Racing Strategy

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othersteve
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Racing Strategy

Postby othersteve » Wed Feb 04, 2015 12:06 am

Hey Everyone,
I'm new to the forum and joined because I was curious about what people think in terms of in race strategy for ski marathons. I've sorta plateaued at wave 2 skate in the Birkie and am looking for some tips that can help me get to the elusive wave 1.
I workout as much as possible and work on my technique as well with drills. It's obviously not enough! Maybe someone can give insight on some race strategy for skate races or some links to informative articles. I don't want to get into type of skis, wax or structure. I know they are important, but was thinking more of an overall approach to a race.
I guess I'd like to start a conversation with some thoughts I've had.
Is there a right time to pass someone?
Should skaters try to use the classic tracks on a downhill?
Should you start out fast then settle in or start slower and pick it up toward the end?
Should you steer clear of feed stations and make sure you are self sufficient with gu and drink?
Is it good to find a faster skier and try to draft and hang on for dear life?
I see a lot of skiers including myself sorta taking it easy after a big uphill. Should you take it easier on the uphill and blast off when you get to the top?
Is there a book on the zen of momentum?
Should one V2 as much as possible? (I know this is dictated by the grade of terrain)

Any tips/ancient secrets would be greatly appreciated, especially Birkie specific ones.
Thanks,
Steve

bmullin
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby bmullin » Wed Feb 04, 2015 1:57 pm

Steve,

I would love to see a discussion on this topic. I'm slowly working on getting towards the pointy end of things as well. Wave 7->Wave 2->Wave 1 in my first two Birkies. I'm not sure I can move up a wave this year, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had aspirations to pull off a great race and sneak in.

Some of my thoughts:

1) Get a good start. Last year I thought starting in wave 2 it would be a cake walk compared to wave 7 if I didn't get a good start. I was wrong. I had a bathroom emergency just before the start and ended up at the back end of wave 2 for the start. It still took a ton of extra effort to pass people in wave 2. In fact, it maybe took more effort as they were going faster than the later wave starters I had passed the year before skiing up through the various waves.

2) I think there is probably a lot to pack skiing, unfortunately I haven't had much chance to practice it. I've been off the back of the lead packs in most races and end up TTing a lot of them. If you can find a good group, and are comfortable skiing behind others I would try it.

3) Don't blow up. So counter to skiing with a fast group, is skiing with too fast of a group. If you blow up at OO, that is a very painful long ski to Hayward. So trying to figure out how hard you can go without crossing the line is really important. So race with a pack if you can, but don't be afraid to know your limits (or when you are skiing below your limits) and when to strike out on your own.

4) I've read a lot (no references unfortunately) that say to be sure to push over the top of the hill. You did all that work to get to the top, you might as well skate a few more strides and get a boost into the downhill. Also, I've found this is a decent place to make a pass. Like you said, lots of people let up at the top of the hill. So with no "extra" effort, you can get around someone.

5) I'm not sure about a good feed strategy. You need to be sure you fuel your body properly. Feed stations can be a cluster and a good way to lose time or get tripped up. I carry my own, but supplement along the way, especially later in the race when the stations are a little less crowded.

6) Tracks or not. I would use what is faster with the caveat that I don't want to be an ass and mess up someone's classic race. So don't muck up the tracks skating in and out of them, don't cut off a classic skier, don't expect them to move for you. In general though, you can find different trail conditions all along the course. I try to seek out the best skiing line throughout the race. Sometimes that is the shortest corner, sometimes not. Last year in particular I was meandering across the course finding the firmer conditions. It made a big difference even if it wasn't quite the shortest path.

I hope this turns into an interesting discussion.

Ben

blckdmnd
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby blckdmnd » Wed Feb 04, 2015 6:33 pm

I have read about passing at the top of hills. Too many will be all but spent at the top and can't or won't push at the top. It is a way to pick up spots on plenty of racers. I found this to be almost the only way of passing after many a hill from wave 8 in the early going. All to many people seem content to settle in 3 lanes. If there was a spot to push on a hill I took it and made sure to push up to and after the top to keep those spots I just gained. I plan to bring my feeds this race as well to save 30 seconds or so per stop.

