Cross country skiing with Charlie Dee and Andy Keller
CD: Another year, another Birkie, Andy. The big news in 2017 is the Kortelopet moving to Friday on the second half of the Birkie course.
AK: The new course is so different from the old one that veteran Korte skiers will need to adjust their thinking and tactics.
CD: Please describe how to approach it because those skiing it for the first time could surely use advice, and Birkie skiers will benefit from a review of the second half of their course.
AK: The first thing to be aware of is that this Korte is 6K longer than the one they’re used to, but the first 9K is much easier terrain. For example, in the past only the fittest hotshots could start the race fast because of the Powerline Hills, followed by constant, steep climbing until the cutoff from the Birkie trail, but the challenging hills don’t show up on this course until the final third of the race.
CD: Meaning after the initial short climb from the OO start this year, the first 8K are mostly downhill, with some steep but very short climbs, so even intermediate skiers with reasonable fitness can push an initially faster pace.
Skate or Classic: Shift Gears Wisely
AK: For skaters, this is a perfect section to use V2 and V2A if you have those weapons in your arsenal. The key here is focusing on shifting gears wisely and carrying speed. You can flow through many of the hills if you carry downhill momentum onto flats and gradual ups using V2A. Unless there is new snow, and the course is very slow, you won’t even need to break into your V1 on many of the up-hills simply because they’re so short and follow downhills.
CD: What are the options for skaters who aren’t yet comfortable with V2A and V2?
AK: They should liberally use double poling and free skating to carry their speed off the downhills and into the uphills. Mentally, the focus in this first section is preserving speed and saving energy for the climbs in the final 9K. Remember that V1 is your slowest and most expensive gear, so reserve it for the steeper, longer climbs.
CD: Classic skiers can’t free skate, but they should be able to double pole a lot in this first section.
AK: Both double-poling and kick/double-poling will carry downhill momentum in this terrain. Striders, though, need to prepare for changing lanes since they won’t be starting on a dedicated classic trail as in the recent past and there will only be two classic track sets.
CD: Since classic and skate waves will start separately, and Korte waves will be one-third the size of past Birkie waves, trail-sharing won’t be an issue early in the race. But at some point striders will see skaters going in and out of tracks on downhills. How can striders prepare for this?
Striders: Practice Changing Tracks
AK: For starters, stay relaxed. But between now and lining up at the OO start line, they should be practicing how to change efficiently from one set of classic tracks to the other and to get out of the tracks to pass a slower skier and move back into the tracks.
CD: I guess the first rule is not to change tracks on an uphill.
AK: Picking the best moment to pass or change tracks is a necessary skill for striders. Passing on an uphill means you’re changing lanes from a stop, so you’re forced to generate all of your own power.
It makes more sense to get terrain-momentum on your side by passing on a flat or downhill. As you approach an uphill with slower skiers in front of you, try to judge how fast the skier in front of you is and execute your pass while you’re still double-poling or kick/double-poling before you need to start kicking.
CD: Here’s a lesson that’s taken me a couple decades to learn: when stuck behind somebody in a climb with no good passing option – as everybody invariably will be – simply Zen it out, breath deeply, relax rather than fume so you save energy. After the crest of the hill, take your first passing opportunity.
What’s the most efficient way to pass out of classic tracks when the time is right?
AK: Changing tracks is essentially the same technique as a V2 Alternate skate. There will be two sets of classic tracks set on the left side of the trail for the Korte, so let’s use the example of passing on the right. Initiate your change with a double pole while pushing off like a skate with the left ski. Immediately fire your right hip to lift your right ski up and point it at an angle towards the right track, just like you’re skating.
Then shift your weight to the right ski, gliding over the top and slightly past the right track. Next, dig the inside edge of the right ski into the snow, just as you would skating off from the right. This will set your core heading straight down the trail and allow you to place your left ski into its track. Now that you’re heading forward, put your right ski into its new track and double pole down the trail.
CD: What’s the energy-efficiency quotient here? Because you’re expending extra energy to shift tracks, how often should you use it?
AK: If you do it all the time, you’re technically skating. International rules disqualify anyone taking three or more skates within 100 meters. But skating around one person, then going back into the track you were in is totally appropriate.
