Birkebeiner Rennet was to be held on 18-Mar, the day after I left Norway. About 8000 skiers are expected. However, I found out that on 12-Mar they stage the non-competitive Birkebeiner Prøven (test) over the same course. One can start at either Rena or Lillehammer. Transportation is arranged to and from start and finish points. This event counts for World-Loppet points. So if you want to ski the Birkebeiner in a more relaxed mood this is way to do it. Vasaloppet also has the similar 'open track days'. The Swedes call this type of "run race" a 'motions-lopp' , lit. exercise race; the Norwegians call it a "Turrenn"
NOTE :This event is now offered as FredagsBirken (Friday's Birken) on the Friday before the main Birken race. see: FREDAGSBIRKEN
Accomodations in Lillehammer were hard to find that weekend so I was staying in Hamar which is on the bus route from Lillehammer to Rena. The reason was that on 11-March Lillehammer was having the Inga Laami, the largest women's race (jente-renn) in Norway. That meant that 3000 very healthy Norwegian women were in town and I couldn't be there!
So I met the bus in Hamar and arrived at the start point in Rena, registered and got started around 0930. The first section climbs 400 m in 11 km. A 400 m climb is just considered a minor bump in Norway. Actually this was the the easiest section of the tour. At first my wax (blue+violet) lacked a little grip but soon we were in colder, drier snow (-5 C) and I was climbing easily. Most of the trail here is 6 or 8 lanes wide.
I reached the first food stop at Skramstad Seter after 75 minutes. Unfortunately, Blueberry Soup is not a Norwegian drink so I had to settle for Solberry (black current). The next 7 km section climbs another 200 m and starts getting into open terrain but there were still no problems. I did that in 53 minutes (including the food stop)
Now the trail goes above the tree line on to the vidda or tundra and it was a white out with blowing snow. The wind had hard packed the snow (sastrugi is the name for it) so there wasn't much of a track. Also we began to meet hundreds of people coming the other way and there was danger of collision. After what seemed an eternity we dropped into the trees again to the next food stop at Kvarstad Dammen where I took a longer stop. Time for this flattish 11 km was 97 min.
The trail climbs back up another 250 m on to the vidda again and into fog with even less visibility. At times it was hard to see from one trail post to the next. One wouldn't want to wander off the trail here! The total whiteness and lack of horizon was disorienting and demoralizing. Finally after 12 km and 122 minutes some trees and the buildings of Sjusjøen became visible. I had been here a few days before and knew what the trail was like beyond.
The final 14 km was easy with nice downhill runs through the woods and then along some of the Olympic Trails. Then I put on a final burst of speed to cross the same finish line as the 94 Olympic Races as a hundred thousand fans yell HEIA! In my imagination, that is- there were a few dozen people watching. My time for 58 km was 7hrs 6 minutes. I would be interested to know what the racers do it it in next week (2.5 to 3 hrs maybe)(* see below). If it hadn't been for the wind and whiteout it would have been an easy trip (1000 m of climbing is easy??). I wish I could have seen what the vidda looks like.
Since the downhill is 'free', I ski right down into town passing the ski-shooting area and the base of the Ski Jump. There is even a nice field down to Haakan Hall for trying a few telemark turns. I have to walk the last few blocks down to the railway station.
The trip isn't really over yet. In the railway station, I ate my sandwiches, made from Birkebeiner Bread, of course (neat picture on the bread bag). There were lots of healthy Norwegian women. I met a remarkable elderly couple ( > 70 years) from Sweden. They were making a retirement career of going to most of the World Loppet races every year. This year they had done the Gatineau 50, American Birkie, Vasaloppet, this tour and a few others. He had done Vasaloppet 17 times. Then I found out I may have seen him in last June's Vaettern Rundan 300 km bike ride (there were 15000 cyclists!). He'd done that ride 17 times and had also ridden the 600 km Trondheim-Oslo Great Trial of Strength.