Name: Jay Wenner, Saint Paul
Event: Birkie Skate, 2:29
Age group place: 1
Pairs of skis waxed before race day: At least 5
Ski Prep-Part 1
When I started ski racing, I raced the Birkie and the Pepsi Challenge. My logic was, if I had a bad Birkie, I wanted to have a backup race so the season was not lost. This season, I started out sick a good chunk of December and then I had a series of races that left me feeling empty, so the season was coming down to the Birkie.
We had poor snow early in the season, so I hadn’t skied on my good race skis. When I pulled them out for the City of Lakes, they were slow, and it hit me that I had no idea how many kilometers were on the skis or under what conditions they skied well.
The weekend before the Birkie, the long range forecasts indicated cool conditions for the next 10 days, so I waxed my five best pairs with the same wax and headed for John Lynch’s cabin. (Thanks John.) Surprisingly, the cold pair of 610s with a very fine grind was the slowest ski in the cold, new snow. Huh? That was the same pair I skied at the COLL (a cold race this year). Then it was down to four pairs that skied very similar. Out came a pair of 610s with a fine linear grind for our long Saturday ski, and I guess it was a good sign that this pair was quite fast with cheap wax.
On Thursday, I picked up Peter (the Cheater), Julie (the wife), and headed for Hayward. We made the obligatory stop at the Expo, and talked with Roger Knight about SkiGo C44 being fast in that day’s test. I started to say, “I‘m surprised it did well in this snow,” and he jumped in, “You’re surprised, I’m blown away.” Roger is a fun one to talk to because he has that big, dynamic personality. The basic gist of the conversation was to wait until they test on Friday morning after it snows, but more interesting was this tid-bit: the trail crew was talking about plowing the course. Wow!
I also talked with Peter Ashley about the new Speed Max skis. Fischer came across the idea because skiers (and reading between the lines, I think he meant World Cup skiers) were wearing out the bases on skis and they wanted Fischer to put on new bases. When they figured out the adhesion process, applied new bases and handed them back, the skiers were asking what the hell they did with the skis. “These things are fantastic.”
Ski Prep-Part 2
On Friday morning, I was trying to figure out what wax or ski combos to test. Finally on one pair, I put on Holmenkol Blue (both skis) and then corked in FC7 on one and Skigo C44 on the other. On the likely race pair, I put on LF6 and then corked in SFR92 on one ski (to see if it slowed or sped up the ski). I did my workout on the first pair, and for the life of me, I could not tell any difference. It was a bit disappointing that I got no answer from two quite different fluoros. I put on the second pair and they were much faster than the first. Holy smokes. The one with the corked fluoro was faster for a short while (maybe a km), but the real surprise was the speed difference between the two pairs.
So the first race pair was easy, Holmenkol HF Blue, Holmenkol Mid-08, and some Start SFR92. That pair could go quite cold if the temps cooled off. The other pair took some thinking. The Birkie weather usually throws a curve ball race morning, so I waxed the second pair “warm” with Swix HF7 and Cera FC8.
Race morning was just a degree or two warmer than the forecast and the ski comparison was again a dead heat. It was tempting to go with the “warm” pair, but that assumed the snow on the warm-up track is like the snow in the woods. I figured it was best not to throw out a bunch of testing (by Boulder Nordic), so I went with the “cold” pair. It was great to have two fast pairs from which to choose.
Somewhat last minute, I got nervous that I needed a bathroom break and found quite a line. After exiting the porta-potty in true racing fashion, I ran to the start, found they weren’t marking skis this year, and headed straight for the start line. ‘Hey, hold up, what race are you in?” I was running to the wave 1 classic start and the guy directed me into the second start gate (with the rest of the Elite Men’s field).
After most everyone had lined up, some “official” yelled for clarification on who’s on the front line. Number 28 was didn’t have a low enough number and got kicked out. I moved back and let him have my spot in the second row. The start went off without much fanfare, but there was quite a bit of chatter amongst the guys during the first km.
My normal mode of skiing this race is to go like hell, find my max heart rate on the Powerline hills and then find a place to recover somewhere once we hit the woods. It’s actually a really stupid way to ski the race, but I get carried away with racing in the Powerlines and underestimate how long and hard the Powerline Hills really are. This year I held back a bit on my urges to pass people and got to the woods feeling pretty good. The other thing I found on the hills was that my skis were gliding well.