You still need to judge when to do this so you’re not burning too much energy. If you see two long lines without many openings, forget about passing and take the opportunity to save energy.
Changing classic tracks: 1) After double-poling, lift ski out of tracks and point towards other set of tracks. 2) Skate over track with lead ski until other ski is in new track. 3) After skating off with lead ski to stabilize body heading forward, place that ski in the new track, double-pole, and resume striding.
Plan and Pace the Hills
CD: From the Mosquito Brook Aid Station through Bitch Hill (16-18.5K), skiers will be climbing almost constantly so what should be the attack plan?
AK: The best approaches is to break these climbs into three sections both practically and psychologically: in the first third, carry your speed into the climb as relaxed as possible; pick up the pace a bit in the middle but keep your exertion under control, then try to explode over the top.
CD: My “exploding” days are behind me, Andy. But I have learned that the more tired I get, the more I should concentrate on my technique keys.
AK: For skaters, the key is to keep V1 relaxed and strong on hills. Remember to ski on toes not heels, stay tall rather than bent dramatically at the waist, and keep feet moving so you don’t lose momentum.
CD: I know when I get to this section during the Birkie, Andy, I usually have a crisis of will, think of Kierkegaard, and consider stopping on at least one of the hills.
AK: You’re not alone in the crisis, Charlie, just in your choice of philosophers. Consider this existential maxim: up-hills are the worst place to stop because it’s much more exhausting to begin skiing again up a hill with no momentum. Keep your glide going no matter how slight it is. Will yourself to get up that hill, and you’ll probably find that the downhill on the other end gives you enough of a break to keep going.
CD: Since I’m primarily a skater, I hate to herringbone unless I’m caught in a train where I can’t skate freely. But how should classic skiers think about this?
AK: You’re right that a balanced V1 up most hills in the Birkie will use less energy than herringboning, but classic is a different matter. Striders shouldn’t be afraid to herringbone if the pitch gets too steep for them to get decent kick. Don’t let your ego get involved, thinking you’re the kind of guy or gal who can stride up any hill: if wax is not working as well as you’d like, use the herringbone.
Practice Efficient Herringbone
CD: Perhaps this is a good time for a herringbone primer.
AK: Many people fall naturally into the herringbone when the hill gets too steep or snow too deep. The biggest problem is that usually people start the stroke already bent over at the waist from their climbing, so when they start to herringbone, their upper body is too far forward to use efficiently.
So bring your chest up, take small steps to keep your body-mass over the top of your skis.
CD: I see some herringboners leaning way back with their upper bodies, almost in a swayback position
AK: That’s the opposite problem. If you put the skis too far in front of you, then you must use arms and core to drag your body weight back up to the skis. Better to take smaller steps in a more upright position, using your skeletal system to support your core rather than the muscles in your legs. Practice the herringbone over the next few weeks to find that sweet spot of body position so you’re more efficient.
CD: From Bitch Hill to Fish Hatchery is 2K of almost constant downhill, but “Sunset Hill” after the Hatchery is the single longest hill on the course, although more gradual than the old Powerline climbs.
AK: This bad boy was added to the course last year when Rosie’s field was sold. Make sure you take feed and fluids at the Hatchery aid station, then take your time and keep a steady pace.
CD: After crossing Highway 77, Duffy’s Hill is quite steep and can be discouraging. Just as you think you’ve crested it, you’ll turn left and descend before you’re forced to climb two short but steep up-hills before a long descent.
AK: But now you have less than 4K to go. Once you hit Lake Hayward, be aware that the lake always seems longer than one expects, and the snow will be inferior to the rest of the trail.
CD: Plus, there’s almost always a head wind on the lake.
AK: Which is a good reason to find somebody to draft behind. If you’re spent, just tuck in behind somebody. But if you get your third wind, try to bridge from group to group.
CD: Also, at the end of the lake, the little climb around the side of the grocery store will feature mashed potato snow. So just concentrate on the sound of the crowd and that beer at Anglers.
AK: Last year, some people were intimidated by the idea of climbing the bridge over Main Street. But I heard nobody whining about it after the race.
CD: If you’re not concerned about seconds, take a couple at the top of the bridge to appreciate the scene on Main Street. You’ve earned it.
If you have any Nordic skiing topics you’d like Andy and Charlie to address, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.