Saturday, February 09, 2013

Canadian Birkie - Slow Mo

As I just caught up to a couple skiers and followed the superb technique of pack skier Karen Messenger, I was surprised to have already reached the Islet Lake feedzone 33 km in. To get to this point, there are normally technical twists and turns in the trail which need quick step turns and footwork.

Since the fresh morning's snow made the trails a slogfest, all the "caution" signs on the steep downhills and corners were ignored. The descents were slow and easy to get down. So, I actually did not notice where I was on course without the normal bombing descents.

The prior day had the best possible Birkie conditions with -6C start and solid snowy tracks. A surprise to everyone was the evening cloud cover that blew in which warmed up the early morning air to +2C and brought along an hour of fresh soggy snow flakes - a x-c skier's race-day waxing nightmare!

Note, the Canadian flag blowing stiffly in the wind!

I did not bother covering my few layers of VR60 on my base binder. It was easy to find a spot in the front at the start and lucked out with being in the right hand lane. All trails merged nicely on that side.

At the start, the fresh snow in the trails and the headwind on the 1-km loop on the lake had skier's merge into single-file quickly. Heading into the double trails in the trees, no grip was to be had. Went with double-poling for a few km with bumper to bumper skiers.

Mito skier Bryon Howard took a pic of his bumper to bumper crowd

Getting further into the trees the snow changed and the skis gripped nicely. I virtually ran up the hills with full-on grip, kicking the clumped snow off at the top to glide onward. Got away on a group of skiers as they stopped at the first feedzone and my Camelbak served me well.

Did not have a train of skiers to follow though usually had a skier in the distance to mark and catch up to. Made it fun! When I did catch up to a skier, the guy followed my heels for awhile.

Crossing Islet Lake behind Karen, I was barely moving skiing into the strong headwind. My poles wavered in the wind gusts and no ski tracks were to be had.

Getting into the hills, I ran up and gradually got away. Was on my own until I saw the odd skier on Fenceline. With only 12-km to go, the course headed off the open trails and back into sheltered Wanison trail. The snow was soft. I had a few scary moments with clumping snow on my skis that would not come off!

As I was immobilized, the only skiers that passed me in the race that I did not catch up to happened to be two women! Chantell Widney, a strong Olympic distance triathlete new to x-c skiing skied by strongly, and a woman from Calgary I did not recognize.

I danced around on my skis, attempting to kick off the clumps. Within a couple hundred metres, I was amazed they started gliding again, though the women were out of sight.

Merging onto the 31-km race course, the tracks were glazed and relatively FAST-er. It was nice to double-pole quickly for awhile. Alas, soon had to turn back to the Fenceline and slow-mo trails.

Plugged along. I had no concept of time. Forgot my GPS in my warmup jacket pocket at the start.

Nice to race and be unaware of time. Only issue was not realizing that the extra effort skiing in slo-mo snow required more fuel. I was in need of a few more calories.

Whoever was coherent with 5 km to go will remember the Viking with the horns at the orienteering feedzone. Found out he is Jim Stewart, uncle to one of my co-workers

Just finished drinking my Camelbak full of fresh coconut water (from the actual young coconut NOT tetrapak or can). Grabbed some water at the last feedzone and had an orange slice tossed in my mouth by a volunteer (thanks!). My date supply had fallen out while skiing and only managed to have one earlier.

The last 4-km was a long period of time to double-pole in, even though it was on slightly glazed tracks. Finally got to the 2-km sign and the 400m sign, yay, the finish! I was surprised my time was almost 1 hour slower than my last Birkie. With 3 speedy 20+ year-olds as top 3 women, came in 6th woman overall.

Carolene Kuschminder - 2nd, Marg Fedyna 1st, Viking Medal Presenter (Age class 40-49)
Fun to hear everyone's war stories of the day! I have not felt every muscle ache in any event I have done like this one, well, at least since a couple of the days at the 28 day adventure race in New Zealand. This was a full on body workout ski race!

A woman in the change room recognized me from skiing the American Birkie last year. Pretty neat to meet Magdalena Bowen who came up from Bozeman, Idaho.

Cool to wear the MitoCanada colours and to see all the Mito skiers out!

Viking skiers congratulate Brian McKeever - photo Shaughn Butts
Probably having raced in these conditions before, the National team skiers knew better. Winner Brian McKeever used skate skis, and a couple others went with the "hairies" technique using a classic ski with roughly sand-papered gripzone and no grip wax.

There was no grip wax job that could combat all the wet varied snow conditions of the day. The learnings from the experienced!

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