2023: Pre-Birkie and North End Classic

Last weekend’s racing opportunity shed light on things I hadn’t done well: paying careful attention to the wax recommendation (I had missed a glide wax layer) and nutrition before/during the race (I had forgotten the race day breakfast and had not carried my own gels). While they didn’t alter my result or experience in that shorter distance event, they had the potential to create a painful experience for longer distance events. I got a pair of opportunities to rehearse the pre-race and race day routine before those longer races come calling, and as my good fortune would have it, the two events (Pre-Birkie  and North End Classic) were a stone’s throw from each other – making it the travel once and race twice weekend.

My original plan involved competing in the shorter editions Pre-Birkie (PB; 26 km) and North End Classic (NEC; 12.5 km), and then spending a couple extra days as a mini training camp – continuing to forge my friendship with the ABSF trail system. But the plan changed as it sometimes does, and that change took out the mini training camp. The revised plan included skiing the longer edition of PB at trail/terrain appreciation effort and the shorter edition of NEC at race effort. Given that I’d be using my lone pair of fully waxable classic skis for events on back to back days, packing for this weekend trip was a little involved. In addition to the waxing supplies and a printed copy of Toko’s recommendations, tested and trusted recovery tools came along to get me ready after one event and before the next one.

Pre-Birkie

I completed the glide wax portion of the official Toko recommendations and packing for the trip on Thursday evening. The drive to Hayward on Friday included a several stops along the way to distribute posters for our upcoming Great Bear Chase but was otherwise uneventful. One of those final stops was at the Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at OO Trailhead‘s spacious waxing facility (a courtesy of friends at New Moon Ski and Bike Shop) to apply the binder on my waxable skis. While the base hard wax application cooled, I got to chat and catch up with Mr. Sonnesyn and Craig for a bit. Though cellular service was not an issue in this region, the printed copy of Toko’s official wax recommendation served as a checklist as I worked through the ritual. The collective wisdom imparted by my family of mentors/coaches (listed alphabetically: Dean Woodbeck, John Bauer, Leo Hipp and MikeY) helped get my hands dirty … in a good way.

This was my first time using klister for a race without adult supervision. The kitchen at the aforementioned trailhead was locked and the hot water in the restroom was barely warm. So, I couldn’t get the Toko Blue klister as warm (or as fluid) as I would have liked. It looked pretty when applied but was very viscous, and wouldn’t lend itself to smoothening along the klister zone. Ironing in the klister seemed like a logical solution to this problem and I did. I wasn’t sure if my logic was entirely correct: having heard the painful stories of lost kick from fellow skiers, I definitely did not want to experience it on this long outing (to be honest: the longest one yet of this 2022-23 winter). Needless to say (and I have no qualms admitting it), I did freak out a little.

After a couple quick exchange of messages with Bjorn Hansen, he graciously offered to troubleshoot my klister situation. Turned out that my application was thin enough and that my logic of ironing it in wasn’t wrong. But I needed to clean up the excess and as MikeY suggested, needed to just breathe. Bjorn’s fix might have only taken a few minutes but the trip to Rice Lake from Hayward (and back) was too short of a drive for all the valuable lessons (yes, he dropped more wisdom in addition to klister cover application) that will stick with me for decades to come!

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Cleaner Toko Steel Brush
Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Copper Brush
Wax/Structure Toko GHW High Performance Blue
Toko GHW Base Performance Blue
Toko GHW High Performance Blue

Toko GLW High Performance Blue
Toko ST1 Blue
Grip zone
Cleaner Iron with single ply toilet paper and 5-in-1 tool
Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder/Wax 150G sandpaper to roughen the base
Toko KBB Green ironed in, corked and cooled
Toko KKP Blue ironed in, corked and cooled
6x Toko KHW Blue corked gently in between layers

Upon returning to Hayward, picking up the race packet – with the new flashy bib (thanks to New Moon Ski and Bike Shop) and the good ole classy sweatshirt – at the Hayward Veterans Community Center only took a few minutes. The organizers were assigning bibs in order of participants arrival at the packet pickup and my timing was good enough to earn me a prime number (#163)! Like last year, the 2023 Wisconsin Nordic Ski League Distance Championships were also taking place in the region in addition to PB and NEC, and like last year, finding a good dinner option wasn’t very difficult in spite of the extra population. I put the extra hour gained by traveling to good use – getting a bit ahead on next week’s work work and calling  it a night by 9 pm.