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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby MN Hoser » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:06 pm

My strategy when I was young, was to go out hard and hang on. I'd often be cramping and dragging a tailpipe on the lake, but it worked when I could beat myself up. The ideal strategy is to maintain an even pace (which seems slow at the start) and then draft someone fast who will pull you up, but often passing people in the first half of race wastes energy and is slow. I've seen guys do a great job of it though. I think a good compromise is to hit it in the powerlines and once you hit the woods, many will back off, so you can continue to pass some people, but be careful. You don't want the early efforts to kill you starting at Mosquito Brook.

Use the classic tracks? Yes, test them and use them if they're faster. Sometimes they're not, sometimes getting in and out of them is not worth the extra effort.

Feeding is a personal thing. I've skied a lot of races without taking any food stops but used my own food and got a few hand ups on the course including new bottle. That's my default, but if I can sneak in a couple feeds, it helps at the end of the race. More is better.

I say don't V2 everything unless you're comfortable V2'ing. I still prefer open field and tend to V2 on mild uphills. I'd say try to use less energy than the guy (or gal) in front of you. Look for opportunities to pass and to draft. Probably the hardest thing is to realize when you're over your head and back off. Sometimes the race goes in cycles of feeling good and not feeling so good. It's really hard to back off a pack and usually that's not a good idea, but if you get blown out, you have to hang onto the next one. (Not sure that applies to wave 2 though.)

Jay

othersteve
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby othersteve » Fri Feb 06, 2015 9:45 am

Awesome. Thanks guys. Good stuff here. One other thing that I noticed has to do with pole baskets and can probably help people in a later wave when skiing in mashed potatoes.
I've ditched the smaller race baskets for good old standard ones, because I find the smaller baskets can't get a lot of push off in soft conditions. I understand the small ones are for less swing weight, but I can't really tell the difference, so it's bigger baskets for me.

bmullin
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby bmullin » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:38 am

Unless they get substantially more snow between now and the big day, I would say basket size isn't going to be terribly important. The cover is pretty thin so it can't possibly be a deep mashed potatoes like the last two years. But lets hope for more snow anyhow to change that opinion.

I'm starting in wave 1 this year which from everything I've read is a big cluster. We all thing we belong in the elite wave (note I included myself though I don't think I belong, I want to try). From what I hear the start and even the pens are a real battle. Only a few people move up each year though so you have to finish towards the front of the wave. If you start at the back, that is a lot of passing to do. So despite my non-agressive nature my plan this year is to try to get towards the front of the wave at the start, go hard to powerline and then settle back into marathon pace.

My concern is I use up too much energy those first few k and blow up again (I still have no solid recollections of the last 15k of the race after two times). You can lose time being behind people and then expending extra energy to pass. You can bleed lots of time death marching the last 15k too. I hope I can find the fine line.

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JeffOYB
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby JeffOYB » Fri Feb 06, 2015 12:33 pm

My own marathon breakthru happened like this.

I suffered thru 6 or more of them over 5 years then got fed up. I was about 25 yrs old, fit'n'fast and finishing top 10 in MI races. And had skied maybe 50 races. But got only 25-35th in marathons. I was going well then cracking, over and over again.

So I backed off in my next marathon to learn. I found a friend to ski with. I backed off on the uphills -- I did not use my "pedal" -- and I focused on using the MOST STABLE steady technique I had which was "ride'n'glide." It was hard being patient like that!

And I stopped at every feedzone. I had noticed in videos of the lead group of marathons that they didn't seem rushed and they stopped at feedzones for a neutral moment. I think I had underfed before and got dehydrated. I decided to not skip any more feeds. I forget what I decided I needed but I made sure to take it -- a full cup of electrolyte perhaps. ...But be sure the zones will have what you need. It also keeps your body tidy, nothing to smear, spill or get lost. It was also nice to weigh a pound or two less!

