I don't think most people want to go through life with a bunch of regrets. Luckily, I think I've been pretty fotunate in that regard. Quitting high school basketball, instead of waiting to get cut, may be my biggest regret - at least until this weekend. Now my biggest regret is that I didn't start skiing earlier in life so that I could have more Birkies under my belt.
Now I'm not going to say this is the absolute greatest event I've ever participated in - mainly because I don't think it's fair to compare the likes of a Grandma's, an Ironman or a Birkie - but it's right near the top. I do think all these great events have a couple of things in common, namely a leader with a vision - whether it be Scott Keenan, John Collins or Tony Wise - and unique, albeit small, beginnings that have grown into international events.
The Birkie's humble beginnings included 35 classical skiers making a 55K trek mainly using a trail in the ditch next to the highway. 36 years later the weekend of events consists on nearly 10,000 skiers making their way along the most beautiful and challenging trails I've ever skied. Along the way there are such landmarks as the Powerline - a series of hills within the first 5K, Bobblehead Hill - a long downhill with a 90 degree lefthand turn where a bunch of snowmobilers (the bobbleheads) gather to cheer, jeer and wait for skiers to wipe out, Bitch Hill - a long, steep hill 42K into a 50K race - think Heartbreak Hill, and a great finish on the streets of downtown Hayward.
It was difficult for me to think of a time goal for this race. It was only my third ski race ever and it was the longest by 17K. I thought 3:20 seem pretty reasonable - plus or minus 10 minutes depending on whether I was have a good or bad day. For a non-time goal I was hoping to ski well enough that next year I'll move up from this year's 3rd wave.
When it comes to running marathons I've talked about 2 distinct races depending on what I'm thinking around mile 16. If I think, "Damn, I still have 10 miles to go." I'm in for a long day. If I think, "Damn, I only have 10 miles to go." I'm having a great day. Since this was my first skiing marathon, I have no idea if they follow similar criteria. I do know that I didn't want my first Birkie to end. I felt great the whole way and seemed to feed off of passing people from waves that started 10 and 20 minutes in front of me. I ended up crossing the finish line in 3:12 - a time that should definitely put me in wave 2 next year.
After changing clothes and grabbing a bowl of soup I walked 2 blocks to a great coffee shop that was playing Neil Young. Does it get any better than that? Well maybe if I knew some other skiers.
While I didn't come out and proclaim the Birkie the greatest event ever, I will pay it this compliment - with apologies to Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets". The Birkie makes me want to be a better athlete. The Birkie makes me want to work on my core strength. The Birkie makes me want to eat my fruits and vegatables. The Birkie is enough to make winter my new favorite season. The Birkie is an event I can see planning my entire season around. And maybe the best compliment of all; I can't see not doing this race in the future.