Saturday morning followed a full night of restful sleep. After a quick bite to eat and sip to drink from Velo Cafe, I stopped by the Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at OO Trailhead to use the waxing facility to complete waxing ritual. I am still new to the alchemy of kick waxing and as such, I wasn’t entirely certain of how thin (or thick) thin (or thick) is (or should be). I assumed one or two layers more than what was prescribed should be enough to get me through. In spite of all this, I showed up at the Birkie Ridge Trailhead by 9 am. Catching up with familiar faces made the time pass quickly and before I knew, I found myself lined in the starting corral. I must have been too busy catching up because I didn’t hear (or realize) the event had started. Good thing this event uses chip time!

The summary of lessons from 2019-20 and 2021-22 winter outings along the relevant portions of Birkie Ridge Connector and ABSF Classic/Skate Trails was still fresh: while the trails are pretty and surroundings serene, the accompanying glacial topology makes them equally tough and maybe even unforgiving for the un(der)prepared. Since this was a trail/terrain appreciation outing, I started somewhere near the mid-pack and didn’t give into the usual hustle that marks the beginning of a race.

Like last weekend, using the correct form (complete weight transfer, longer glide on each ski and minimal tail slapping) and terrain-appropriate technique (stride, double pole, kick double pole and step turns at speed), being present in the current kilometer and skiing with peace were still my goals for this outing. Racing hard with peace from last weekend was replaced with remembering as much of the ABSF Classic Trail between Hwy OO and Timber Trail, and I split the appreciation into three parts:

  1. Trail appreciation #1 (~11 km): Start line to the turnaround point #1 near OO Trailhead via the Birke Ridge Connector and ABSF Skate Trail.
  2. Terrain appreciation (~19 km): ABSF Classic Trail from the turnaround point #1 near the OO Trailhead to turnaround point #2 about 2 km north of the Timber Trail Trailhead.
  3. Trail appreciation #2 (~11 km): Turnaround point #2 to the finish line via the ABSF Skate Trail and the Birkie Ridge Connector.


Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity, sky and UV index
Start 09:40, 29/20 F, 10 mph SSW, 68% humidity, Clear sky
Middle 11:28, 32/22 F, 15 mph SSW, 65% humidity, Clear sky
End 13:17, 39/32 F, 10 mph WSW, 48% humidity, Clear sky
Air quality 39, PM2.5

