and avoid falling down. By doing this I was still able to appreciate the snow clinging to the trees.

After OO we joined with the skaters. Now a steady stream of Wave 1 skaters were passing me- a handful of these skiers knew me and we gave each other some cheers which is always fun! The tracks were now glazed and the kilometers ticked by faster. This was such a relief to my exhausted self. After OO I believe I was passed by just one Wave 1 classic guy and slowly reeled in about 10 Wave 1 guys who had passed me prior to OO.

Just past OO and now skiing alongside the Wave 1 skate guys. Check out the glitter snowflakes on my cheeks! They really show up in this photo if you zoom in! Photo: Bruce Adelsman
In regard to skiing technically well: this year compared to years past it seemed the groomers pulled up the classic track significantly more often on downhills. I do prefer this as I often have trouble trusting in the track around corners and the tracks are likely to get destroyed by later waves anyway. Sometimes it was hard to see where the tracks started again and those pine boughs they use on the World Cup would have been nice! I had one small technique goal of striding up the hill leaving Mosquito Brook. I really set my sights on striding up that hill and I did (except for the very steep part near the end where I did some running but was able to stay in the track) and by this point, finally, I was able to keep up or even pass the Wave 1 skaters!

It was also on this hill I got a glimpse of the woman who had dropped me on the climb to High Point. With just over 10 km left and some double poling I made it my goal to catch her. It took me about 5 km until we climbed that really evil hill coming out of the last Aid Station. I was a spent force and while I did some striding on that hill, I also did some shuffle running outside the tracks on the steeper parts. Then sorry to say I couldn’t maintain a tuck the entire way down the next very long hill as my quads were just too tired. I fared similarly on the last big uphill after crossing 77: probably some striding but also just some shuffle running. Two years ago I remarked that I really wanted to stride all these hills beautifully, you know, like Marit winning the 30 km classic at the Olympics (hey, a girl can dream) but I probably just looked like a tired citizen racer out there. It would be so interesting if a drone was following me the whole time so I could see my technique albeit that would be a very boring replay.

Erik always gives me a hard time for not feeding enough on course. I don’t want to be bogged down with my drink belt so rely on the air stations. This mostly works out well. I took a total of 3 gels (or more accurately parts of gels) and 4 Nuun drinks which is probably the most I’ve ever taken out there so figured that was an accomplishment.

I was motivated to keep skiing fast in the Birkie in case I might get another sweet Age Class Prize such as this shirt I sported last year on a run in Central Park. Photo: Erik
By the time I got to the lake I was really tired. But I have mad endurance (as one of my high school teammates once said) so I kept going, very happy to be able to just double pole and that the classic tracks were reasonably fast. I also noticed that the lake was beautiful with the snow in the trees on the lakeshore. And that water tower in Hayward looked like it was a long ways away! I kept looking for skiers ahead of me to catch, especially women. I saw an Elite bib way ahead and couldn’t tell if it was red for men or pink for women but vowed to catch them anyway and catch them I did near the end of the lake (it was a guy). Once I got off the lake I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the finish line because I was so tired. I could only hope this meant I had done reasonably well if I was so tired everyone else must be, too. I made my way over the bridge which felt so much slower compared to those downtown Minneapolis Sprints and mostly double poled my way up Main Street and it was so cool to hear so many people yelling my name!

I ended up 16th of 374 women. This was a bit disappointing since I was 11th two years ago. Comparing my results to 2016 this year I skied 5 minutes faster (although the course was slightly shorter). Hitting the kick was was also significantly easier this year and so my hunch is that I do better compared to others when we’re all struggling with kick and a bit worse when the kicking is good. Oh well, I still finished 147 of 1,735 overall in the classic.

Sporting my Birkie Age Class shirt in snowy Banff in June last year! Photo: Erik
For the 5th consecutive year, I got an age class award. Apparently the Birkie must have noted I have too many hats and so this year we only got bells:( I was hoping for another wicking shirt as in the photos above. Erik keeps telling me to do the skate race so I don’t have to worry about getting age class awards. I’ve been seriously thinking about switching to the skate because it would be fun to skate out of Elite Wave (provided they let me have the technique transfer) and my skate technique always holds together so much better than my classic technique but I remain ambivalent as I also want a top 10 in the Classic race and still aspire to stride like Marit!

My latest bling. Not quite as good as the wicking shirt but I did put this thing to use immediately to cheer on some of the late finishers in the Birkie.

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