Birkenprøven – Test Birkebeinerrennet

13 Mar

Repeated my yearly trip over the mountains from Rena to Lillehammer yesterday. I followed the route of next Saturday’s 54 km Birkebeinerrennet. This time I had better skis than last year. And, as before, snow conditions weren’t really a problem.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temperatures were right around 0 degrees when I left Tingstadjordet on the east side of the town of Rena. But the big issue this time was the wind. Strong, nasty and nearly constant.

However the wind wasn’t too bad until I crested Dølfjellet at the 15km mark:

Getting over that mountain usually marks the first respite after 15km of non-stop climbing. But no rest for me yesterday. My slowest kilometers were km 17-18-19. There, above the tree-line in fairly easy terrain, the wind howled at a 70 degree angle and filled the track with loose snow. It was depressing. I felt nearly reduced to the pace of the Saturday afternoon plodders. Nature is a great equalizer. Last year after Dølfjellet I realized just how slow my skis were. This year it was the wind. They should rename Dølfjellet to Dødfjellet: dead mountain.

In most circumstances you don’t wish for more hills. But since Raufjellet’s looming mass worked as a partial wind shield, I was happy to climb again. Despite the hill my per km splits went from the six minute range down to the low fours.

Not too long after that I crossed the bridge over the river at Kvarstad. I mistook Kvarstad for Nyseter. The latter is the halfway point. Time stood at 2:10. So, it turns out that when I came through Nyseter I was actually ahead of my goal pace:

Computed Splits and average speed:

SkramstadSetra 0:46:54 11.5 km/t (7.2 miles/hr)
Kvarstad 2:10:02 13.0 km/t (8.1 miles/hr)
Sjusjøen 3:15:24 11.9 km/t (7.4 miles/hr)
Mål 3:59:59 18.8 km/t (11.7 miles/hr)

Source: http://tracker.birkebeiner.no/splitLive/splitCalculator.php?project=rennet&sluttidTime=4&sluttidMinutt=0&Submit=Compute+splitTimes

After that it was the climb up to the last big obstacle, Midtfjellet. Coming out of Kvarstad I picked up my first serious route mates. One guy I passed while fighting against the wind caught back up with me as I stopped for a drink. Another, who was either resting or just starting out there, started biting my heels as I headed up Midfjellet’s flank.

Last year Midfjellet came as a surprise. This time I was again over it easier than I thought I would be. On my way I up I retook the one skier that had passed me from behind. Didn’t see him again. However the other one took off like a shot with very energetic herringboning going up over the top of Midtfjellet. I let him go.

After Midtfjellet I again expected things to go easy. The route from there is mostly flat to downhill all the way into Lillehammer. But the wind plagued me again. Double-poling felt useless with my body acting as a sail in the now direct-facing headwind.

The big drop after Sjusjøen came, like the year before, as a deliverance. There I got to enjoy fastest downhill in the entire route. I’m happily at my most relaxed and fearless when exhausted. My speed topped out at 47km/h without being the slightest bit worried.

Just before the fastest part I picked up a new pair of road-mates. A quite fast woman skier and her dog with a bell around its neck. She actually made me slow down by half-ploughing while waiting for her dog to catch up. I didn’t appreciate that, but unfortunately didn’t have enough gas left to get around her. So, we were stuck together, double-poling to the annoying music of her dog’s bell.

I got ahead of her when I crossed right over a big sheet of ice that she more carefully went around. Again, fearless when tired. So together we went, double-poling along. I think she was annoyed too about not being able to shake me. So, at one point, she piped up:

Fast woman skier: Kan jeg gir deg et staking tips? / Can I give you a double-poling tip?

Tired, annoyed me: Nei. / No.

She was clearly taken aback by my blunt refusal of her expert help. But frankly, at that point, I knew what I was doing wrong and was having a hard time avoiding not giving a damn. Still her little pedagogical intervention gave me pause for thought and I tried thereafter to keep my tired butt up instead of sitting down while double-poling.

The last few kilometers were a heart-wrenching fight against the clock. Every new little climb came as a spiteful, evil conspiracy between time and terrain. Still, when I finally rolled into the Birkebeiner Stadium my watch  somehow amazingly displayed 4:00. I hit the stop button before I lost that magic number and then just stared at it unbelieving. My actual time was 48 seconds over the hour, but I’ll take it.

The weather is, of course, an integral part of the race. I therefore can’t say that if it hadn’t been for the wind I would have been considerably faster. There’s always bound to be something, and a big part of the race is just dealing with it.

So, I’ll take it. Leaves me room to grow next year.

Trip details:

  • Wax: base of Rode Blue Super Extra / top layers of Rode Violet Multigrade
  • Air temp: -0C max / -4C min
  • Style: Classic.
  • Distance: 54km
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