There is one Norwegian word that I like a lot, konkurranseinnsikt (‘competitive insight/mind’). It describes me quite well, very well indeed. I love winning and consequently I hate loosing. I hate being bad at something, which has some sort of meaning to me. I remember crying, when my one year younger sister learned knitting before me, but being very proud of myself when I learned the concept of time and clock before my two year older brother. However, later I’ve learned to accept that it is okay to suck at something, which has no meaning at all to me.
Skiing has always been my favourite alternative training method. It supports both running and cycling quite well and makes it possible to spend several hours outdoors in winter too. I can’t run or cycle 4 hours outdoors in winter, so skiing is a good alternative to get plenty of fresh air while training. This winter I skied 1-2 times a week each session being 2-4 hours. I wanted to prioritize all three triathlon sports over skiing – Ironman Kona in mind all the time. But I still signed up for Birkebeinerrennet, 54 km ski marathon over two mountains. From last year’s experience I knew I can do it. I even thought I can be much better, since my fitness had been better this winter, although I had been skiing quite much less than last year. When I afterwards think about the decision from marathon running’s perspective: it was stupid if I hate being bad at something. In the land of world’s best skiers, I could be only bad, loosing to bunch of age groupers. I would never sign-up to a normal marathon, if I had been running only 1-2 times a week, with “kos” training, easy Sunday runs. I could finish a marathon for sure, but would be it fun? Knowing myself, no.
I finished Birkebeinerrennet, even a little faster than last year having now worse glide than then, but I was hugely disappointed to myself. I had wanted to be almost 10 minutes faster (3:39 vs sub-3:30). After Birken, I spent two-three days thinking about my attitude to racing and participating in competitions and events where I have no possibility to be the best or even good. What can I learn from them? Is it possible to only enjoy the race feeling, competing against myself, torturing myself without thinking how the others do? Is it possible to go to skiing races when not having perfectly waxed skis and leaving much uncertainty to how my skis are working? I learned that in order to race happily I need to come up with a plan before the event about how will I handle the possible sucking at not-my-sport event. In addition, I need to think how can I handle the disappointment due to things that I can’t affect, for example bad skis. I noticed that I still blame myself for everything. I need to orientate that it is just training and think about the things that I can still learn. Such 3-4 hours races are for sure good training for almost any kind of endurance sport. You can always learn new things about speed planning, energy distribution, final sprinting, etc.
Something from the actual race. :)
Like last year, I went to Rena the evening before the race by Birken’s bus and I slept on a school floor, overnight stay organized by Birken. It was the easies’t choice and worked quite fine. Despite the fact that 2/10 of the men in the same class room snored, and in the morning my Garmin showed that I had slept 1:20h. In triathlon races own hotel rooms are a must! In the morning, I chatted with random nice people (=older men :)) on the way to start area, where I met Line Mari and we found our start spot together. I managed to loose my sun glasses and spent 5-10 minutes running around the start area (thousands of people), but luckily I found them just in time. It was supposed to be very sunny, so starting without sun glasses wouldn’t been nice. I had made one race plan: save energy for the second mountain, Midfjell. I remembered from last year that my arms were dead already before Midfjell that I struggled to ski up there. So, no max heart rate to the first mountain top. We started at 8.15 in kvinneelite 2 start group.
I think I succeeded with my plan quite well. Skiing felt good from the start, my skis had very good grip and I was ahead of my last year’s time in Skramstad, at around 9 km, only uphill from start. When the first down-hill came at around 15 km, I noticed immediately that all the other girls, with whom I was skiing with, had much better glide. I lost like hundred meters in 30 seconds. It felt unfair. My body felt good, but because of bad glide I just couldn’t hang with those girls. Same happened on flat parts. After Midfjell top, there is a very nice flat “stake” section, where arm work is only needed, and where I remember me flying last year. This time I lost a few minutes to my last year’s time (Strava showed that). Luckily sun was shining very nicely and I almost remember me smiling. Arms had still quite much power. This time I had saved energy better or I am stronger in my upper body due to swimming.
I liked again the part from Sjusjøen to Lillehammer stadion. It is 14 kilometers, of which 11 km is almost only downhill with relieved feeling and last 2-3 kilometers again struggle. During the last kilometers snow is wet, all grip and almost all powers are gone, but you’re almost done, all you need to get it done. Same thing happened last year to me and to thousand others. I guess it belongs to Birken. At finish line I had still powers and energy left and legs felt quite good. Ironman material anyways. I ate a little, took bus to Håkon’s hall, changed running shoes and run a 20 minutes brick / cool-down run. Legs felt still good. A good training day in the end.
Despite the disappointment, I am happy that I was this time faster in up-hills and that I participated. Birkebeinerrennet is for sure one of the best things you can experience in Norway in winter. It is a well organized event with amazing sights and atmosphere. Although you want to get a good time, you have time to look at the sights. There are rather easy downhills and flat parts. It is a tough race with nearly 1200 high meters, so finishing should always feel nice. This year we had also sun with us all the time.
My 2017 was and is not for getting well prepared for skiing races. I should have remembered that, when I put the start number to my chest. We’ll see what is the situation next year. :) I want for sure try something similar again, either Birken or another ski marathon.
Finnish triathlete living in Norway