(Yes, the headline recycling is becoming a trend. Get on with the program!)
I can happily report that I survived this year’s version of Birkebeinerrittet! Together with 16.000 (!) other people, I set out from Rena on saturday morning, heading for Lillehammer – 94.5 kilometers away and with the highest mountain in the world (1100 meters) in between. I left from my home at Hvaler at 05:30 in the morning, joining my parents at Rolvsøy at 06:00 and leaving for Rena. About 3 hours and 25 minutes later we arrived, and I went to get my starting kit (transponder, number plate / start bib), etc).
The track had been made about 3 kms longer than last year, as we now followed an alternative route of Rena. Instead of riding the bridge over highway 3 right after the start, everyone started in the opposite direction and went under the highway instead. Nothing much to report about this, everything worked out fine and the additional kilometers don’t really matter. Compared to last year I spent two minutes more this year up to the first registration point at Skramstad, which means that I had about the exact same pace as last year. Remember to pick the LEFT track when the road splits (I did that last year, while I picked the right track this year – which seemed a lot steeper).
One of the groups heading out for their start!
But before we go any further, I’ll have to mention the weather. Oh, the weather. It had been raining for at least a day before the trip over the mountain, which meant that everything was muddy and dirty. Grenserittet was also muddy, but that were localized to a few key areas. At birkebeinerrittet everything was muddy (but a few areas a lot more, of course), and people were approaching zero recognizability. As one guy asked me at the second stage: “Atle?” (another common Norwegian name) “Noooo?” “Oh, Sorry. It was impossible to see who you were with all the mud..”. VG has a collection of pictures showing the mud problem.
One of the things that I’ve had on my todo list was to get a nice pair of glasses to use while biking. While I actually managed to get a new set of long biking shorts and a new long sleeved bike jacket before starting (and yes, those were probably this year’s best investment), I failed to get a pair of glasses. And how I regret that. It was completely impossible to follow anyones back wheel because of all the dirt that came blasting! I had to remove chunks of dirt from the corner of my eye for a day and a half after finishing the race. Quite a new experience!
The race went a lot better than last year, even under the current conditions. Although behind my previous time at the second checkpoint, I had a lot more energy and endurance this time. I was still able to get a bit of speed and passed quite a few other riders on my way to the next checkpoint. When I reached the famous “Rosinbakken” (“Raisin hill”), I were experiencing quite an energy loss, and I’ve realized in retrospect that this was because I failed to get any new energy into my body during the 20kms running up to the hill. I try to get at least one serving of energy gel each 30 minutes, but I think I had at least 1 hrs and 30 minutes in this segment. After getting some carbs into the system everything went a lot better, and I were able to get up on my bike and put in a few stints up until the highest location of the track.
In the middle of one of the downhill segments right before the second checkpoint we suddenly met three sheep walking right in the middle of the track! After a bit of panic braking we managed to avoid them, and they trotted along the road as nothing had happened. There were a lot of sheep along the track as usual, but at two occasions they went a bit further than just grassing by the side. Amazing experience anyhow.
After passing the highest point, everything goes downhill almost exclusivly until the finish. I’m usually a lot better at the downhill segments than the uphill parts, and I were able to tag along with a train consisting of five other bikers. We really got up a bit of speed and passed lots of other riders, and I were happy that I finally got a bit of effective riding. Next year I’ll hopefullly be able to tag along with someone for most of the trip, making it a faster journey for all of us. We’ll see.
In the last downhill segment after riding through the spectator stand around the ski jumping hill from the olympics at Lillehammer (and riding down the hill from the freestyle skiing competition at the same olympics), the guy right in front of me went over his handlebar and crashed into the side of the road. He was apparently OK, but it seemed to be a rather unpleasant experience. The rest of the track was covered with five centimeters of mud, which I managed to ride all the way through – although I almost went for a “I’ll plant my complete body into the mud here, thank you” after the rider right in front of me suddenly got problems with keeping her speed and I tried feveriously to free my shoes from my pedals. I saved it, and could ride the last 200 meters and finish my ride (although I’m not sure if anyone would have seen any difference wether I had fallen into the mud or not..)!
Two of my friends who rode the race for their first time, Christer and Magne, also finished. I’m happy to report (.. and Magne is not) that I actually managed to strike back after Magne crushed my time with 40 minutes at Grenserittet a year back. Ten minutes ahead baby, it’s all the time in the world! Christer had a very bad day with two punctures and three chain breakdowns. He finished in about 5:54.
I’ll leave you with the final impression of one tired man and his new friend, the mud. This is after getting hosed down with water at least once to try to clean out the mud from my face.
So, are you ready for next year? I am! (.. even after I got the hickups on the way back home .. for at least a couple of hours.)