February 9, 2013 will mark the 25th time five men have stepped up to the start line of a long distance Canadian Birkie event. These men wear red cloth bibs on Birkie day as a sign to other skiers that they have had this high level of commitment to the event for all the years it’s run. ‘Birkebeiner’ has come to mean ‘perseverance; undaunted by hardship’. No one skis 24 long Birkies without overcoming many challenges on the trail. Imagine how much they’ve learned over their collective 6500+ Birkie day kilometers!
This month’s featured Red Bib skier is Andy Lamb. Andy started his skiing career in Southern Ontario in the early 1970’s when cross country skiing was a virtually unheard of sport in Canada. Hearing that it was always -40 and the snow much more reliable, he moved to Alberta in ‘81 and proceeded to sample snow and ski trails across the province by living with his wife Sue and daughter Sarah at various locations around Alberta - starting in Edmonton, then Edson and now Red Deer. Everywhere he has been he has met avid Birkie skiers to ski and train with, reinforcing that it truly is an event enjoyed by skiers across the province! Here’s Andy’s advice on nutrition and hydration.
Birkie Nutrition and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration are important considerations that, as with waxing, can verge on becoming scientific obsessions. Being a middle-of-the pack skier, I confess to not being as meticulous about this topic as some, but there are some important considerations I have learned over 24 years of doing the Birkie.
The first thing to remember is that the Birkie is a very well supported event. Some have gone so far as to refer it as the “55 km Buffet”. The feed stations are numerous and well stocked, so I have discovered there is really no need to carry any additional liquids or food. In my earlier years, I carried water with me but quickly realized that after about 15 km I am just carrying a block of ice the rest of the way. As with any long distance endurance event, though, hydration is important. It is always surprising to change at the end of the Birkie and realize that all of your clothes are soaking wet, even on very cold days. Making sure to drink enough liquid to stay hydrated is a lesson I learned after finishing a Birkie feeling distinctly nauseous and light-headed and needing to drink about a litre of water before feeling better. I now make sure to drink two cups of water/Gatorade at each feed station with the possible exception of the last one before the final push to the finish.
As for nutrition, one of our traditions is to have breakfast at Denny’s on Birkie morning; probably the only time I can eat the “Grand Slam” without feeling guilty. The combination of eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, toast and pancakes before a 55 km ski may not be for everyone, but hey it works for me! During the race it is important to start eating within an hour on the trail. I find that after the 35-40 km mark, energy levels flag and blood sugar drops so it is important to still have fuel on-board by that point. One year Islet Lake Station provided energy gels which provided a great energy boost and are the one thing I would carry in case you do hit the “wall” somewhere out on the trail.
I hope these few tips help. I have discovered adequate nutrition and hydration are important and can make the difference between finishing the Birkie feeling pretty good and feeling like you have not only skied an interminable distance but have also been run over by a Mack truck!