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Mullin's 2018 Pre-Birkie Race Report

Jeez, I'm getting bad at keeping up on these reports.  At least this time I didn't race this past weekend so while the report is being composed over a week after the event there isn't an intervening race to confuse in my head.


I almost signed up for the Vasaloppet instead.  The snow making loop they have developed in Mora is actually pretty cool and makes the race a sure thing (or nearly sure thing) every year.  I just couldn't bring myself to drop $125 for that race the week of, versus the $83 for the Pre-Birkie.  Maybe next year I'll sign up in advance and commit to it with a hope that it will be the real point to point race.

It was a bit of a light week going in.  The Sunday CoLL race pushed my training schedule around a bit so I ended up only getting a hard workout in on Wednesday.  Skiing over at Battle Creek has been pretty good lately.  Those hills are the real deal and the snow conditions have been good albeit slow and cold.

The race was yet another cold one.  They pushed the start back an hour so the start temp was actually above zero.  Waxing was another Start 10 kind of day.  This time I tried a little Holmenkol speedblock cold on top.  My skis were pretty underwhelming in the first half of the race.  Slowly drifting back on all of the downhills.  The second half of the race they seemed to pick up speed a little.

For a change I tried to be at this race on time.  For whatever reason I have a heck of a time getting to the start line on time for this race.  I did better this year, but still didn't get any chance to ski before putting skis on the start grid.  I also got a little carried away shoving my warm-ups in my drop bag and chucked it onto the truck before remembering to get my drink belt out.  Aid station hydration only for me this time.


I lined up next to Chris Halverson this time.  We've been racing together all year so it seemed like a good place.  He usually starts slower than I do so I thought it would be good for pacing me.  The start this year seemed narrower than usual so it looked like there may be a fair bit of chaos to get started.  Big E and Tim W were on the far right about three rows back of me.  There were a few other Cyclova peeps out too with Denny K, Micah B, and Katie B repping the Green.  I also saw one other person in Cyclova kit that I didn't recognize, but I never had a chance to say hi to.

The gun went off and there was chaos.  I only saw one person go down in the first kilometer or so.  Thankfully I think no one ran them over or we could have had a huge pile-up.  By the time I was clear to even start thinking about skating Chris was no where to be seen and Big E was ahead of me.  I assumed Chris was way up the trail already and I had gotten a bad start.

Eventually things streamed out a little bit and we were actually skating and hopping off the lake about 1.5km in and getting across Duffy's field.  Things get serious in a hurry.

First up is climbing up the back side of Duffy Hill (or 77 hill).  It is a lot better coming down that hill towards Lake Hayward with just a few km to go to the finish of the Birkie.  At the start of the Pre-Birkie everyone is all amped up to go fast and hard.  The trail is plenty wide and people are making moves left and right.  I was skiing "in control".  My hr monitor claims otherwise.  Above 175 is not a good place for me to be early in a race.  I was skiing at the tail end of the group that was led by Denny K.

After dropping down that hill and crossing 77 you ski around Rosie's Field and climb up the back side of Sunset Hill (or Rosie's hill).  This is the "new" hill that was added a couple of years back.  It also isn't any fun.

Coming down the backside of that you ski down into Hatchery Creek.  My legs were a bit tight at that point and there are a couple of higher speed turns going into the trailhead area that made me a bit nervous.

After going through Hatchery Creek I knew I needed to back off a bit.  My legs were tight and I was struggling to keep any sort of technique together hanging on the back of the pack.  Similar to last year I started letting groups go by hoping to find one to latch onto.

Up and over the backside of B Hill, down Mosquito Brook, through the aid station and then onto the long stretch between there and OO with only Gravel Pit to break it up.  Very shortly after Mosquito Brook Chris Halverson came roaring past me.  I was positive he had been way up the trail from the beginning.  Not so.  But unlike all of the previous races this year I couldn't hang with him.  It didn't take him too long to disappear up the trail.

In fact right around there the trail got pretty lonely.  I was passing classic skiers steadily, but I couldn't see any skaters ahead and I wasn't looking behind but I didn't hear anyone.  So I just slowly churned away by myself.

It was the last uphill before Picnic Table where I finally could hear some skiers coming up behind me.  I took a glance and found a group of 5 closing in on me.  When they finally closed down the gap and no one went to make a move around me I thought I might have a group to ski with.  I eventually pulled over and then slotted into the group.

Aside from the 26k skier, this was the group I spent the remainder of the race with.  Shout out to Mike Kokotovich.  He asked at the finish line if he would make the race report this time.  Thanks for joining me for the last 17km Mike!

I think it was Mike at the finish line that described our group as "not overly ambitious".  That sounds about right.  We were rotating pulls reasonably well, but it certainly didn't seem like anyone was super excited to get to the front and put in a hard effort.

I was finally feeling better here.  I don't seem to mind the first 3km of a race all jacked up on adrenaline, but those next 15km are usually a huge drag as I try to convince myself I like racing and I won't die before I reach the finish line.

The whole loop north on the classic trail to just past Boedecker things were going well.  As we climbed the Boedecker hill on the way back south it seemed as though I was climbing well relative to the rest of the group.  Just like with the previous races this year where I was skiing in a group I started thinking about racing the guys I was around instead of racing the clock.

Last year I made a move on the climb up to OO.  I figured I would do the same thing again this year.  I tried to time my turns on the front such that I would be back near the front at the bottom of the climb to OO.  I think I was probably second when we got there so I just pulled to the side and started digging a little deeper.

After the initial big climb there is a little relief and then another short punch before the flat to the road.  I glanced over my shoulder and saw that our group had strung out, but there was still one guy, Jesse Cook, that I hadn't shaken.  I led across the road and then let him lead through the Korte start area.  Another glance over my shoulder and the other two guys were starting to close the gap again.

Just as we started to turn to go back towards OO on the old skate trail I tried to go wide and get around Jesse but couldn't quite make it.  I got in as close as I could on the long downhill to the finish because the short little uphill with the gradual left and the short finishing straight are extremely hard to pass on.

As we hit the bottom of the short uphill I skated for all I was worth and just managed to pull around on the right side.  Sprinting it out for 40th place...



Despite the strong finish, I felt pretty blah about the race.  I was happy to have again finished a race without bonking.  I still need to work on finding the right pace for the opening few km and not feeling like death for the rest of the first half of a race.

Having raced in the vicinity of Chris, Garret, Dan and a few others earlier in the year, finishing 3 to 5 minutes down on them wasn't an encouraging result.


The mystical Birkie Predictor wasn't as harsh on me.  In fact the last three races have all been within two places of each other.  Not elite wave predictions, but still better than last year (I mean 2016...).

What's Next

Um... the Birkie?  T-6 days.

One more short intensity workout and a few easy skis between me and it now.  I'm pretty excited about the weather forecasts.  Snow or no, temps a handful of degrees either way from the current prediction, doesn't matter.

From now until then it is all about controlling the things I can and not worrying about the things I can't.  Plenty of sleep, good food, lots of water.

And a little light reading.

See you all in Hayward!


  1. I love these posts and analysis. Makes me think about my race approach and
    strategy more systematically and critically. Thank you for sharing this! Looks like you had a good Birkie this wkd - hope you were happy with your result.

  2. Nice recaps Ben. These insider accounts offer a lot of perspective to skiers new and old on the dynamics that play out...the races within the race....which is my favorite part of ski racing.

    Pre-Birkie needs to address it's starting pen strategy. Every single skier I talk to dreads the inevitability of pole breaks at this start. I broke 2 this year. Hopefully people are vocal and provide feedback.