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My Best Birkie Ever

Mon, Mar  2, 2009 - By Mike Schaefer

Mike races for Team NordicSkiRacer on the Michigan Cup circuit.

This is the biggest XC ski race in the country, and 3rd biggest in the world - equivalent to Boston marathon- attracts most of the country's top skiers and a large international crowd. 

I had the best race of my career (skiing or otherwise), and reached my goal of placing in the top 200, which puts me in the "Elite Wave" next year. (so I get to start with the Pros and Olympians from years past).  For reference, times are very similar to running marathons -- the winning time was 2:11 and average skiers try to break 4:00.00. My previous best was 2:43 under faster conditions (so... I'm a much better skier than runner for sure..:)!  Time this year was 2:35:37.

Full report (below) got kinda long, but couldn't help myself -I'm still very fired-up about it..)

I was able to get a good start, settled into a good-paced group to ski with for the first 20K, then was able to leapfrog up a few places and draft off of the Pro women and Elite skiers as I passed them. 'Noticed that I was climbing well but still took each climb very easy, which seemed to save the legs compared to previous years.  (The whole course is hilly, so probably helped to be 8 lbs lighter this year too!, thanks in part to triathlon!).  Pace felt fast from 20-35K, but found another guy to work with who was really flying on the flats and downhills..  Drinking and powergels going down well, got a good feed from the Fischer team rep that I schmoozed with the night before…   

Both quads cramped on the infamous "Mosquito Brook" and "Biatch" Hills at 40 and 42K, but was able to ski thru the cramps and kept pace steady with upper body thru 44K. Still passing Elite-wave women, so figured I was doing OK, fatigue just really setting in.   I decided to take my last Powergel and drain my bottle a few Ks early which seemed to help stave off the looming bonk.  Was wishing I had 1 more gel... 

Then 2 guys passed me on the 2 short climbs at 44-45K (quads still very twitchy and lats and triceps starting to cramp too), but I pulled myself inside-out to stay with them as I knew we'd have a headwind across the lake at 47-49K. The gradual descent to the lake wasn't long enough to recover, and had to keep poling and skating hard on level sections to keep pace, as I was losing ground every time the trail went uphill again.   The lake was REALLY tough -all I could do to hold the draft, with a gap opening up every time I lost focus.. Technique was getting sloppy as I stuck my pole into my boot twice.. now right calf starting to cramp too.. all the while playing mind games to convince myself to hold on at least until the 49K marker, then the lakeshore...  The finish was up Mainstreet of Hayward (yes, they truck in snow for the final 500m) -pure elation, mixed with total bonk - so bad that I had partial vision loss and the huge crowd cheering was kind of an echo, as I dragged myself across the line, just 15 sec back from the guy I chased from 44K...  

The chicken soup tasted so good in the recovery tent! and dry clothes were awesome.  It took a few minutes to figure out my time and place - was thinking that I'd never be able to ski that hard again...  But seeing result made all of the pain in the last 10Ks worth it!!! Can't wait for next year!

More race info is at  If you're looking for motivation/inspiration to get you thru the winter in good shape, I highly recommend this race, and I always have room in the car!