I had skied only a handful of times on skate and roller skis with a max distance of 10 miles before attempting the Birkie. I completely lacked technique and was really just relying on my endurance and pure drive to get me through the grueling 51k event.
I truly believe it was a sort of 'ignorant bliss' that got me to the starting line. It was the first time I had shown up to a race so completely unprepared and unknowledgeable about what would happen. I did not know the course, the elevation, barely knew how to ski and was totally unsure of how my body would react to the new plane of motion or to the bitter 12 degree temperature. On top of that, the night before, while laying out my food prep, I was clued in that my food would likely freeze and be inedible. WHAT?! Yeah, I know, seems like common sense but it just didn't occur to me in the moment. That freaked me out more than anything. I made a couple changes to food (left out the bars, kept the GUs) and just crossed my fingers. After a simple, well tolerated and carbohydrate rich dinner of white rice and butternut squash soup, I snuggled in and tried to sleep. The alarm sounded at 5am. Ugh. The more talented skiers in the group had early start times while I would hang around until 9:40am until beginning. I used all that time to freak myself out and eat lots of food. My race morning consisted of a bowl of fruit, yogurt and granola with 2 bagels and lots of coffee. I estimate that I took in about 1200 calories. That large pre-race intake was new to me, but I had the time to digest and wanted to be safe rather than sorry! I was guessing it would take me close to 7 hours to finish, that is IF I even could finish.
I started in the back of wave 8 scared, cold, and ready to just give this thing a try. At first things went smoothly, tho slowly as I took my place behind the pack and gutted it out through the 'powerline' segment. After the first 9 miles, I crashed on the second real downhill. Everyone who knows me knows I am terrified of downhill segments when cycling and I can assure you all that the same is true for skiing. Scary! But I survived; took a moment, shook it off and kept going. At 10miles, I just was so completely relieved! One-third way finished! Wooooo! I was thrilled. Then I hit a high for about 4 miles. Just loving the experience and the snowflakes coming down around me and the fact that I was there doing it. Well that high died off quickly. Just get halfway, just halfway... see that 25k sign.... thats all I could think. It was the longest km of the race. At the halfway point I stopped at an aid station and had warm water with a GU. 2 miles later, feeling like that 90 calories wasn't going to do it, I got out my pouch of Gatorade Prime and instantly felt energized again. The rest of the race was tough - there is no better way to say it! I was just listening to my iPod and telling myself to just keep going. The race was marked in KM which was nice because the distances clicked away at a quicker pace, making me feel like I was getting closer and closer to the finish. I opened my ziplock of trail mix (dried fruit, M&Ms, and almonds) and took mouthfuls as I could throughout the rest of the ski. Knowing that 15K meant I had less than 10 miles to go and in my head was HUGE. So once I reached that point the rest was cake. I sped up and just focused on getting to the end. 5k, 3k 1k... I was sooo ready to be done!
Then there was the finish line. I wanted to cry, but my tears would probably just freeze. My feet hurt. My shoulders hurt. My triceps hurt. My face and fingers were bitterly cold. I got my medal and got a hot cocoa... the race was behind me. I did it. I DID IT! And in time of 5:24! So much faster than I was expecting.
Its 3 days post race now and my body is still feeling very tired and sore. I'm also feeling very hungry! My body recreated many new muscle fibers and it is important to feed them so that they can grow and repair themselves. I need stronger body! Today I eased into recovery workouts with a two hour trainer session and 6 mile easy run. In effort to fuel my body without going over board, I made a nice hearty dinner containing complex carbs, vegetables, and protein.