March 19, 2012
Definition: a corporal punishment with a birch rod, typically applied to the recipient’s bare buttocks, care must be taken (e.g. by having the recipient’s legs kept together) not to strike the back of the genitals
Verb (used with object) to beat or punish with or as if with a birch: “the skier was birched into submission over Midtfjell”
Origin: before 900; Middle English birche, Old English birce; cognate with Old High German birka ( German Birke ); akin to Sanskrit bhūrja kind of birch
St Patrick’s day turned out to be the people’s party, not only in Irish communities worldwide but also on the ski tracks of the Birkebeiner. Seriously warm conditions had forced cancellation of the 50k freestyle at Holmenkollen meaning that the season was in danger of being deflated. Sandwiched inbetween Ringkoll-løpet and the 50k was the Birkebeiner, a race that I rarely look forward to. It is one of the most challenging races on the circuit, particularly for skiers outside of the top few waves. The equivalent of Scafell Pike has to be conquered before a marathon over undulating terrain has to be skied. The climb, late start and seasonal variations can lead to some drastic changes in snow conditions over the mountains leading even the most experienced of skiers to hit the wall around halfway.
Historical perspectives to the Birkebeiner can be viewed in last years report (https://engelski.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/birkebeiner-mercenary/).
What also makes the Birkebeiner almost unique is the obligatory 3.5Kg ruck sack that must be carried over the mountains. Whilst 3.5Kg may not sound like much, it can be enough to enforce subbing of skis, where the grip area touches the snow in the glide phase causing increased friction. Furthermore, if one is not used to skiing with a load on the back it can also lead to technique deficiencies and also serious chaffing. The 3.5Kg represents the equivalent of carrying Håkon son of Håkon over the mountains (see last years report). The organisers demand that the pack is filled with emergency clothing and rations in case of inclement weather. However, 3.5 Kg is a lot of kit and many Norwegian skiers resort to topping up the load with bags of sand. So what does a Brit put in their bag? In my case I top up the load with essentials which include 1kg of beer to be drunk at the finishing line, a great motivational factor when counting down the kilometres. When one has put in much effort it is important to make an early start and the most of “After ski”.
I had had a few trial runs skiing with the bag and had varied the contents between Guinness, Heineken, Tuborg and a Vodka Mojito mix. On my last trial run from Elveli to Heggelia the conditions were proving to be particularly tricky, being very hard and icy. A wipeout at 35kmh had sent me reeling backwards on the ice and my rucksack and Håkon Håkonsson equivalent had taken the brunt of the fall. The fall led to a beer can explosion and meant that I had to ski the last 10k home piss-wet through and stinking like a brewery. At least I’d discovered that cans of Tuborg are not as robust as others, valuable information to have on the downhill stretch from Sjusjøen.
A hectic week both at home and at work had meant that it had been a frantic build up to the Birkebeiner. By the time I had got my kit ready on Friday night I was already knackered. During the week, the skis were gradually prepped in accordance with the estimated weather and temperature. It looked like it was going to be warm and slushy, but then suddenly on Thursday a warning came out for snow on Friday night putting the mockers on those that had already applied klister to their skis. Fortunately the snow never came and the predicted slow conditions suddenly became fast with night temperatures below zero. For glide I had gone for LF graphite-HF yellow/violet 50/50 topped with CM10. For grip I went with KB20 base, blue klister top with a yellow/violet 70/30 mix. 4 hours sleep was interrupted by having to get up at 02.30 to get the bus to Rena, the starting point for the race. Despite being knackered, a light nap on the bus and fuelled on adrenalin I reached Rena reasonably refreshed.
The start area resembled more Glastonbury than Rena with the heatwave having melted considerable amounts of snow in the parking areas. It was a veritable mudbath. Fortunately the tracks were in good shape and I immediately went to the starting zone to test skis. One hour of dithering shit-for-brains panic set in when I realised that my skis were icing up. Instead of analysing the situation I applied an extra thin layer of yellow klister and when this didn’t address the icing I topped it off with some Universal. Why I did this I’ll never know, particularly as Universal is even more prevalent to icing. It came as no surprise that my skis were worse than ever. However, one hour had been used dithering around with the skis and I was in danger of not getting any breakfast before race start. I figured (hoped) that the conditions would get milder as we ascended Dølfjell, though this was to the contrary of what was being predicted.
A Cure for Cramp?