Goal vs Reality
Goal: 42 km in 3:29:59 (4:59 min/km)
Reality: 41.75 km in 3:36:47.0 (5:11 min/km)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 4:59 23 4 0:04:59 23 4 4:58 3:28:00 0:01:59
2.00 6:02 45 12 0:11:01 68 16 5:30 3:51:00 0:21:01
3.00 5:46 38 9 0:16:47 106 25 5:35 3:54:00 0:24:01
4.00 3:44 16 48 0:20:31 122 73 5:07 3:34:00 0:04:01
5.00 5:48 37 22 0:26:19 159 95 5:15 3:40:00 0:10:01
6.00 6:04 45 25 0:32:23 204 120 5:23 3:46:00 0:16:01
7.00 4:46 13 25 0:37:09 217 145 5:18 3:42:00 0:12:01
8.00 4:25 12 13 0:41:34 229 158 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
9.00 3:48 15 41 0:45:22 244 199 5:02 3:31:00 0:01:01
10.00 4:38 25 29 0:50:00 269 228 5:00 3:30:00 0:00:01
11.00 7:30 35 2 0:57:30 304 230 5:13 3:39:00 0:09:01
12.00 5:19 31 43 1:02:49 335 273 5:14 3:39:00 0:09:01
13.00 5:42 32 21 1:08:31 367 294 5:16 3:41:00 0:11:01
14.00 4:18 11 11 1:12:49 378 305 5:12 3:38:00 0:08:01
15.00 4:29 8 10 1:17:18 386 315 5:09 3:36:00 0:06:01
16.00 5:07 23 5 1:22:25 409 320 5:09 3:36:00 0:06:01
17.00 4:49 12 31 1:27:14 421 351 5:07 3:34:00 0:04:01
18.00 5:14 31 27 1:32:28 452 378 5:08 3:35:00 0:05:01
19.00 5:01 29 25 1:37:29 481 403 5:07 3:34:00 0:04:01
20.00 6:14 39 12 1:43:43 520 415 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
21.00 4:56 19 21 1:48:39 539 436 5:10 3:37:00 0:07:01
22.00 7:26 33 7 1:56:05 572 443 5:16 3:41:00 0:11:01
23.00 5:38 28 19 2:01:43 600 462 5:17 3:41:00 0:11:01
24.00 3:20 4 46 2:05:03 604 508 5:12 3:38:00 0:08:01
25.00 4:30 15 15 2:09:33 619 523 5:10 3:37:00 0:07:01
26.00 4:58 33 32 2:14:31 652 555 5:10 3:37:00 0:07:01
27.00 5:10 31 34 2:19:41 683 589 5:10 3:37:00 0:07:01
28.00 4:34 25 40 2:24:15 708 629 5:09 3:36:00 0:06:01
29.00 6:24 34 13 2:30:39 742 642 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
30.00 4:40 15 22 2:35:19 757 664 5:10 3:37:00 0:07:01
31.00 5:45 34 18 2:41:04 791 682 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
32.00 4:48 24 40 2:45:52 815 722 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
33.00 5:29 26 36 2:51:21 841 758 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
34.00 5:18 29 18 2:56:39 870 776 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
35.00 5:24 29 22 3:02:03 899 798 5:12 3:38:00 0:08:01
36.00 6:12 31 14 3:08:15 930 812 5:13 3:39:00 0:09:01
37.00 7:03 51 22 3:15:18 981 834 5:16 3:41:00 0:11:01
38.00 3:53 12 51 3:19:11 993 885 5:14 3:39:00 0:09:01
39.00 5:06 24 31 3:24:17 1017 916 5:14 3:39:00 0:09:01
40.00 5:02 18 48 3:29:19 1035 964 5:13 3:39:00 0:09:01
41.00 5:01 11 30 3:34:20 1046 994 5:13 3:39:00 0:09:01
41.82 2:43 0 36 3:37:03 1046 1030 5:11 3:37:00 0:07:01
The final cumulative time, 3:37:03, may not match the official time (3:36:47.0) owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 41.75 km, may not match the designated (or certified) event distance (42 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR my inability to take the tangents OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured (or advertised) courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

I had hoped to be a part of a train of striders for the aforementioned trail appreciation stages – to mimic the form/technique of good skiers ahead of me and to keep moving without too much thinking. Had I started near the front of the pack and had I not stopped at every aid station for as long as I did, I might have been able turn that hope into reality. With mercury rising with every passing hour and with a planned harder effort the next day, skipping the aid stations was not an option. So, I ended up skiing solo for a vast majority of these 42 kilometers.

A vast majority of 42 kilometers was a bit too long to just stay inside my own head. So, I concocted a Game of Thirds and Halves to pass the time shortly before approaching the 14 km mark. The Game of Thirds involved checking the Garmin for time at ~14 km and then attempting to traverse the subsequent ~14 km chunks in equal (or preferably lesser) time. The Game of Halves involved checking the Garmin for time at ~21 km and then attempting to traverse the next ~21 km in equal (or preferably lesser) time. To make it a bit easier to remember the time, I opted to round it up to the nearest full minute. The Game of Thirds resulted in 73 (1:13:00; first third), 144 (2:24:00; 71 minutes for the middle third) and 217 (3:37:00; 73 minutes for the final third). The Game of Halves resulted in 109 (1:49:00; first half) and 217 (3:37:00; 108 minutes for the second half).

Quick review of the previous 3.5-ish hours made me feel good about having used the correct form – complete weight transfer (this was another pearl of wisdom Bjorn had shared the day before: specifically, not to blame poor form or incorrect weight transfer on missing or poor kick), longer glide on each ski and minimal tail slapping. Recalling terrain-appropriate technique – stride, double pole, kick double pole and step turns at speed – hadn’t been very difficult either. But frequent presence of windblown debris made staying in the tracks on long sweeping curves and step turning at speed quite a little difficult. I know very little about grooming but I do know that groomers of these trails are saints for producing what they produced under prevailing conditions!

