Name: Marc Claas, Waukesha, Wis.
Event: Birkie Skate, 2:56
2012 med tent breaks: 1
2013 med tent breaks: 0
Last year was my first Birkie. It did not go well. I ended up with hypothermia, some minor frostbite, and the knowledge that I am an idiot. This year was more fun.
Because of a really strange neck problem I did nothing in November and most of December. It really left me out of shape going into winter, and I wasn’t even able to ski hard until mid January. Even so, I felt pretty good as I drove up to Stevens Point to pick up my cousin, and from there we headed to Rice Lake to stay with his buddies folks.
I had waxed my harder skis for the race, but decided to switch to the softer pair after reading the conditions recommendations. Fortunately they already had a few layers of wax on them, and just had to put on the HF top layer after an awesome pasta dinner. My cousin forgot shades, so I convinced him they are a birkie necessity for the sake of keeping your eyeballs, especially where he was in Wave 9. While he bought sunglasses I hit up the day-old donut rack for pre race snacking. We managed to get to bed by 10 for the 5:45 alarm.
Breakfast was a bagel, banana, granola bar, and probably more. It was early and I don’t function well, but I kept it moving. We took two cars up to Hayward, where I left my car at the fire station. From there we headed up to the Cable drop off point, and from there the bus in. My cousin and I managed to get our bibs without too much pain and began wandering the halls of Telemark. Eventually I stopped in a bathroom line. I was lucky that line wasn’t one person longer, or things could have gotten ugly. After exiting the bathroom I donned my race top, bib, and an additional dry fit under all of it. I also put foil emergency blanket in between my shirt layers, because it worked so well last year after the med tent. After chowing a donut I headed out toward the start.
By the time I hit the porta john, put on my boots (complete with large amounts of duct tape over the broken zipper), and got my bag into the truck it was 45 seconds to the Wave 4 start. Whoops. I snuck into the start gate, slapped on my skis and then the banners went up. Everyone skied away and I didn’t have my poles on yet! I decided to let them go, and began my 5 minute journey to the starting wire.
I didn’t realize this was a thing, but as I slowly ambled toward the wire there were at least 20 other people doing the same thing. Some people were even skiing back and forth in the space. As I watched Wave 4 disappear around the turn I wondered if it could possibly open up by the time i hit them. Hint, the answer is no.
I got to the traffic before the first hill, and decided to go for it and started weaving my way around the masses. A pole flying at my face reminded me that I’d forgot my shades, which kind of sucked. It was so warm out I ditched my emergency blanket undershirt right away, taking any gaps that opened up, and double polling past lines of uphill sloggers was hard work. At the time I was feeling good and my skis felt fast, so no worries. As I grabbed some water and energy at the first feed I noted my ski didn’t fall off this year; so far so good.
The second feed had cookies, which I was pretty excited about because I wasn’t carrying any food or water. I actually stopped at every feed and took as much as I could down. I’m sure it slowed me down, but at the same time I felt really good every time I left one.
It was plenty satisfying to roll past the 15k feed without balling up in the med tent this year. As I went by I shouted “This is my favorite feed!” to the cheers of the volunteers. It looked like the same people even, but I doubt they recognized me in my fancy race suit. Those things are cool, now I know why everyone has one. I looked so good, it didn’t matter how slow I was going.
Beyond that point the race really blurs together. Shooting gaps, double polling, saying hi to people I knew, and many I didn’t. I got a lot of “go Wave 4!” especially after the half way point. I was also repeatedly reminded that some other schmuck was winning Wave 4 and I should catch him. I looked it up, I might have been close to him had I started with my wave, but I would have had to do serious work to catch him. I made sure to invite everyone with something Madison-related on to the biathlon the next weekend. Some of them even showed up, which was pretty cool.
I started to fall into trouble around the funny Irishman on the hill. I could feel my abs cramping, so I gave up double polling and was forced to walk up the hill in the horrible line. As I fought toward the lake more parts started shutting down, robbing me of any power or speed. By the time I hit 7k to go it was pure survival mode to try and finish.
Finally the lake came and I figured with the hills behind me, I would be OK. As I limped across I fell in behind a guy, but he wasn’t too happy about it. After the third swerve I took the hint and crept around. I think I said something to him, but who knows. Finally I made it up off the lake and onto the streets, taking the right turn past the flame and up Main Street. I felt a sense of relief that it was over, because I wasn’t going much further even if it wasn’t the finish. That’s when I decided to put in a couple hard poles and V2 the last 20 yards. Big mistake. My entire ab sheet cramped and I was immediately stuck in some kind of horrible tuck. With that miserable pain I crossed the line and dropped to my knees, unable to overcome the cramps. So, for the second year in a row, I was helped to the med tent to chill out until everything stopped tweaking. It’s pretty embarrassing, I wouldn’t recommend it. The finish video is pretty entertaining though.
After walking, much deflated, from the changing tent I realized I had no clue where I’d parked. I started walking north till I finally asked for directions, which were to walk south. Turns out it was right behind the soup tent. Duh.
I put some work boots on and decided to head to the lake and wait for the cousin, grabbing a moon man on the way. When I was just past the 1k to go marker and halfway through the beer I saw an odd sight. An older gentlemen was shuffling along on one ski, while holding onto the other ski. I stared for at least 10 seconds before I offered to take the ski to the finish. He didn’t even hesitate before dropping that ski and continuing his long and lonesome ride. I shouted after him that his ski would be an the exit of the men’s changing tent, not sure if he heard me.
When I hit Main Street again it was packed. I spent a solid 15 minutes working my way toward the tent city. I finally made it up there and put the ski right next to the tent door. I hope he found it. At that point I figured the cousin had gone by and I’d missed him.
As I was heading back down main street I stumbled across the nice lady who put up with me and the rest of the ski team in high school, also known as coach. I thought I’d heard her name as I was finishing, and it turns out I was right. We finished right next to each other. The difference was she walked away from the line and I had to be … assisted
As we chatted and headed back toward the lake I saw a tall lanky figure with an orange hunting hat coming towards us. Holy crap, I’m related to that one! I informed him that he should hurry and finish before beer was gone and I think he mustered a chuckle. Shortly thereafter a friend brought some PBR out on the ice for funsies.
Eventually the cousin called me and asked me what to do.
me: Throw your stuff in the car and come to the lake, we have beer.
him: Aw man, I have no idea where the car is.
me: It’s behind the soup tent.
him: Oh, I can see it.
Fatigue does funny things to people.
We ended up heading back to Rice Lake at around 4, after picking up more beer at the store. When I got out of the shower I was informed that I’d beat the guy we were staying with by 0.1 seconds. He’s only been on skis three times this year, but I’ll take it. I really wonder how many people I passed out on the course. One fellow from Wave 9 beat me, I want the go-pro camera of that ski. I figure I have to be top 10 for people passed though. [Editor’s note: we are planning to run these data as best we can.] After managing to make it until 9:30, it was lights out. All in all is was a pretty good day.