After a thick porridge breakfast I started to wade into sandwiches. Last year I had struggled with cramp during the last half of the race and I had received a tip from someone that salami is the answer. Cheaper than Ringer too, I tucked into salami and packed my gear to offload into the truck. Wary of several start disasters I made sure that the correct things were in my bag before throwing it into the truck. “Too good to be true you shit for brains” I hear you say. Yep, I had to ask for my bag to be retrieved from a mound of others after having forgot to pack an extra drinking bag. I then made my way to the start area and wave 10. Originally I had ambitions of maybe aiming for “Merke”, the prize that the top 25-30% get. I had planned to skip all food/drink stations and had added an extra 1.5Kg to my bag, now with attached drinking bag/tube, in the form of Winforce Carbo Basic. My plans for “Merke” weren’t looking so good. Conditions were fast which was not in my favour. Under slow conditions last year 4hours would have given the “Merke” in my class. This year it was looking like a time of 3h40m was going to be needed and this, in addition to potential icing problems, was looking a bridge too far. I nonchalantly made my way to the wave some 15 min before start to find it already surprisingly full.
On starting I actually found that conditions had changed in the intervening time and that I now had reasonable grip. It was difficult to get passed the crowded masses in wave 10 without an aggressive strategy. I wasn’t intending to use up excess energy so I just stayed in the left hand track trying to pass when possible. After a few km we passed the inevitable few people who had the misfortune to break a pole or ski and were returning back to start with a DNF.
The pace up to Skramstadsæter appeared to be painfully slow and I had to turn my thoughts to other matters. I had being following Meow, a young girl in a tight black lycra outfit. I was getting distracted by some rather interesting harmonics from behind. The mechanics of which drew me to the conclusion that Newton was indeed correct in his hypothesis that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction (3rd law of motion). Unfortunately after several kilometres my physics lesson ended as Meow started having trouble with grip as we reached the colder snow higher up. Meow decide to bite the bullet and stop to apply more klister, whilst I decided to ignore the odd slip back and just persevere. Time through Skramstad was approx 50 min and I realised that I was already 5-7 minutes behind schedule for “Merke”.
At Skramstadsætra we’d climbed 350m and there was still about 170m to go before we got to the top of Dølfjellet, the first of 3 mountain summits. More and more people were stopping up to apply klister as the snow conditions changed. I was struggling a little, but was eager to test my glide from the summit and was determined to get through without stopping. Even with a re-wax there was no guarantee whether it would be successful or how long it would last before conditions changed again. On getting to the top of Dølfjellet a sight meeting sore eyes was to be had. As the downhill stretch started the tracks looked liked they’d been hit by a nuclear bomb. There was discarded gel tubes, drinking bottles and gel bar wrappers everywhere. The descent into Dambua was a somewhat treacherous one done almost completely on one leg as skis were alternately lifted out of the tracks to avoid litter and a potential mishap. Glide didn’t appear to be that great, though I was more concerned with getting through the garbage dump unscathed. A fellow skier to my right muttered in disgust some unpleasantries with which I could only agree.
From Dambua the ascent up Raufjellet turned out to be a good one. My klister was starting to stick and I was able to scoot past 30-40 skiers using double pole with kick without too much effort. Once again on reaching the summit we were met yet again by another bomb site on the descent to Nysætra. After almost getting past the carnage two people wiped-out down in front blocking off my path. I move out of the tracks and tried to quickly move left to avoid a collision. However, at high speed my left ski caught on something, maybe a geltube, and a wipeout was inevitable. I managed to reduce impact by falling backwards and was soon back on my feet. Fortunately nothing had stuck to my skis, but my rucksack had taken some of the impact. The robust drinking bladder had survived, but I was worried that the Tuborg had exploded. Fortunately it had been well packed in and I was able to proceed without smelling like a drunkard once again.
Continuing the descent my skis started to ice up. My glide was deteriorating as the friction increased. I was to suffer icing issues all the way up to the top of Midtfjellet. There many times that I thought about stopping to scrape off the ice, but thought that this would probably be only a short term measure, so I did my best to grin and bear it with an occasional stamp to try and shake some of the ice from the soles of the skis.
The People’s Fest
At Kvarstadsdammen we reached the critical half-way mark. The distance signs would now started counting us in to the finish, psychologically a big boost. Many hit the wall on the climb from Kvarstad to Midtfellet. I was feeling fine, but the continual icing was really bugging me. My technique was suffering as I dealt with slippy skis on the climb up to Midtfjell. It felt as though as I was going backwards as all the skiers I’d passed up to Raufjell were now passing me by. What was worse, was that there were even skiers from wave 11 and occasionally wave 12 also cruising by. I knew however, that I was in good form and that it would be just a matter of time before I got to Midtfjell. Here the conditions would probably change again and the stretch from here presented some good double poling opportunities and a chance to reign people in. I was distracting myself by observing the spectators now getting involved in the people fest. I was interacting with a few and asking for an occasional Mexican wave. Cheerleaders with pompoms were also out in force and todays race had brought out a good mix of people ready to egg the racers on, but there were also a few willing to have a good laugh at the misfortune of others. There were offers of refreshment from left, right and centre. With the drink starting to flow and many of the spectators bunkered in, the skiers coming through from wave 20 onwards were going to be in for some severe jollity, and probably offers of Aquavit.