Shortly after crossing the finish line, I got to chat with #404 (Max Menacher from Eau Claire, WI, I’d later learn). We had followed each other over the final 7-8 km exchanging leads before he pulled ahead for good just before entering the Birkie Ridge Connector. He had been patiently waiting to share some valuable suggestions to help me improve down the road. After briefly catching up with Andy, Jenna, Kelly, PaulScott, Zach and more, I said my goodbyes (or see you tomorrows) and made my way to the Samuel C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center at OO Trailhead.

The skis warmed up to the room temperature while I got some additional nutrition and checked on the results: my official time for this trail/terrain appreciation outing was 3:36:47 – about 7 minutes shy of the goal, and good for 34/50 overall, 26/36 amongst males and 4/5 in my age group. I once again used the same waxing facility to clean and prep my waxables for the North End Classic, and got to know the Eaton family and chat briefly with Coach Nancy Bauer. Lessons from the day before helped enjoy the waxing ritual so much more instead of freaking out.

The highlight of the evening, after getting cleaned up, was the time spent with the Tworeks. They were kind as always to have me over at their casa for a hearty meal and conversations. I have a suspicion that the new to me combination – pasta with soup – will become a staple of my nutrition! With next day’s North End Classic in mind, I headed back and called it a night around 10 pm.


North End Classic

Like the day before, race day morning came after a full night of quality and restorative sleep. An easy drive brought me to Velo Cafe for hearty pre-race nutrition, and I got to catch up with Maureen (and Phil and few other kind volunteers) while I picked up my race packet from Redbery Books. I was assigned a prime number (#101) for the second consecutive day! I then drove to the North End Ski Club trailhead for a premium parking spot (it’s totally a first world problem) and spent some time inside/around the cozy cabin at the trailhead. Getting to see and catch up with friendly and familiar faces from prior events/editions – Coach Jyneen Thatcher, Ian Duncan, and several other locals – made the time go by quickly.

Jenna‘s trick was yet again employed to pin the paper bib over a wearable cloth bib – given the prevailing weather conditions, we didn’t really need an extra layer of clothing but there was no price tag on the coolness factor. I might have applied one too many layers of kick wax over the klister cover but I didn’t know what I didn’t know at that time. After taking the necessary stuff in my Birkie backpack, I skied a portion of the course to the start line – ensuring there was enough ascent – to test the kick wax. After setting myself up in the corral, I got to catch up with Allison, Hansons, JennaJohn, Leise, Mr. Randolph, Scott, Coach Steve Thatcher, Zach and a few other fellow skiers.

Salomon RC7 196
Glide zone
Cleaner Toko Copper Brush
Star Glide Wax Cleaner
Toko Copper Brush
Wax/Structure Toko GHW High Performance Blue
Toko GHW Base Performance Blue
Toko GHW High Performance Blue

Toko GLW High Performance Blue
Toko ST1 Red
Grip zone
Cleaner Iron with single ply toilet paper and 5-in-1 tool
Toko HC3 Wax Remover
Binder/Wax 150G sandpaper to roughen the base
Toko KBB Green ironed in, corked and cooled
Toko KKP 1:1 Blue:Red ironed in, corked and cooled
7x (total) alternating Toko KHW Red and Toko KHW Yellow corked gently in between layers

Like last weekend, using the correct form (complete weight transfer, longer glide on each ski and minimal tail slapping) and terrain-appropriate technique (stride, double pole, kick double pole and step turns at speed), being present in the current kilometer, racing hard with peace and not get lapped by the 25 km skiers were my goals for this outing. With John Bauer on one side and Zach Nelson on the other side (they would go on to finish #1 and #2 in the 25 km edition in ridiculously fast times), an added goal for funsies was to be still with them at the end of the double pole region (~100 meters) immediately after the start.

The event started on time, and John and Zach put a ~100 meter gap by the time I had double poled twice – scratching the funsies goal right off the bat – and I didn’t see them again until after they finished their race. Starting near the very front ensured the initial scampering lasted only a kilometer or so and offered just enough free space / real estate to keep up with my other goals. Knowing the course profile well from prior outings (this was my 5th year racing and 7-8th time on the course) helped enjoy my time. The ups and downs of a serpentine course provided enough challenge to recall and use the appropriate techniques. But frequent presence of windblown debris and shallower than usual track depth made staying in the tracks and step turning at speed quite a little difficult. The groomers had done the best they could with what they had to work with and trails were plenty good to work on my other goals.

