Q: I am a citizen racer and completed my second Birkie this year. Both last year and this year my legs started cramping up during the second half of the race. I never cramped any other time in my life, including during ski training, triathlons, etc. I know the Birkie is a grueling race, but what suggestions do you have that can improve my off season training? I am a skate skier; do you have any specific drills I should do? – Cramper
A: Cramping most often comes from muscle fatigue. Your muscles need to get used to the 2,3,4 hours of marathon skiing. I do not know how much you train now or what your long days are and if you do intervals, etc. But the only way to hope to avoid cramping in next year’s Birkie is to replicate your Birkie effort in training leading up to the Birkie, to train your body for that effort. You need to get some long days in skiing replicating the efforts that you will be racing the Birkie. Up hills, down hills and balancing on one ski over uneven terrain and in sloppy Birkie snow.
I think the unusual nature of the Birkie with the often sloppy snow and the stop and go nature of maneuvering around other skiers adds additional strain on your muscles. So you should try and replicate that effort. If you do not already do it, you should start rollerskiing in the summer, and increase your long days come fall. In winter do one long distance day a week and increase that throughout the winter. Race other ski marathons before the Birkie and then peak at the Birkie. There are no secrets. It just takes time.
The difference in a ski marathon to a triathlon or a running marathon is the unpredictability of the snow condition. On a bad/sloppy snow day it takes a lot more muscle work to remain balanced. That, plus skiing in a huge crowd wears on you. And this is why I believe you may be cramping at the Birkie but not at a triathlon. So work on technique so you can ski more relaxed. Skiing faster, easier can be done with fitness and also with technique. Many people focus on fitness not enough people focus on technique. So learn how to glide father faster.
I hope this helps!
Andy at SkiPost