8 Mar

The Lillehammer branch of the DNT hiking/skitouring association proposed a ski trip last Saturday for Birkebeiner wannabees: those who didn’t want to do the real race but still wanted to try part of the 54km route. The Wannabirkebeiners started 10km into the route at Skramstadseter, just after the first and longest uphill:

I wanted to do the real route but took the DNT outing as a sign that it would be prepped the whole way. I therefore did my own “Don’tWannaBeiner” — neither the too easy Wannabeiner nor the all too crowded, 15 000 participant Birkebeinerrennet.

The little train that goes from Hamar to Rena, the starting point, was filled with like minded people.

After walking up a few km from the train station I started at the normal Birkebeiner departure point in the Arnestadjordet field at 11:39 in the morning.

I passed Skramstadseter 45 minutes later and happily confirmed that I was on my sub 4 hour target pace after having done the longest climb in the race. The sun was shining bright, the wind was relatively light and the tracks were new prepared.

The climb over Dølfjellet was, as the graphic indicates, quite steep. I was mentally prepared for that because I had already done that route last April on skate skis.

The positive experience went a bit sour on the lee side of Dølfjellet. The drop on the other side of the Døl mountain is almost symmetric with the climb. But on the steep drop my skis did not accelerate normally or hold speed on the flat after the drop. Something was clearly wrong.

Coming back to the gradual uphill push to Raufjellet I felt OK. Thanks to a couple training courses this year my diagonal-going technique has progressed significantly and I slide on the front of my ski.

The problem area was descending. On the long, slightly downhill stretch between Raufjellet and Kvarstad slow people that I had passed were sliding back past me down in a tuck. Their skis were gliding and mine weren’t.

I had some doubts about my skis. Just after I bought the ones I used in this race, I used them once and scratched them slightly on typically ski-bashing Oslo forest trails. That convinced me to buy another pair for everyday use to preserve my race skis. My Don’tWannaBeiner classic race skis are top of the line Madshus Nanosonics. My everyday skis are just one notch down Hypersonics. When I bought my everyday pair I learned that a weight recommendation is printed in coded form on the ski. My everyday Hypersonics are for 75 to 85kg. I weigh 82. My Don’tWannaBeiner classic skis are for 65 to 75kg. And it really felt like I was dragging the kick wax applied in the bow of the ski across the snow when gliding downhill in a tuck.

My ski worries notwithstanding I was focused on getting over the race’s highpoint at Midfjellet. I had been there last December and knew the climb. I felt OK going up and was happy to see the sign indicating the 910m summit.

From there the route was basically flat to steep downhill. I thought I should be able to cruise. And I estimated I was still just on my sub four hour pace.

But when I started downhill the panic and depression struck. I should have stopped and scraped some of my wax off to make a shorter kick zone but wasn’t thinking clearly. My skis just wouldn’t glide. I was forced to diagonal stride on slight downhills, which is completely wrong. Double poling got me nothing. My legs had to work too hard where my arms, back and abdominals should have been able to take over to double pole me across the finish line.

10 km from the finish at Sjusjøen I stopped and ate some food and drank some water and tried to get a grip on myself. Happily from that point the downhills got quite steep. But whatever speed I gained on the drops quickly evaporated when I came to slightly flatter downhill stretches. Where I should have been able to hold my 40km+/hour momentum and coast I had to double pole and even diagonal stride.

Finally, after all this torture, I painfully strided into the Birkebeiner stadium. I took a deep breath and consulted my time. My goal was sub 4 hours. My cell phone said the time was 15:52. That works out to four hours and 13 minutes. I was disappointed but still felt a sense of accomplishment about maintaining my composure and coming in with a nevertheless respectable time.

When I do the same Don’tWannaBeiner next year I’ll make sure my skis work right and I’ll also bring some sports nutrition gel packs that I can quickly eat on the way to fight off hypoglycaemia. The good thing about my slightly compromised race this year is that it will give me room to improve next year.

See also a good account of a 2009 Birkebeiner race.


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