Mike Schaefer kills it at American Birkebeiner

American Birkie, (c) Mark Milford

The Spin-Second Sole Team’s cross-country ski master Mike Schaefer headed to northern Wisconsin last weekend to race the American Birkebeiner ski marathon.  He showed up ready, and crushed his previous 50k ski time by more than 10 minutes, setting a PR and landing himself in 152nd place overall out of 3500 participants.  In an email, he said, “I had a really great time, and this was my best race ever.”  Don’t miss his race report, below– you can feel the pain in his legs as he grinds out the last 10k…

The American Berkebeiner is the largest cross-country ski race in North America, drawing participants from all over the world.  This 50K event is the Boston Marathon of ski races, with over 7000 skiers in various disciplines racing every year.  Mike’s impressive showing puts him solidly among the nation’s elite long-distance ski racers.

Here’s the race in Mike’s words:

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 ski marathon was 2:43 so.. I’m a much better skier than runner for sure..:)! 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. I 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 were 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.  It was 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… and finally the finish 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 on.

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 the result made all of the pain in the last 10Ks worth it!!! Can’t wait for next year! More race info is at http://www.birkie.com. 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!

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6 Responses

  1. Mike
    Awesome to become one of the elite top 200. Great end to a winter race season.

  2. congrats, very impressive

  3. Hardcore. Very impressive Mike!

  4. Way to go Mike! Sounds brutal…way to keep it together at the end man!

  5. nice job – congrats – makes me cold just reading your report

  6. You are very fast, Mike. Great details. For a slower experience, please check out my blog on my first birkie: http://www.americannostalgia.wordpress.com

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