At the top of Midtfjell I was on the lookout for Rune from the team. He’d volunteered to provide us with energy shots in the form of the now obligatory coffee/cola mix. I could see a pretty face with a yellow team beanie in the distance exactly where the drinks were due to be scheduled. The pretty lady was smiling at me and holding out the elixia. It was only then that I realised it was Kaja, so I acknowledged her and carefully took the drink. Rune had appeared absent, but as I passed I heard him shouting out support. On the slight descent I was able to drink the caffeine nectar and discard the bottle out to the side (please note) for retrieval later by Rune. Now it was time to go gung ho and start to pick people off. As previously explained I am a pretty piss poor double poler. However, many of my race peers were apparently much worse and I made up some significant ground on the way through to Sjusjøen. As we approached Sjusjøen I heard a voice calling from the sidelines. It was Karianne giving me some good support. I had to have a double take as I was convinced that she was to start in wave 12. A DNS? Still it was nice to be recognised and I smiled at her before continuing through Sjusjøen. As I’d correctly anticipated, conditions were again different from Midtfjellet. The sun had come out and things were starting to get a bit slushy. Icing was no longer a problem and I was ready for some seriously downhill in the final 14k.
The slush was reducing glide quite considerably as the snow sucked at the skis. My intention was to gun it in the left track on the downhill stretch from Sjusjøen. People in the right hand track generally play it safe which is just fine. However, people in the middle are just unpredictable and generally haven’t a clue what they are doing (kettle-pot-black). My glide wasn’t great and I had to accede to some faster skiers from behind over the first few km. After this I just double poled like mad. I had an eye on the clock and knew that I was in for a good time and personal best. With 10km to go I had used 3h30m. To break the 4h mark I’d have to give it some, but viewed it as being possible even if it was a stretch. The conditions certainly weren’t helping, though at least the tracks were in a reasonable shape and not littered with out of control skiers. This was definitely one of the advantages in moving up through the starting waves. I started glancing at my watch as each kilometer sign came into view. The 1st kilometer took only 2 min, the next 2.5, then 3, 4 and then back to 3. I needed to average 20kmh over this part of the course to be in with a chance. However, the course was flattening out and the snow proving difficult to double pole through as fast as I would have liked. In the distance I could see a bizarre skier to my right. On closer observation it look as though it had a tail. As I got even closer I could see a big main of hair mounted on top of an orange body. As I veered up next to the skier I could see that this was no ordinary skier, but Raton the Lion. He seemed to be struggling and no doubt was burning up inside. I spoke briefly to tell him that he was a brave guy and wished him the best of luck. It transpired that Raton was taking part in the Birkebeiner for Aktiv mot Kreft, a charity that helps cancer victims. Raton must have been a useful skier seeing as he had started in wave 5, perhaps he’d qualified as a gazelle or maybe even a leopard.
I put in another 2.5 min kilometer, but after that knew that chances to break the 4h mark were going to be slim. I had approx 11 minutes left to negotiate the last 3 kilometres over a gradually flattening landscape. With 2km to go the speaker from the stadium could be heard, and this brought with it renewed vigour. I was starting to tire after double poling through the sugar snow. I had passed many on the last stretch and gave it all as we entered the stadium. There was a great atmosphere with a procession of people lining both sides of the track. I gunned it as best as I could, paused a little to clear the snot streaming out of my nose, smiled to the camera and proceeded to double pole my way through to the finish. I let out a victory roar followed by an adrenalin fuelled obscenity which am sure can be viewed on VGTV. I hadn’t quite broken the 4h mark, but could be well pleased with a time of 4h 00m 51s, a PB by some 35 minutes. What’s more I’d also broken through into the top half of skiers in my age class, finishing in 5657th place out of 16500 registered participants overall. I couldn’t be sure whether I’d made the right decisions during the race, but was pleased that I’d mentally been able to plough through difficult conditions with poor grip and glide. It was a great way to end the skiing season, though one which was abruptly short. It was now time to celebrate and inspect the contents of the rucksack.
Anders Aukland 2:21:34 (course record)
Knut Arild 3:01:53
Mr App 3:04:53
Tilla Marie 4:02:41
Raton the Lion 4:41:00
Last place 11:14:34 (NB 92 yrs old!)