I had hoped to be a part of the train of striders but ended up skiing much of the final 10 kilometers solo. Maybe it was the carry over / residual effect from the day before OR maybe it was that I didn’t race with enough peace, a good portion of these final 10 kilometers felt much harder. But I seem to do well in races when I run into any one of my coaches/mentors before the start. Given that I got to see three of them before this one (Nancy Bauer, Jyneen Thatcher and Steve Thatcher) boded well for me. And the result of all that good fortune coupled with the energy from a hearty home-cooked meal (on the road, no less!) plus a decent effort from my end led to 0:54:51 for a finish time – about 5 minutes shy of the goal I had in mind, and good for 10/54 overall, 7/34 in gender and 1/2 in AG.



Weather conditions
hh:mm, temperature (what was and what it felt like), wind, humidity, sky and UV index
Start 10:00, 34/32 F, 3 mph WSW, 73% humidity, Broken clouds
Middle 10:28, 34/31 F, 3 mph WSW, 74% humidity, Broken clouds
End 10:55, 36/33 F, 3 mph WSW, 74% humidity, Broken clouds
Air quality 54, PM2.5

Goal vs Reality
Goal: 12.50 km in 0:49:59 (3:59 min/km)
Reality: 12.35 km in 0:54:51.0 (4:26 min/km)
Distance
km
Lap Time
m:ss
Lap Elevation
meters
Total Time
h:mm:ss
Total Elevation
meters
Avg Pace
min/km
Projected
Finish Time

h:mm:ss
Differential
Goal Time

h:mm:ss
1.00 4:55 29 10 0:04:55 29 10 4:55 1:01:00 0:11:01
2.00 4:44 22 11 0:09:39 51 21 4:49 1:00:00 0:10:01
3.00 4:53 25 12 0:14:32 76 33 4:50 1:00:00 0:10:01
4.00 4:06 19 25 0:18:38 95 58 4:39 0:58:00 0:08:01
5.00 4:19 16 22 0:22:57 111 80 4:35 0:57:00 0:07:01
6.00 4:33 24 24 0:27:30 135 104 4:35 0:57:00 0:07:01
7.00 3:51 14 29 0:31:21 149 133 4:28 0:55:00 0:05:01
8.00 4:52 14 9 0:36:13 163 142 4:31 0:56:00 0:06:01
9.00 4:53 15 7 0:41:06 178 149 4:34 0:57:00 0:07:01
10.00 4:10 6 14 0:45:16 184 163 4:31 0:56:00 0:06:01
11.00 4:36 15 16 0:49:52 199 179 4:32 0:56:00 0:06:01
12.00 4:06 13 23 0:53:58 212 202 4:29 0:56:00 0:06:01
12.37 1:11 3 13 0:55:09 215 215 4:27 0:55:00 0:05:01
The final cumulative time, 0:55:09, may not match the official time (0:54:51.0) owing to rounding errors. Starting my watch a few seconds before the start and stopping it a few seconds after crossing the finish line can be an additional reason for this discrepancy. The overall distance, 12.35 km, may not match the designated (or certified) event distance (12.50 km) owing to idiosyncrasies associated with GPS data collection OR my inability to take the tangents OR the aforementioned early start/late stop reasons, and in some rare cases, incorrectly measured (or advertised) courses or DNFs. As a result, the cumulative pace and the projected finish time might not match the official values as well.

The post-race festivities included stopping by the Rivers Eatery for nutrition as well as picking up the age group award. Kris and Bjorn (from OutThere) were kind enough to take my uncleaned skis back with them and do their magic for the Birkie. After saying my goodbyes (or see you soons), I headed back to da Yoop – hydrating well and stopping a few times along the way to minimize stiffness/soreness. Although I didn’t get to travel with friends, it felt great and grateful again to see some of my nordic family. And racing/skiing with them and getting to spend time with them was a bonus.

I doubt the hills along the ABSF Classic/Skate Trail will magically be tamer or feel easier in two weeks. Skiing the Birkie would be the least of anyone’s worries if that were to be the case in such a short time. I am grateful to have experienced them once more and ahead of time – so that I don’t toe the starting line in about two weeks with unrealistic (or worse, foolish) expectations … especially when the full-blown version of Birkie Fever will be running high and rampant!

 

Carpe Skiem!


Thanks be to

the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of kindness and constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as a human and an athlete. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable experiences with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.

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