Note: I did something a little different than I have in the past… After a short intro, I provide some recap notes on topics that are likely of most interest based on questions I get about races; such as the course conditions, gear, nutritions, etc… that can be more useful in planning for future races. It’s also a good recap for myself to note what went well and not so well as I’m trying to continuously improve as well.
Fatike Birkie keeps getting better… I mentioned this in a Facebook post after the finish, but I was really just happy to be there and glad to get out and race again. I’ve done 3 Fatbike Birkies now and this was probably my most enjoyable. I hadn’t ridden my fatbike since December and had only ridden twice in the fall to recon and course plan for the Solstice Chase Fatbike Race that I was race directing.
That said, I’ve had a good base training regiment going on my indoor trainer, so I wasn’t coming off the couch by any means. Even though it wasn’t training for Fatbike Birkie, all that tempo and sweet spot work I’ve been doing the last couple months is really helping to re-establish my base after having such a poor year of training last year. I wasn’t fast, but I was able to steadily crank along for 2 hours and 10 minutes.
I was sluggish on climbs as I’m the heaviest I’ve been in almost 7 years, but I was strong on the flats and downhills. I ended up finishing in 62nd place out of 455 racers in the long race (47k). This was about 20 places better than last year.
Fatbike Birkie Recap Notes
Anyway, here we go with those recap notes in no particular order…
The course was a little soft in spots and from what I heard, got softer and more tore up as time went on. I had one hill that I had to jump off and push up the last bit as it got steep and soft, but that was it. I was able to climb the rest of them. It could get squirley at times, especially at speed in the turns. I feel pretty comfortable in those situations and that’s where I was the best. I would lose spots on the uphills and gain them back in the downhills.
I was set up perfect, but don’t really know what I had them at. I rode around the demo track a little bit and added or let out air according to how it felt and never checked it with a gauge. I was set up on the firm side and would go the same route again, even though it caused some occasional traction and squirreliness in the soft stuff. The tires themselves are the Bontrager 27.5″ X 4.5″ Barbagazzi. They give up some traction in loose stuff, but roll fast.
It rocks! Great post race atmosphere with friends, food and beer. It was nice catching up with friends.
I had 1 bottle with 1.5 scoops of Endurelite and a second bottle with just water. I also had a Gu gel flask with 4 gels in it with a little water to help mix it. I used my Endurelite first and then switched to the gels for the second half. I feel like everything worked out great. My gel flask was in a top tube bag. It was just warm enough for it to stay thin enough to work out. Any colder and it may have been an issue. I meant to throw a hand warmer in the top tube bag to keep it warmer. My bottles were purist insulated bottles, which worked out awesome and much easier to squeeze than the polar ones. To do it again, I probably would have just done the Endurelite in both bottles and skipped the gels, but I hadn’t raced with the Endurelite before and didn’t want to go all in with it.
GPS / Computer
I didn’t have one on my bike and just wore my Garmin Forerunner 935XT watch. I still had a chest strap for more accurate heart rate, but I never looked at it during the race. The only data I had on the watch was time and distance, but I also only looked at it a few times. I think I enjoyed the ride more without looking at data much. It was nice having the info afterward and also nice to check distance occasionally as well. Since owning the watch, I’ve mostly switched over to it vs my Garmin Edge as it’s just easy and I wear it all the time like a normal watch.
I only carried a multi-tool and 2 air cartridges. I’m a fan of the Topeak Hexus multi-tool as it comes with tire levers and a chain tool.
I’ve got a carbon Farley with the Bontrager Wampa 27.5″ carbon rims and 4.5″ Bontrager Barbagazzi tires. It’s mostly a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, but with an XO crank. Very similiar build to a Farley 9.8 with a couple of exceptions. I love the bike and it comes in around 25.5 lbs with the pedals on.
There were 4 start gates for the 47k race and I was in gate 2. However, I did not stage my bike and ended up in the back of gate 2 and a bit mixed in with gate 3. I initially went to the gates about 8:45am and my gate was pretty much full. I slid across the back of it to find a spot without blocking the entrance. However, I opened my top tube bag to realize I didn’t put my gel flask in and must have left it on the dashboard. I looked down at my watch to see it was 8:49 and decided to ride back to the car to get it. When I got back to the starting gates, they had already pulled up the separation ribbons to let people fill in, so I just slipped in the back of the gate 2 entrance on the side.
