Sunday, March 4, 2012

American Birkebeiner Race Report


Want more factual, less-seizure-prone Birkie vids?  Check out 2010 and 2011.

So, last year, I showed up to the Birkie with super-questionable fitness having barely ski raced all year.  I ended up having the best race of my life and qualifying for the elite wave in 2012, reminding me for the hundredth time that predicting and controlling one's fitness is way, way harder than it seems.

The obvious next step was to ski EVEN LESS and race EVEN LESS this year.  I got back from 'cross nationals in mid-january, looked at the calendar, and realized that I had 6 weeks to the Birkie.  Five years ago, I would've said there was no hope to get 50k fitness in 40 days, but now I know that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.  Let's do this!

...and six weeks later, I was in line at the airport with 10 ski days under my belt, with Cary and Lauren, who were on similar training plans -- and we suddenly had a problem even bigger than limited time on snow.

Our plane tickets were booked for the wrong day.

"Tickets for the wrong day," it turns out, is actually just "not having tickets at all," but with the added excitement of a sunk cost skewing your judgement.   The Delta lady said we could put our initial ticket price toward the cost of buying a ticket one hour before the plane took off... so it was "only" $500 to go to Wisconsin in an hour!

Between entry fee, lodging, transport and ticket I was already committed to $700 for the weekend... so I could pay $700 to sit at home get drunk wonder what I was missing, or $1200 to go race the biggest ski race in America.

Dammit.

You'd have done the same thing.

Fast forward to the finish line, where I've just had a totally abysmal 50k, finishing 401st overall (I was 200th last year).  You know what makes that really hurt?  Knowing you could've taken $500 to stay home.

Oh, elite wave, why can't I quit you?  Oh wait, I just did.

When a ski race goes badly, and it's a 2.5 hour one, you get a lot of time to think about what went wrong.  I have a thrillingly lengthy of list excuses in my head, and if there's anything people love reading, it's a blog full of excuses!  Right??

Let me just give you good one.

I had to poop.

It all started as soon as I paid $500 for a plane ticket.  I realized that if I was dropping that coin for a race, then I needed to make it count.  And to make it count, you need fuel.

You ever try to FUEL UP in an airport?  YEAH.

So that's why I ate at Sbarro, your honor.

Unbeknownst to me, that was also roughly the last time I would be moving my bowels until many hours after the race.

Friday afternoon, I thought to myself, "that's odd, I haven't needed to use the bathroom yet today."  Ordinarily, thoughts like this never cross my mind, but it was THE BIRKIE and it NEEDED TO COUNT.  So a little extra weight loss is worth fretting over, right?

Protip:  the #1 way to "not poop" is "fretting about pooping."

Which takes us to race morning, where I was now up to 36 hours without a poop, and kinda had a tummy ache.  NOT OPTIMAL.

Promise I will stop typing "poop" soon.  Don't let your kids read this.  No, wait, kids love pooping.  Don't let your adults read this.

Back to the race.  At the 40k mark, my stomach ache increased a bit... and suddenly, for the first time in several days, I had a strong urge to visit the men's room.  Unfortunately, at this moment I was ahead of a grand total of four other skiers from the elite wave (which was roughly 200 people), and the one last shred of dignity I was clinging to was "not last in the elite wave!"

And you know what they say -- poopin' guys finish last.

So, a pit stop was not made, and my body protested this decision by sealing things back off for six more hours.  Fair enough.

After the race, I was in "never again" mode about the Birkie.  It's been a week, and I've upgraded to "we'll see."  Such is the lure of the potential of a non-constipated Birkie.

One final note:  Last year, I won the ultimate roommate grudge match by getting into the elite wave, while Cary languished in wave one.  This year, he made up the ten minute gap between those waves in 36k of skiing and eventually beat me by over 200 places, to crushingly avenge last year's defeat.  I would be remiss to sweep this fact entirely under the table in my race report, but I can at least try to hide it in a final paragraph that maybe no one will read.

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