The first 15 km of the Birkie are probably the toughest, but that’s hard to remember when you’re just hanging on. I was starting to feel a bit rough when we hit the left hand corner that signaled the Highpoint was near. That’s when things get fun with some long downhills. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I passed Tom Krenz, who won the age group last year. From his breathing, it sounded like he put up a fight to hang on, but skiing the Mora 58, Finlandia 50, and Birkie 50 back-to-back-to-back in the last three weekends is a little much.
After the downhills, John Munger yelled out, “Jay, I’ll trade skis with you.” I was kind of in a zone not paying attention. After another downhill he skied up and said, “Your skis are ridiculous,” or something to that effect. It was true, my skis were gliding slightly better than just about everyone, and way better than some. I think John was on the “some” end of that equation.
At Boedecker Road, I took feed and came off the back of the pack a bit. I chased back on, but it took some effort. Then a guy came off the back, so I had to chase again to catch the pack. After crossing OO, the chase was on a third time simply because of the accordion effect. After a couple km, I gave up chasing because I knew where this was leading … into the deep fry.
A couple kilometers later, Bjorn Battdorf went by and I jumped on. Wow, what a stroke of good luck. First he pulled me through a couple stragglers off the pack I was chasing and then up to Drew Holbrook. Cool, Drew is the one to watch in the age group race and has been skiing really well this year. Then it was past Drew and up to the pack. At this point I decided let him go and just recover a bit so I don’t blow up in another 5 kilometers. Unfortunately, the pack was shedding skiers and I was with some debris off the back. That’s okay, they’re skiing fine, but soon #150 (Jacob Grothe) and I were alone, with Jacob was doing all the work. Usually the 35k mark is about the point where I go from feeling pretty good to having signs of cramping. I took a big hit off the Gu bottle and then a hit off the water bottle, nearly finishing it.
Coming into Mosquito Brook, I was starting to cramp on the insides of my legs and triceps but I had a feed coming from Julie. She takes pictures of the leaders so it’s really useful if I yell out that I’m coming so she can stash the camera and grab a bottle. The day before, I joked about yelling out “Stella” instead of “Julie.” So I did, and then yelled “Julie” a few times. The folks along the trail looked at me like I was crazy. Pete Moran said later that he thought I yelled, “A new leader,” which may explain the looks. Anyway, I picked up a new bottle and drank a fair amount hoping to get the back-up diesel generators going.
Go it Alone
About the time Bitch Hill showed up, the body was slowly coming around. Jacob and I had been switching places probably because we were both going through periods of feeling good or not. After downhill towards Rosie’s, I had gapped Jacob a bit but a couple other guys caught me, one being #86 (Erich Zeigler). He led us to Highway 77, where Evan Pengelly gave me a feed. Erich looked like a strong skier, but I think his skis were pretty slow since it seems I dropped him on the downhill into Duffy’s field.
Just before the lake, I passed on more skier and Bill Pierce (head of grooming) yelled out, “Come on Wenner” from the sidelines. There were two women to pass, and it seemed (in Wenner world) no one behind me. After passing the women, I looked back and spotted a group of about four guys, so I nailed the accelerator. Unfortunately, the skis slowed a bit once I hit the lake, but the body was hanging on. Essentially it was about a 3 kilometer sprint and Chip Tabor passed me at the line.
After the Finish
A member of our group (age … well, over 70) didn’t ski the race this year, but he did fill his long coat pockets with beers. As soon as Julie and I walked out of the finishing pen, he walked up and offered us a beer. All I could do was laugh. I’ve learned from experience that I can have one beer—not two—after the race since two seems to give me a stomach ache. Weird eh? Anyway, I waited until I changed clothes and put the skis in the car to have a beer.
So, 22nd Birkie, 76th overall and 1st in the age group. That last one is a first for me, but I forgot about a skier out there named Oyvin Solvang, who was second in the age group (Drew was third). I’m quite pleased with the age group win and I’m psyched for next year.
Editor’s Note: Jay—or someone known to Jay (probably Julie)—saved my race in 2011. After I’d snapped my pole, I grabbed a too-short replacement which got me the 2k along the mini-powerlines before I was able to grab a long-enough replacement at the start of the hills. The pole I’d grabbed said “Jay Wenner” on it and while I only used it for a couple kilometers, it certainly kept me in the race until I could get a longer replacement. Jay said, in an Facebook message, “Good job staying in the top 200 with starting DFL and switching out poles twice. I hope you didn’t have to use the cheap poles they hand out at the powerlines. (Experience with that.)” Now I have experience, too.