What a crazy day. That sentence pretty much sums up the 2013 Canadian Birkebeiner for a lot of folks, including Dad and I. We had both been able to train a fair bit leading up to the race and were looking forward to the big day, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as you have planned…
Leading up to the 55km race, the conditions were looking like they were going to be fantastic – right around -3 as the high, and no snow in the forecast. We spent Friday night with the Foothills Nordic Club and had a lovely evening of good food and company. We decided to wait to wax our skis until Saturday morning as the forecast seemed to be changing. And change it did! When we got up on Saturday morning, the thermometer already read 1 degree. We were all panicking a bit…we were anticipating that would be the high for the day. People were stripping their skis and starting from scratch. This is always a bit nerve wracking the morning of the race.
Lucky for me, Dad was up early testing different waxes and we decided that a klister base was going to work best. I tried it out on the trails in the dark and it was perfect, just the right amount of grip and still allowed for some glide on the fast trails. But just when we were packing up to head to the race, it started snowing! We couldn’t believe it…big chunky flakes of fresh snow “noooooo”…this definitely threw a wrench into things. Fortunately, Dad hadn’t put klister on his skis, so he had some wiggle room with wax but we knew we had to cover my base so I wouldn’t stick too bad.
By the time we got to the race, the snow had accumulated. We got to the start line and got my pack weighed with not a whole lot of time to spare but we made it and our skis were waxed!
Things started to fall apart for me when they said go…I went to double pole and I literally could not move. It seemed like my skis were glued to the track…all the people behind me were yelling “go go go” but I couldn’t budge, so I hopped out of the track and took my skis off. Sure enough, globs of snow were already accumulated on my kick zone. I knew this was not a good sign. By the time I got them cleaned off and looked around, there was not a soul to be seen…I was in last place.
The Birkie race starts out on a large lake. The morning was warm and very windy which meant the trails were obliterated. The lake is probably about 700 meters. By the time I got to the end of it, I had already stopped 3 times to scrape my skis. It felt like I had skied 10kms with the effort it had taken. I was devastated. I thought to myself “maybe I should just turn back, there is no way I can finish this” but I decided to continue on my nordic “walk”, trying every step to get my skis cleared. Once I hit the tracks that were out of the wind, the skis seemed to loosen up a bit. I caught up to the tail end skiers and started passing a few people. Every few hundred meters my skis would just stop me in my tracks. I didn’t know what to do so I took out my hard wax I brought just in case and started applying it. Once again, pretty much everyone passed me but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep going with my skis in the shape they were in.
By km 13, I was pretty frustrated. My skis hadn’t improved much and I just was not having fun. I decided to stop. My elbow was hurting from all the jarring of my skis stopping on me and I truly didn’t think I could make it another 42kms. I made the decision to drop out. I’ve never done that before and it didn’t feel good. I waited for my friend Tanya who I knew was skiing the 31km race and decided I would just finish the 31kms with her and call it a day. While waiting for Tanya, my cousin Ian (first time skiing the Birkie…and did it with a pack) went by. It was great seeing his smiley face and how he was persevering given the tough conditions (congrats on your finish Ian!).
When Tanya came through the feed station, I tagged along with her as I told her about my decision not to finish. We skied together for about 1/2 hour and I really enjoyed the company. As we were skiing along, a funny thing happened, it was warming up, the tracks were icier and my klister was finally working to my advantage. I felt like I got some energy back…I decided I had to go on and try to finish the 55kms. I said bye to Tanya and headed on my way. The rest of the race was as gruelling for me as it was for everyone else but I knew I would have been disappointed in myself if I had decided to call it quits.
I finished in 5 hours and 43 minutes – 45 minutes slower than my slowest time. I didn’t care as I was proud of myself for actually finishing! When I got to the finish line I was beyond thrilled to see Dad there. When we started talking, I realized his day was far worse than mine. Dad fell at km 28 and broke his left clavicle. He skied out 11kms to get to the finish where he then had to wait for a few hours for me to finish. What a trooper.
I think it’s fair to say the Birkie threw a curve ball at us this year…but for some reason, it makes me want to go back for more next year ;).
Congrats to all those who participated, and a huge thank you to the volunteers and my wax technician/training partner – Dad.