Ski 2:22:42  31.0 mi (4:36 / mi) +811m 4:15 / mi
Wow. The Birkie did not disappoint.
I spent the past few days telling anyone who would listen—and given that multiple people commented on The Podcast during the race, this is a non-zero number—that the trail was in great shape, and not to worry about the temperatures, the snow was very cold and 35˚ was not going to warm it up. I wasn't wrong.
Easy ride up, grabbed my skis, and got into the back of the Elite Wave. The skis were quite fast at the start, and I was able to push up into the middle of the back of the Elite Wave. Jakob went off somewhere else and apparently skied fast, finishing 42nd or some such. I stayed relaxed through the hills, and kept my poles intact. Lots of broken poles today, it seemed, including one right in front of me. Tuesday Night Worlds are a good way to learn how to keep your poles near you.
At about 8k, my pole strap disintegrated across my right palm, so for the rest of the race, my right pole was attached just over the back of my hand. I don't think it affected really anything, but was kind of annoying. Heck, maybe I lost several minutes (unlikely).
I wound up near the front of a big group around Fire Tower Hill and skied near the front for a long while. Led across OO, and the snow, which was fast to this point, got faster. There were three miles I logged >5m pace, one <4. The rest were all in the 4:00 range. Which is fast, it turns out. Lots of hills at or close to 30 mph, with other people around. No one fell, but it wouldn't have been fun in the second half of the race, which was fast and in places almost icy. But I bet the course held up well for later skiers.
I led this group to the old 29k hill (now 23k to go hill) and decided to try an attack. Which I did, and no one came with me, so I put maybe 10m on the group and burned a bunch of matches and there was no way I was going to solo off the front. Everyone seemed content to pack ski. I guess I was, too, since I felt pretty good and was assuming that 150th was in the group, not 200th (and I was right, it turns out).
Took a caffeine gel at Mosquito Brook and choked it down (I'd had another before the start) and got ready for the late hills which are hard. And I didn't quite have enough gas in the tank. I'd been in solid L3 the whole way other than long downhills, peaking into L4 on some of the steeper climbs, and didn't have a late attack, but was happy I kept the HR up (the HRM is behaving better, but still lots of weird spikes, and didn't deal with climbs well).
So the group finally broke up on the hills, and while we had dropped people off the back, I mostly wound up at the back of the group by the time we were climbing the new hill to Highway 77. I was pretty gassed, but managed to keep it together up the hill past Highway 77 and down onto the lake. The lake was great, warm and fast and sunny, and I stayed with a couple of guys, one of whom I passed up the bridge. Then Main Street, sprinting to catch another guy and losing to him by 0.3s (but they gave everyone in the Elite Wave a gun time, which is kind of annoying, not that it would have mattered, since my sprint put me 0.8s in front of a Wave 2er, although since I started pretty far back I might have actually been on course for less time than the guy in front of me.
Anyway, 162nd, two places better than last year, three off my PR. Had I stayed with the front pack I was leading I would have been 140th or so. Something to strive for. 200th was another two minutes back. Strava says I spent the entire race within 20s of two other skiers, that's kind of cool. But a lot of people put 1-2m on me in the last 5k. Whoops.
Then, what a pleasure of a day in Hayward. My fingers worked. I wasn't freezing cold. I had a leisurely walk to the changing tent, and then didn't have to shiver myself warm for 10 minutes. Dry clothes, and then all sorts of walking around Hayward and definitely some drinking of the beer. Oh and a bloody mary, a brat, some aquavit from the Norwegians on the lake. The podcast started kind of slow but by the end I had 2:30 of content and will have to edit a lot. Which, thanks to not being in grad school, might happen before September.
All in all, a good Birkie.