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Race Story: My First Birkie

by Maria Stewart
February 26, 2008

2008 marked my return to marathon racing, competing in the classic Noquemanon marathon and freestyle Birkie. I was looking forward to the relatively warm temperatures and great snow conditions on the Birkie trail this year. I arrived at Telemark on Saturday morning with no expectations for myself, except finishing. My wave 2 start was going to be perfect: plenty of people to ski with and no pressure!

Fifteen minutes before my wave start, I took my last trip to the port-o-potty and took off my warm ups. I had just tossed my bag into the truck when I heard the announcer say that all start times were delayed 10 minutes. Ack! It was still below zero and I had to wait 20 minutes in my spandex! I did my best to stay warm for the next 15 minutes, until my wave advanced to the start line. Since my main expectation was to finish, I was content to start in the 4th row. Once the flags lifted, we were off. I did a remarkable job dodging fallen skiers in the first kilometer. I kept my poling strokes really short so no one could step on my poles. After about 3k, I had settled in to a steady pace and made contact with Katie Lindquist, a new friend from Steamboat Springs, CO. We skied together through the powerlines. Then, around 10k or so, I started to feel really dizzy. I couldn't figure out what the problem was- I shouldn't be bonking or dehydrated (at least not yet!), and I didn't feel like I was skiing too hard. I pulled over at the next aid station to assess the situation. I really didn't want to drop out, but I knew I wasn't going to ski 40 more kilometers in my current state of being. I took about 5 minutes to have some energy drink, water and bananas. After my little rest, I decided to keep moving. I was feeling better, but not great. I kept the pace down for about 10k, but my skis were so fast it was hard not to charge up the next hill! The Fast Wax recommendation was right on- a few base layers of HS-20 blue covered with a few layers of HSF-10 green.

By about 25k, I had caught many of the people I was skiing with before my "rest." With the race half over, I decided it was time to really race. However, I made an extra effort to drink and eat at all the aid stations, since I still wasn't sure why I had felt dizzy. I skied behind Katherine Himes for a little while, and with about 15k to go, I went around her. The distance was starting to affect me. The flats and gradual climbs were ok, but any steep climbs took every ounce of energy I had. With 10k to go, my right tricep was starting to get upset. If I poled too hard or extended my arm all the way, my tricep twinged like it was ready to cramp. As I approached the lake, I was ready to be done. The flat, open trail felt like a death march, but I knew it would be over soon. I was happy to get off the lake and start skiing up Main Street. My instinct was to "sprint" for the finish, but my body said "no." My efforts landed me a 61st place finish. It wasn't quite where I had hoped to place, but with my dizzy spell and rest, I wasn't disappointed.

This season I learned the importance of ski-specific training. Last year, I was able to ski myself into shape by racing every weekend and logging quality hours on the snow. This year, my on-snow hours were less than half of last year, and my race schedule was cut short due to a bout with the flu. I really felt the effects of my training (or lack of training) at the Birkie. I could still ski hard, but I wasn't able to move nearly as fast as I used to!


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