As the "race" got closer I was asked by a lot of people what I thought I might be able to do for a time. Fair question, except I've never been timed on skis, never tried to go fast, and really had no clue. I'm quite fit from my other training, but if you've ever seen a runner try to swim for the first time, you know that being generally fit really doesn't necessarily matter at all. I didn't know how hard I could push myself in a sport I haven't been taught how to do by anyone other than myself or trained for (ok, I got out twice this year, once for 20 whole minutes) Actually, there were lot of things that I wasn't quite sure about, which became more obvious as the weekend progressed. The most important being:
1. How long the race actually was
2. Where Hayward actually was
3. How to wax my skis
4. How to XC ski uphill
5. How to XC ski downhill
Trying to wax my skis 15 minutes before I started.
Cheapest wax kit I could find and I have no idea if I did it right.
As for the length of the race, in my mind I thought of it kinda like a half marathon. Although now I realize that the times only equate in fast runners vs fast skiers... the drop-off in skiing is way higher than in any half marathon due to the technique component. Thinking of it as a half marathon on skis was fine up until I got the the 20k point in the race... so how far do I still have to go? At that point it makes a big difference if you have 1k, 3k or 5k left. Turns out it was 23k, and when the trail though the woods spit us out into the open finish area, it caught me off guard with way too much energy left.
Did you know that Hayward, WI is a 6hr drive from Madison? I do now. I knew we were going north and I wasn't in charge of directions, so keeping in line with the theme of the weekend (unprepared) I didn't look at a map. Turns out we were going deep into the northwoods where some of my friends in school would go for deer hunting, trips to their cabin etc but that somehow I had managed to avoid this whole time. It was a neat experience... our group of 7 triathletes that went up together stayed at Michael Lee's cabin. This definitely enhanced the overall fun factor of the weekend vs staying in some hotel. We also drove by the Namekagon River, which is cool because it's the only other time I've seen that name except for when I look at the street sign on the road I grew up on.
Our "family photo" at Michael's cabin, including Camping Bear
I mentioned that I skied twice this year. That brings my lifetime total up to 5 times going back to last February. This was helpful, and definitely better than putting on my skis for the first time ever this weekend (more on that later), but the places I ski at in Madison are very flat. The Birkie trail is not. At all. I could've probably walked up some of the hills faster than I did with skis on, and all I can say about the downhills is thankfully I did a lot of downhill skiing for fun in middle school. However not having metal edges and different bindings that lift up in the heel on the XC skis makes it different enough that my overall stability on descents is not really good. My number one goal for the weekend, above finishing, was don't get injured. I accomplished this goal and actually didn't crash once.
Our first adventure of the day was pushing my car out of the snow in the driveway as we were leaving the cabin
One cool and unique thing about this race is that as I fatigued, I got faster. I have so little experience doing XC skiing that I was actually learning and improving my technique as the race went on. I started pretty sketchy, but got used to the skis more and just stayed completely non-competitive for the first 5k or so. Around that time I was getting comfortable enough that I felt like pushing the pace a little bit, and basically built my effort as the race went on. My legs, feet, shoulders and hands were getting sore (I didn't realize how much the poles can fatigue you on the climbs) and I should've been slowing down but my form was improving so I was actually gliding more with each push. In the second half as I got more comfortable my competitive nature took over and I even tried to race a few people who were going about my speed. I didn't really care about the outcome of these races though, and when we'd come to a bottleneck on the climbs in the narrow trails I just relaxed and waited patiently until a spot opened up to go through. I slowed down to chat with a couple friends as I went by the on the course, something I never do in triathlon. I started in the last wave so there were literally thousands of people ahead of me. I was having a lot of fun and in the finish field I actually sprinted into the finish and got someone on the line who I'd been chasing on and off for about 1k.
It turns out my time was 1:49 and that put me 13/41 in the M25-29 for the Kortelopet Skate. Actually quite a bit better than expected. I had a lot of fun and I think I will likely do it again next year. I'd like to beat my time, and I think I can take quite a few minutes off in the future. Now that I have a seed time, just starting in an earlier wave will shave a couple due to less congestion.
Someone else who will probably beat his time if he ever does this again is Cody Williams. But that's a big if. Cody signed up for the full Birkie. That's a very hilly 31 miles. Cody had also never skied before. Ever. This was a highly entertaining theme of the weekend for the rest of us, and I think for Cody also, at least until the race started. I imagine this must be comparable to doing an Ironman having never ridden a bike. Pictures sum it up best:
Pre-race, Cody is on the far left
Finished, probably wondering what just happened
Back at the cabin with a pot of puppy chow
Well, crazy as that was you've got my respect for life for getting through it. For me, it's time to recover from the weekend and zero in my focus for my first triathlon of the season in just a little over a month. I'll think more about dropping my Kortelopet time in about 9 months.