The Fun Dome (#65): 2016 Birkie Redux

Annoying Sub-Title: The Fastest Fat Shmo


Grace and Sam’s first time to the Birkie!

Well, the annual circus is over. This year was significant because Shelley “The Chef” came down to Cable to send me off for the very first time. Sam was skiing the Kortelopet for the first time, too. Shelley and Grace and Sam and I drove our little truck into Wisconsin. I race 13 times to get spectators, but Sam only has to race once. Spoiled.

Other interesting firsts. First year that DXC had a Birkie Bus. We may try that in the future. Friends Bruce Derauf, Jen Pearson, and Steve Long skied as Inga and the Birkebeiners on wood skis at the race. It was incredibly warm (33F or so at the start), even leading to ponds on top of the ice on the lake near the end.

Sam managed to ski 3:07/k starting in Wave 8. This meant he had to ski past a river of people the whole time. Still managed a respectable 71st out of 1319 in the Kortelopet Skate. He was 24 out of 84 in Men 15-16. He mentioned he’d like to do the Kortelopet long after the race was already capped and closed. Luckily, Dean Grace generously donated his Kortelopet Classic entry to Sam. Dean worked with the Birkie staff and they graciously passed Dean’s bib to Sam. Dean has been fighting cancer and going through bouts of chemo. I guess you could consider chemo like the worst imaginable kind of intervals. It’s just like Dean to be giving and generous to one of the ski team kids while he’s in a battle for his own life. It’s appropriate that his last name is Grace. Thanks, Dean.

I told Sam he was wearing an East team kit, so he better not be a jerk to people while passing. After, he told me that only one guy hollered at him while he squeezed past. I get hollered at three times just going to the fridge, so I think he probably did okay. Hopefully, he can get right into the groove during Wave 1 next year.

Shelley and Grace were amazed at the big crowds and pandemonium at the start. Even though it was warm, they got chilly waiting around for Sam’s start after I left. Birkie Bus sounds better and better. They had fun. They got to see Main Street in Hayward and the International Bridge over 63. All pretty cool stuff. And I got to hear three snoring patterns as I drove us all home after the race.


Sam lines up for Wave 8

Family, Love, New Experiences, Ski Community, blah blah blah. Now, let’s talk about me.

In March 2015, I wrote down five steps to Birkie (and Grandma’s Marathon) success. Let’s see if anything worked on my Lucky 13th attempt.

The list was:

1) Get skinny.

2) Ski a lot.

3) Do Long Skis.

4) Go fast. (races and intervals)

5) Do Strength and Core Training.

I assess how my Birkie was by “percent back.” This is also how your wave is determined for the following year. This was a tie for my third fastest Birkie (63% back from the winners) of the thirteen I’ve done. Take that, Father Time! I felt like I was having a good race. I didn’t feel like road kill the next day either. I was at 4:00/k, which was what I hoped for if I was having my best possible day.

So, why did it go well? (“Well for me,” I should say.) I had good skis. (Most pure fluoro I’ve ever applied and most giant rills I’ve ever pressed into the base; two more firsts) Also, it turns out, I actually executed parts of my training game plan. In a lot of cases, better than I ever have:

Ski a lot. Check. I had the 2nd highest ski volume I ever had. I had the 2nd highest rollerski volume I ever had. This was the first year in a long time that I started rollerskiing before July 4th. I also had the most volume in all training (running, biking, etc. included) that I’ve ever had before a Birkie.

Do Long Skis. Check. I don’t really track Long Skis like I do Long Runs for Grandma’s Marathon. But I will say that I equaled the biggest number of long ski races prior to a Birkie.

Go Fast (races and intervals). Check. A year ago, I identified the fact that I did virtually no intervals on skis. So this year, I did more ski intervals than I’ve ever done. I included rollerski intervals in that count, as I’ve done before. I also did more intervals of any kind than I’ve ever done in the lead up. I included running intervals in that count going back to 1 July or the first rollerski whichever was first.

Birkie Good 2016

Factors That Made 2016 Good. (Left Faster/Right Slower)

So what do my fastest Birkies have in common that I didn’t do this year? First, my fastest races were done as Skinny Shmo. Skinny Shmo is less than 185 pounds. This year was the fastest that Fat Shmo has ever gone. Five of my top 7 races were as Skinny Shmo. My top two were done by Skinny Shmo. You can’t beat physics. Skinny Shmo is faster than Fat Shmo.

Second, my very best Birkie was in a year when I raced over ten times that season. Not just long races. Any ski race. Interestingly, I also did more running races in the lead up that fall than almost every other year. The very fattest Shmo (AKA Maximum Shmo) was almost the fastest Fat Shmo in 2010. Why? Maximum Shmo raced more often that year than any other. So racing a lot (filed under “Go Fast”) is important for training.

Third, this is a power sport. I know that you need strength and especially core strength. I will admit to focusing more on sports specific strength on rollerskis this year and completely ignoring other strength training. I did zero weight-training sessions in the 9 months prior. I was the middle of the road for sit-ups. My top two races had among the very most weight training sessions and sit-ups in these 13 years. So, strength and core can’t be ignored because you’re being such a good boy doing intervals and rollerskiing. Time management is the constant challenge.

Birkie To Do 2017

Factors I need to work on to get faster in 2017. (Left Faster/Right Slower)

Lessons Learned. Next time I will:

A) Get Smaller. (A perennial favorite.)

B) Race more. At any distance.

C) Do Strength and Core work prior to and during season.

D) Increase use of intervals on skis.

I’m going to lump “Do Long Skis” in with “Ski a lot.” So this year’s game plan looks like this:

1) Get skinny. 174 = BMI normal.

2) Ski a lot. Equal or exceed Ski and Total Volume from this year.

3) Go fast. Do more ski races of any length. Add more ski intervals than this year.

4) Do strength and core work. Should be easy to exceed this year’s amount. Also, there’s a new SkiErg in the basement. It’s going to be “dial-a-double-pole” while listening to podcasts during the upcoming mud season.

Still reading? Nauseous yet? Once again, you’ve wasted several minutes reading the obvious. That’s just tough. There are worse symptoms of a mid-life crisis than obsessing over a ski race. Meanwhile, I’m listening to Sam’s coach, Bonnie Fuller-Kask. I’m going to “keep skiing until all the snow is gone” like she said at the Duluth East Nordic Team banquet last night. I don’t want all this superfast Fat Shmo to go to waste.


About Eric Chandler

Husband. Father. Pilot. Cross Country Skier. Writer. Author of Outside Duluth and Down In It.
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3 Responses to The Fun Dome (#65): 2016 Birkie Redux

  1. walterrhein says:

    The Birkie is a great event and family tradition! Congrats on keeping the tradition alive!

  2. Pingback: The Wave One Project: Episode 1 | SHMOTOWN

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