Name: Jakob Wartman, Duluth, Minn.
Event: Birkie Skate, 2:28
Place in 2012: 280th
Residence in 2012: Oklahoma City
I’m never really good at writing recaps of races because I usually can’t remember much of them. I have a tendency to bonk real bad and become delirious—not remembering anything that happens and forgetting everything that did. With that in mind my whole goal was to ski a race that I could recap, have a fun time doing it and improve 200 places on my finish from last year.
This was my eighth Birkie and my first after moving back to Duluth from Oklahoma City. My training leading up to the Birkie was fine; it could have been better but everyone always laments about their training. The truth is that I am quite happy with my fitness given all the stuff that I’ve done the past six months (getting married, moving, new job, house buying…). One thing that really helped was moving back to the Midwest. I will never take for granted the healthy culture that we have here, like the trails, the clubs, the outdoor spaces, the people, and the commitment to fitness. Don’t take them for granted. These things are not universal and were one of the driving factors behind leaving Oklahoma.
Okay, done editorializing.
I drove down from Duluth to my friend’s cabin near Spooner Friday night, first hitting up the expo, getting my bib and meeting up with friends. Stayed with some awesome people and was able to throw on a couple layers of wax before getting to sleep at a good hour. I also prepared to beat my chronic bonk problem with a special mixture (which is amazing!) made of:
- 3 heaping spoonfuls of orange Gatorade
- 2-3 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 shot whiskey (I prefer Jameson)—this is to depress the freezing point (this may not actual work but it hasn’t frozen up! And it makes any good time better!)
- Water (although I could see how those first three ingredients may not necessitate water)
[Editor’s note: this works, empirically, to a point. When it was -10 in 2011, my whiskey-laden water bottle froze solid. In warmer temperatures, the lower freezing point serves to keep the mouth piece of the water bottle from freezing up as the water sloshes around. We obviously need to run some experiments with this; BirkieGuide.com will be on that. Leaving out the water and skiing with a half liter of Jameson would keep the mixture from freezing, and might be appropriate at the Irish Birkebeiner.]
Saturday morning came quick and I had a small bit of oatmeal, a large bit of coffee and we were good to roll. Grab the bus from Hayward and was luckily able to avoid any motion sickness this year (had a fun time on it last year). The morning flew by and soon enough the gun went off and we were on our way.
Memories of my recent bonks in marathon distance races (both running and skiing) kept me focused on starting conservatively—which is way easier said than done—but I was able to go out relaxed and chill. Once we hit the powerlines the tempo really kicked up and I dialed it back a notch watching the sea of elites in front of me. As we entered the woods I was able to catch up with some Duluth buddies and I skied with them for the next 10 km. I focused on relaxing and taking in lots of calories in the early part of the race. By high point I was feeling good and began to move through the traffic with some other skiers. One secret is to make these moves with Birchleggers—they know what they are doing and since I am now a weekend warrior/wanna-be master blaster myself I’ve got no shame in doing it myself.
I kept moving up until OO when I hit a big pack of about 20 and just started drafting, still focused on skiing easy and relaxed. By OO I had already finished my magic gogo juice and had already taken in three GUs and was getting anxious. I started to dial it up a bit more and when I spied my friend Tyler in his flamboyant UWyo uniform (actually all my friends have very flamboyant uniforms). I was hoping we could ski together but he was hurting pretty bad so I left him behind.
I tucked into another pack that was moving at a good pace and we stayed together until Fish Hatchery. We caught a lot of struggling skiers and stayed pretty much intact with a few dropping off the back. With 7 km to go we caught my former teammate Dan and he was able to keep the pace and stick with the group. Things slowed dramatically once we hit the lake. We lollygagged for the first 1 km of the lake before I decided to make a move as I had a lot left in the tank and am notoriously bad at sprinting. Of course this didn’t work and the pack was able to sneak into my slipstream. With about 500 m left of the lake I pulled up and let someone else take the work so I could recover something for my “sprint.” I was able to be third on to Main Street and able to hold off everyone in the pack but one and just nipped out my former teammate at the line—we both got the same time (his start wire time was earlier).
My body felt really good, except for my plantar fascia which was killing me—I hadn’t skied over 35 km in a row prior to the Birkie. I hobbled to my bag, threw on my Mukluks (which don’t have good sole support) and promptly found some libations. Found Alison [Crocker]—who I had stayed with us—and found out she had taken 7th in the women’s skate race. Which is awesome because she is one of the most talented/humble people I’ve ever meet (almost an Olympian, PhD in astrophysics from Oxford, etc.). Still I was glad I beat her (barely!) because she currently lives in Toledo and as someone who skied the Birkie from a place with no snow I know how hard it is to train and ski fast.
I spent the rest of the day at the Angler Bar and on the lake soaking in the beautiful day and the awesomeness that is the Birkie (and Wisconsin beer!). It’s great to see so many old friends and competitors and the support for the event. The people of Northern Wisconsin sure know how to put on a great event and the skiing culture up here (Northern Minnesota included) is really amazing. I’ll be back next year (and probably every subsequent year) and know I’ll have a great time.