With this method I cut 20 mins off my marathon times by "taking it easy" and moved up to the front group from the top of the midpack. And I suffered less during the race. I had gas at the end to prevail in any needed fiestiness, readily knocking off anyone I could still see somewhat close by, and THAT emptied my tank by the finish.

I only did one Birkie, tho. Front row wave 2 start, ran into back of Wave 1 promptly. Passing huge masses to beyond the halfway then zombie cramping to finish. Rocket skis and still finished well, 2nd of Wave 2 behind a similarly badly seeded US Development Team kid. It was rather ridiculous. I was sprinting the first half but was clearly peaking and had rockets with soft tip Pelts for the taters. I double poled all uphills in the first third on the margins.

My three items of advice for a crowded Birkie situation would be:

*SKI SKILLS and to keep your downhill glide going at all costs into the uphills but without interfering with others. Yet that might mess with your ability to patiently ski with a peer. I stayed relaxed but passed on all downhills and in the transition zones in the early part of uphills.

*Try to ski with someone who is experienced, steady, a shoe-in, who has a feel for the needed pacing. Wouldn't that be nice?

*Determine what pace you'll need in order to find your pal to ski with. Conditions change a lot, sure, but I think it's possible to get a sense of the NEEDED PACE for a given result. Like I recently took a look at the Top 20 averages: 2:20/km - 2:30/km over 10 yrs. Heck, that's CLOSE. So you might be able to get a fairly close idea of a needed pace for a goal. You can then practice that pace and get a SOLID FEEL for it on your home course or at events somewhat comparable to the Birkie. Then look for someone who reliably skis that same pace! Maybe get to know the results for a variety of people you know. You can plan ahead of time with a pal but then something happens on course. You need to then find someone else! Try not to get sucked away from your plan and try to find someone who looks steady. Maybe you can have a quick chat w/ someone? They may not be thinking exactly like you but think of a way to make it easy: Lead for a bit and ask "Does this pace feel good to you? I want to do it all the way. Do you?" The Birkie course changes its tone but maybe you can calculate some desirable arrival times to certain places on the course. If you're on pace: great. Keep doing what you're doing. No more no less. Hit your mark.
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MN Hoser
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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby MN Hoser » Fri Feb 06, 2015 1:12 pm

As for baskets, you may want to see if the Birkie has gotten out their big groomers. If not, the course may be softer than past years. You could also ski the trail before race day.

A lot of guys will fight for position during the first half of the race. After about Bodecker road, if you have the speed, that's the time to pass. Guys will have less fight. After Mosquito Brook, you will often get "the look" of death warmed over when you pass as some are starting to blow. Of course as you move up (Wave 2 to 1), guys last longer into the race. I've even battled guys on the hill after 77, but I've also had guys ask me to go by on the lake. Sometimes a little conversation will get you an easy pass. "Can you pull in that guy?"

Jay

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Re: Racing Strategy

Postby SpecialGreen » Fri Feb 13, 2015 10:13 pm

For me, the prime passing spots are:

- every feed . Go to the far-end. Everybody else stops at the first volunteer they see. You can also bring food and a water bottle, with just enough to skip the first feed. (I've brought more, but it just freezes). The first feed has the biggest traffic jam.

- every hilltop. Everybody seems to stand around at the top of each hill. If skiing classic, don't go for the tracks until you've passed the crowd of people at the top. Think of that as your passing lane.

- powerlines. If you have good skis, or efficient climbing technique, you can get past a hundred people. But don't go nuts working hard.

- modest inclines (classic technique): other skiers will slow on even modest inclines, sometimes to the point that the wax doesn't stick and you have to herringbone. Don't slow down! You can often hop-run up the edge of the groomed snow and avoid the V.

Passing on the big hills may be a waste of effort. I take it easy on the climb, then imagine that I'm starting a new race, as I crest the top.


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