Name: Joe Gerard, Duluth
Event: Birkie Skate, 3:20
Pieces of equipment on when the guns went off: 3 (out of 4)
The week before the Birkie I spent a lot of time looking at weather reports, hoping to not get any new snow. I was skating, which meant I wanted old icy snow so the glide would be very fast. To my disappointment, the Birkie trail got a bunch of fresh snow the day before the race which made for slower conditions. I do not train like I used to, so I wanted it to be as fast as possible. I didn’t ski much last year and only mustered a 3:26, with a lot of walking. But this year, I was able to get out a couple times per week all winter, so I was looking to crush that, and maybe finish close to 3 hours. Oh well, at least it wasn’t cold.
I drove down to Cable the day of the race with my brother Mike, who would shuttle my car for me. The roads weren’t too bad on the way down, but they slowed us down enough that I was running a little late. We boarded the bus at Como, I got my bib at Telemark, and headed off to the start. I got ready in line at the port-o-john, and then ran to the start. I rushed through the gates as they were counting down the start to my wave (Wave 3 skate). I got both skis on and one pole before the gun went off, and I was way in the back of my wave. Of course, a classic skier fell down in front of me for no reason and I had to stop and go around him. So, I made my way through the crowd, and didn’t try too many sketchy moves to get around people, rationalizing that I had 50k left to save my energy for.
The first few kilometers I spent dodging people and trying to keep relaxed. Then we got to the Powerline hills, and I went far right to get around people. I already knew I was doing better than last year (because I wasn’t walking) and kept moving past people. I was now kicking myself for not getting to the start on time, so I wouldn’t have to pass everyone in wave 3, but I looked at it as a nice way to take it easy in the first 5k. Once we left the Powerlines, I started feeling bad, and let people pass me. I usually have this rough patch, so I didn’t let it bother me, and I began feeling better around 10k.
Then I began feeling really good. I had to keep myself in check, because I wasn’t in great shape, but I knew that I could ski the hills a lot better than last year. I was constantly passing people especially on the downhills. My skis were way faster than anyone around me. In Wave 3 I think it is easy to just ski hard at the top of a hill and pass people on the way down, but my skis were really cruising, too. Then I got to OO and found my split was only 3 minutes faster than last year. What? I was already dead by this time last year, but I just shook it off and kept moving. I skied so many hills that I was walking last year, and I still didn’t realize how much slower it was this year. Then I got to 31k and entered a time warp. I swear the next sign I saw said 37k. I was wondering just how I travelled 6k in a few minutes and I started getting really optimistic. Then I saw the 33k sign. I wasn’t as far along as I thought. I put my head down and the ks kept ticking by quickly.
I was still dodging Wave 2 and 3 skiers everywhere and would still get stuck in a conga line on most hills, but again, I knew I couldn’t ski the hills too hard or I would blow up, so I just kept moving. In this stretch I often found myself getting stuck behind people skiing two abreast and not able to get by. I didn’t want to yell at them, because I wasn’t going a whole lot faster, but I patiently waited many times to get around people. It’s not like I was fighting for the top 200, so I would just look these as an opportunity to rest.
At the 38k aid station I saw that I was only 6 minutes ahead of my time from last year, which was really demoralizing, because I thought I should be 15 or 20 minutes ahead of last year’s time by now. I still didn’t recognize how much slower it was this year. But I got to the 39k hill and there was a big party, like usual. I went to the outside lane in hopes that someone would hand me a beer. I saw many people with a cup in each hand, but nobody offered me a beer. Oh well.
Then, we got to Bitch hill, and this is where I lost a lot of time. I was stuck behind second wavers the whole way up, just slowly walking. I guess I was still in V1, but I wasn’t able to pass. Three separate people pulled over and stopped on the way up in front of me, which was funny to me, because that’s what I did there last year. I got over the top and cruised the easy parts and V1ed the tough parts. The field right before Highway 77 was the first time I felt really exhausted. I held it together, and skied up the big hill fine, but it wasn’t anything to brag about. Mostly, I was just trying to keep myself from stopping. I got over the last hills, and tried to get in the tracks for the downhills. I found after 25k, that the downhills were WAY faster in the classic tracks.
So, I even did some double poling in the tracks because the glide was so much better. I had to dodge a lot of classic skiers, but it was worth it, especially because my legs were pretty fried from here on in. Once we got on the lake, I took a shot of Jagermeister from the partiers (hoping it was beer), and kept my head down, pushing onward. Twice, on the lake, I had to get in the classic tracks and double pole because my legs were not giving me much. About half way across the lake I got out of the tracks and just skated a big V2. I didn’t care that I had a small group following me, I just pulled them across the lake because I couldn’t draft off anyone else.
I went around a guy once we went by the grocery store and I put everything I had left into my big V2 up to the finish line. I didn’t have much of a sprint, but nobody from the lake passed me, which I was happy about. My time—3:19:44. I was sort of disappointed to only beat last year’s time by 7 minutes, but then I see that the winners were a lot slower too. So overall I have to be just glad to do better than last year, and it turns out I went from 1583rd place last year, down to 959th place overall this year. That’s six Birkies in the books.