Ski race report from Lillehammer Norway, Birkebeiner Rennet
We flew from Munich to Oslo Norway, and caught a train directly from the airport, destined for a station right after Lillehammer. There was very little snow seen coming in. The ride north was nice, smooth, great scenery of rocks, lakes and red barns with white farmhouses. And then snow as we started to get to Lillehammer. Our stop turned out to be just a platform, with an icy path leading out through some cabins. It was our resort/hotel. We had a three bedroom cabin with kitchen, 100 yards from the platform. Three of us at this point, my sister Amy Hughes, her husband Craig, and me.
Thursday morning we had a great Norwegian breakfast, then hiked across the river via the dam and caught the bus to Lillehammer and another up to the Birkebeiner Stadium. We searched for a wax bench to do some scraping, and ended up scraping on some tables at Birken headquarters. We had a nice ski on the trail system, a bit icy on older grooming, then blasted back along the last freshly groomed 6km of downhills to the finish. We then skied down the hill to Haakons Hall and got our bibs and a little shopping done. The interesting thing for me for this race is that my Mom was a Hokens, same name and pronunciation as the royal family. The race commemorates the saving of the baby prince Haakon by the birch legging wearing warriors who carried him from Rena to Lillehammer to avoid being killed by usurpers. That is why you must carry an 8 pound back pack when you race the Birkebeiner, and why it is called the “birch leggings”.
Friday we waxed, met some other Americans in town for the race who were also waxing in the resort’s wax room, and met the largest Troll in captivity in a nearby amusement park. My host brother from long ago, Terje, shows up from the west coast of Norway, so we catch up a little on things.
Saturday we got on our bus which stopped at the hotel at 4:15 am, and two hours later we were in Rena. We hopped another bus for a short ride to the start. Plowed fields held the stacks of big busses and cars and porta johns. There was a big area full of wax benches and Swix flags, with all of them full of furiously waxing racers. We got out on the course and tested our kick wax, applied some more, and watched the Elite Men’s wave double pole by. We ran back to the trucks, ditched our bags and headed for our wave 7 start. We were about middle of the wave. We put our warm ups into our packs, took a few final pictures, and then we were off.
It was a bit crowded for the first few km, with about 12 tracks set. I moved up through the wave, finding some room at the far left until we were left with about 8 tracks. We climbed the first hill, my kick is great, glide is decent. This took about an hour, being 7 km with no real let up. We started seeing a lot of wave 6 people, you could see the tags on their back packs. Finally we were up and over, had some flats before the next hill came at 12 to 15 km. We head out into the middle of nowhere, yet people are lining the course periodically, digging benches into the snow to sit and watch the racers go by. Heia Heia can be heard everywhere, which is Norwegian for "go". It is sunny and pretty warm, approaching freezing as we continue to go through a big open nothing in the mountains, few trees, lots of peaks to be seen around. I have started to get some abdominal cramps, so more striding, less double pole with kick. The aid stations are great, lots of people, four lanes to get stuff, drinks, bread, ham, lefse. There is another big hill from 32 to 35 km, and then finally we hit the last town, and head down.
14 km to go, and only two flat sections. The downhills are great, nice tracks although only 4 at this point, no problem tucking and going. But then there are some of those downhill skiers who are snowplowing, and pushing sugar into the tracks, which makes things a little harder. I almost end up in the trees on one corner, taking the flatter outside lane, but I manage to get back on the trail. Pushing through the final km, the tracks have turned soft and sugary, and the heat is making the sunny areas a bit slow. My abs are now really cramping, so I slow down some. More downhill and into the stadium, lots of people everywhere, we take a little loop, a tight downhill turn, then back out and loop into the finish line. 54km in the books.
Full Norwegian coverage of the 2017 Birkenbeinerrennet
Skis come off, the chip turned in, and now for food. The line is plugged up and slow, does not look good. I take an exit and get out, find an apple to eat, and put my warm ups on. Craig has had kick wax problems and comes in 18 minutes later. According to the Birken app, I have managed to come in a few minutes faster than the crown prince Haakon, and some 25 minutes ahead of prince Frederik of Denmark. We find some free hotdogs and go to Haakons Hall to get our bags, dry clothes and our documentation. We get our Worldloppet passports stamped, then get our certificates printed out. I have managed to beat the 4 hour mark, apparently good for my age group, and get a silvery pin. We head for the cabin, but stop at Swix world headquarters for some shopping on the way. Great store, but no great bargains except on some replacement pole grips.
Overall, a great race to do, spectacular scenery along the course if you look up, great fans, everything is pretty organized, just a bit surprising that the grooming did not hold up near the Stadium and the food line needs to double its throughput. The interesting thing is that the main race activities are held in Rena, but a lot of things also happen in Lillehammer.