Getting to the race
I drove up in the morning, leaving my house just before 5:00am and arrived around 7:30am with plenty of time. Bib pickup didn’t open till 7:30am anyway and I had plenty of time. I wasn’t late in the start gates due to time, I just chose to hang in my warm vehicle and take a short spin on the demo course vs dropping my bike off in the start gate. I would do the same thing again.
I wore a Bontrager Windshell Balacalava under my helmet, which has worked well in the past for winter riding and skiing. I had too much glove on with the 45NRTH Sturmfist 4s as my hands ended up really sweaty, but that was better than freezing cold. If the race was a lot longer, I would have been concerned about sweating more, but it was short enough that I was able to get out of wet gear before freezing. I wore my 2 piece ski kit with a cycling jersey over the top. I wear a cycling jersey when I ski as well. I just like the pockets in the back of cycling jerseys. It was warm enough for sunglasses versus goggles. I have a pair of Toffosi glassses with some decent sized lenses that seem to work well for winter.
I rode pretty consistant the whole race. I didn’t have a great starting gate position and had to work around a few people once they cut us loose in the powerlines, but I just rode my ride for the most part. I might have put some extra efforts in here or there to try and carry some momentum up a hill or get around somebody that I thought might get in my way on the next downhill. Overall, I felt like I was working my way up a bit during the first 1/3 of the race and eventually found myself going back and forth with the same people for the rest of the race. My heart rate data shows me at a consistent subthreshold effort for the entire race with only a few short blips a couple bpm above threshold.
Fatbike Birkie Course Info
Overall Course Map
The course starts and ends from the American Birkiebeiner Trailhead. This year it went south on the classic ski trail to OO and then returned north on the skate trail. This is opposite from 2018.
Overall Elevation Profile
My Training Peaks and Strava accounts both show a little over 3,000 ft of elevation gain.
The notes here are much shorter than I’ve provided in the past. I didn’t jump into the details of how the racing played out from section to section this time, but just tossed down a short note or 2 per section of trail. You can open the images if you want to look closer into the trail map, profile or lap data.
Start to Timber Trail
As you can see, you are generally working your way up through the power lines and the first section of the course. The key is and stays true throughout the entire course, is to carry as much speed as you can downhill and back up into the next.
Timber Trail to Fire Tower
You can see the highpoint on the trail and there is a sign trailside as well. Once you hit highpoint, then you are generally working your way back downhill to OO with a minor exception between Fire Tower and Boedecker.
Fire Tower to Boedecker
As mentioned, you are generally working your way back downhill to OO, but about halfway between Fire Tower and Boedecker you do have to work your way back up a bit to Boedecker. In general, course is really just up and down. I think it helps mentally to think your are generally working your way up or down as it helps work your way through the course milestone by milestone.
Boedecker to OO
OO is the turnaround point and kind of signifies the halfway mark.
OO to Boedecker
I do remember the super fun downhill shortly after OO. I probably only remember it as I’ve skied north of OO a couple times.
Boedecker to Fire Tower
It’s a long climb up to Fire Tower, which isn’t quite the top.
Fire Tower to Timber Trail
As I mentioned, Fire Tower wasn’t the top and you still have to climb out of there a little bit to hit the high point. After that, you get a long downhill. I had to walk about 20 feet up one hill and can’t remember if it was in this section or the next.
Timber Trail to Finish
It’s never all downhill, but this section seemed fast. The powerlines will still zap your legs, even though you’re generally headed downhill. The rolling uphills are just big enough that your momentum won’t roll you up them and your legs are likely fried at this point.
My effort seemed fairly consistant throughout the race as I just cranked along. I had very few surges in effort. If I put in a little dig it was just to get around a couple folks here and there that I thought might get in the way on a downhill. As I mentioned, I was rolling the downhills fast.
Heart Rate Data
I don’t have a power meter on my fatbike, but here is the heart rate data. I didn’t look at it during the race at all. The only info I had on my data screen was time and distance and I only looked at it a few times. For reference, I estimate my cycling heart rate threshold to be 172 bpm and set my heart rate zones up using Coggan’s method.