Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Canadian Birkie Adventure Race

Approaching the 5 km mark of the 55-km birkie x-c ski course, I was surprised to see a bunch of skiers grouped up at a left turn into the gated parkland we were to ski through. Apparently, a park person was late in opening the locked gate (which kept the elk in) for the skiers to cross to the other side.

It was a natural reaction from my adventure race days to just do whatever it takes. I removed my skis and poles immediately and squeezed them through the gate holes hoping no-one crushed my carbon fibre poles. I easily scaled the 10-foot fence with its good footholds and jumped over to the other side. Meanwhile, it was a little chaotic with skiers clueing in on climbing over. I quickly put on my gear and continued on. I was surprised to see my Transalp teammate and speedy cross-country skier Nikki Kassel at this part. Being quick at this adventure stop propelled me into a better position in the race.

keeping my hands warm - photo Gail Wozney
The prior day, I tested my skis at the mid-point of the race course and was pleasantly surprised at how blazing fast and abrasive the freshly set tracks were. Wow, it was going to be a fast race. Or so I thought. I prepped my skis accordingly to the fast conditions. To my surprise, the flurries that were forecasted at a teeny % and only 1 cm ended up being lots more and showing up just as I drove out 40 km east to the race site start early raceday morning.

the appearance of a fast start - photo Ryan Jackson
Thanks to ski tech Michael Kennedy helping at the Track 'n Trail tent who put on some colder wax over my warm waxes. On the start line, I was fortunate to get an extra layer of some special wax Coach Corey kindly put on my skis with 10 min to start. The start was one of the most sloppy starts in that the fresh snow had blown in all the tracks set. Skiers were all over the place though the slow start made it a safe start.

funnelling into two lanes - photo Ryan Jackson
After the adventure fence section, the field spread apart. I had two guys in red in sight and gained on them on each climb yet lost them later on the flats. I hung on to Gerhardt from Camrose for awhile then was on my own.

The feed zone people must be commended on assisting with my food intake. I would holler out "food" when approaching a feed station. They would yell back cookie or banana. I would yell "banana, out of the peel". I heard them holler "banana, out of the peel, up ahead". I would see my potential banana piece and ask "in my mouth please". The volunteer did their darndest to feed me as I skied by. I must apologize for any fingers my teeth grazed! I was impressed to get at least 2-3 banana pieces and 2 cookies this way. I heard laughter amongst the volunteers about what just happened as I skied away happily with food in my mouth.

Meanwhile, I mastered placing of my yummy energetic dates strategically on the front of my camelbak straps so I could easily grab them with gloves/poles on to pop in my mouth. They just stuck to the strap and I was surprised they stayed while I skied until I happily ate them.

heading into porcupine trail - photo Gail Wozney

Onto skiing... wow, it was going to be an extra food and beverage kind of day with the extra energy required to ski in conditions like that. The lead skiers found that it was easier to ski in the middle between the tracks set than to plow thru the snow-laden tracks. This made for a sloppy ski for alot of the course. Or only one side of the tracks was skied thru then the other so had to cross over again and again which actually made it kind of entertaining not to fall in the soft snow.

Temperature-wise, it was what sounds like a balmy race temp at -11C. The windchill was high making it feel -16C. Alot of the course is sheltered by trees though a good part of the course is open along fenceline and the section backtracking to Islet Lake is into the wind. The fact this course is a point-to-point course makes it unique.
I was adamant to finish this race as I chose to pull out at the 33-km point last year due to hypothermia. My hands/feet were warm, my chest was like a block of ice. This year I wore warmer everything and was comfortably dressed. My body adjusted to it. I even carried a windjacket in my rear pocket, just in case. Today, the cool windchill was welcome to cool my warm body. Skiing thru familiar sections, I laughed to myself as memories of last year's hypothermia had me believing we were on a "new" course.

I pretty much kept my position with only my strong skier friend Darryl who was racing in the pack division (5.5 kg pack) to pass me. I've known Darryl to "over-wax" his skis and still finish fast only this time the over-waxing worked highly in his favour. I had no problems scaling the short climbs or double-poling, Anytime I needed to single-kick double-pole or diagonal stride was when the lack of grip held me back. I used more force to plunk down the skis (my hipflexors will be crying tomorrow!).
Throughout the day I had three separate face dives into the snow. Just caught a ski in the fluffy snow and poof, it all happens pretty quick. On my face-dive in the last 15-km I felt a twinge in my right inner thigh. Yikes, it felt it could cramp any moment. Fortunately, it didn't until I was relaxing on the couch later that night.

Loved it when the trails merged back with the 31-km course that is run 1/2 hour after the 55-km start. It felt good to see skiers again and it increases the motivation to go quick again. Also, this is one of the few times, the tracks were nicely skied in thanks to the 31-km skiers.

Last turn-off on the fence-line I caught another handful of skiers. I kept them at bay with 3 km to go where one tall man from Banff Ski Runners glided a little stronger. I could hear another guy close behind and it was incentive for me to keep focussed to go strongly to the finish. I think he was surprised when I thanked him for being there as it helped me work harder, and I did keep away!

I am super happy to have finished strongly! When I was in the change trailer, I just sat in a chair for a good 10 min before changing - just slaughtered. Nothing beats that feeling!

It was awesome to catch up with old friends at the finish. The birkie brings out alot of good people.