Since I haven't written since November...it's about time!!! One of my goals for the year was to go to Andorra and compete in the Ski Mo Worlds. Fortunately I was named to the team (squeeking on), but with working in the Olympic Village for 3 weeks felt it was just too much additional time away (not to mention the cost). So my consolation prize was to race the Birky for the 23rd time.
My goal here was to continue to be in the elite wave, but now qualifying at age 50. In the 25+ years that they've had the elite wave, I've always qualified. Mind you, it's getting a bit tougher. The days where you would go out hard and fast but bonk midway, yet still hold on for a top 200 position are over. You falter even for 5 minutes and you're out. But still you have to go for it. The race is fast and when you start with the elites they suck you right in to a pace that most likely is over your head.
Such was the case this year. The first 15 km has a lot of climbing and as I kept an occaisional eye on my HR monitor I tried not to panic. "Can I really go this hard?" after 9 km my per km time was 2:44. I barely ski around 3min when I race in Canmore for 10 Km! But I hadn't raced this year...what? Yes this was my first skate race of the year! Maybe my only one too! That seems strange to me as the Birky usually is the cap of a season of long racing. Racing prepares you mentally and physically and I'd only done a couple of low key classic races (bombing in both) and 3 skimo races.
At the 10km mark I really felt a bonk coming on. I'd been going too hard trying to keep up with the group. I only brought 3 gels, even then thinking it was 1 too many. So I began to nurse that bonk flirting on the edge for the next 40km. I was able to pick up a couple of gels at aid stations and get drink feeds. Somehow I never fell over the glycogen depletion precipise and hung on and even kept the pace up.
I latched on to 2 other guys. One of whom was "Rocket" Rod Raymond of Duluth (I didn't know it was him until I checked the results). From OO on we had a nice pack of 3-4 except for when the lead women passed us at 30km. We hung on for 10 km, but then they started challenging each other for the win-trying various breakaways in the hilly section. Usually the the gals (who start 2min back) don't catch me until the lake, so I suspected maybe I wasn't going as fast as I thought I was.
It's always a huge relief to hit the lake knowing there's only a few km's left. You can hear the crowds, see the water tower and taste the finish line at the end of main street. Most years though the lake can be a long slog and usually I get passed by packs. This year the packs weren't around and though I couldn't quite keep up with my OO pack, I reeled in several stragglers...those drifting in bonk land just trying to make it in. My right tricept muscle began to cramp with every stroke of the pole. My legs had been on the verge of cramping for 20km and I knew that if the race was even 2km longer I'd be in big trouble!
It's hard to describe the feeling of coming down the spectator lined main street. Later on when there's streams and streams of racers the cheering may ebb downward a bit, but when you're still kind of up there and only dozens v. thousands of skiers have passed by, the crowds are still going pretty berserk. It's a lot of fun, but mostly because you know the end is just right there.
Finishing is such a good feeling. Not only can you finally rest after almost 2 and 1/2 hours, but there truly is joy in completing the journey. I know I had the biggest smile on my face. I'd raced with absolutely everything I had in me. When I felt bonkish at 10km I continued on pace for another 40km. Through the battle I felt I had skied at the top end of my capabilities the entire way. For the effort it seemed to me that I'd for sure be top 100, maybe even top 80. But it didn't matter because the real victory was in the effort. I'd known I'd given the best effort I was entirely capable of. I was a little surprised to learn later of my 160th place, but that didn't diminish the joy and satisfaction of racing my best.
My per km time averaged out to 2:48. For me really good!! I met my overall goal of top 200. It used to be that you'd be really happy with top 50. Then it was top 100. If you didn't meet the goal at least qualify for next year's elite top 200 wave so you could have another shot. Now though I think the goal is just stay elite! And to give an idea how competitive it is if I'd skied 31/2 minutes faster I would have placed in my age group (I was 5th-my best a.g. ever) and been in the top 100....if I'd have skied 4 minutes slower I would have been out of the top 200.
My head is still Birky buzzing 4 days later. But really my focus for the year has been on skimo racing. Somehow I've got to get it together mentally and physically because we have a nat'l points race in Nelson BC this weekend. I've never been so tired for so many days after a race. It's thursday today and the first day I felt like I actually had some energy (non-caffeine fueled).
I guess going to WI and racing my 23rd Birky gave me Birky fever. I've heard about it and for many years of my life lived, skied and trained under its clouding influence. Funny though....I don't really mind!