my utter unpreparedness and punish thousands more that had very diligently trained for nearly a year with unseasonably warmer temperatures (and even rain) in days/weeks leading up to the 2017 Birkie weekend. In hindsight, we (the collective phrase to represent all of us and not just the Royal plural) are quite fortunate that this lack of snow thing happened in 2017 and not in 1206 in Scandinavia. Should that have been the case, as one unknown racer put it in 2017, the Prince couldn’t have been saved, and we wouldn’t have the event in 2017 … or in any other year.
- skied a total of ~140 km on trails via 20 activities purposefully starting some of them late in the day to get approximately the same race day conditions – 15 in the 0-10k range, 4 in the 10-20k range and 1 in the 20-30k range – leading up to this event
- participated in Tech Trails Citizen’s Night Series to mimic the wave starts and Marquette’s Noquemanon 24k to get a baseline estimate for time and effort for long distance skiing
- picked up a few important tips to improve the technique (and in turn, improve the skiing efficiency) – thanks to Mike Young as part of waxing clinics for the community, Emily Oppliger as part of Nordorks, Greg Green and Andi Vendlinski while skiing in Swedetown Trails, Joyce Ziegler in Noque, Stephen Handler in a post-KRG weekly run discussion, and a few hours of YouTubing
In 1206, the Birkebeiners set off on a dangerous voyage through treacherous mountains and forests, taking the then two-year-old Håkon Håkonsson to safety in Trondheim. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the anafe of the boy who later became King Håkon Håkonsson IV, ended the civil wars in 1240 and forever changed Northern Europe’s history through his reign. The name, Birkebeiner, carries a sense of pride, strength and endurance — something thousands of people, participating in the historical race every year, keep striving for.
Swedetown Trails and I had fallen only once. It (i.e., the falling) wasn’t anything I hadn’t done countably infinite times before and nothing hurt that day or for the next 16-18 hours. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, there was a noticeable pain in my right ankle growing upwards on the outer side towards the knee and gradually increasing in intensity as the day grew.
Pain, by Sunday night and through Monday morning, was sharp enough that I couldn’t mimic the pull up/stride motion on a flat terrain … let alone for 29 km up and down some hills. This wasn’t something I expected or thought had sufficient time to fix before heading out of town on Thursday. Had it worsened and kept me from doing the Korte, I’d have chalked it up as
This is just life getting back at me. Last year, I didn’t train and was miraculously bailed out by lack of snow. This year, I train and there’s plenty snow but a mystical injury keeps me from doing it.
Fortunately, instead of having to live with the above rational explanation, I had the ankle tape within reach and remembered much of what Shannon had taught me a short while ago when I had rolled/sprained the left ankle. Some icing, resting and eating well (with friends) miraculously cured the pain by Wednesday afternoon!
Swix before settling on one from Toko (thanks, Mark!). Personally, I have come to find the process of waxing skis to be a very methodical and soothing experience … one that enforces discipline while leaving plenty room for experimentation. As Bill McKibben writes in his book, Long Distance,
It (Waxing) acquires a religious ritual aspect – applying mysterious ointments in semi-mystical sequences, then scraping them all away leaving … nothing. Nothing visible anyway. It’s a kind of prayer.
Cross Country Sports in Calumet, MI; Down Wind Sports in Houghton, MI) to get an estimate of what it’d cost to follow every word of Swix or Toko wax recommendation. And guess what, it’d suffice to say I’d need to tap into my retirement account! Even the best skis and best wax job money could buy today wouldn’t compensate for my current skill set or justify the (limited) training hours, and the gains thereof, if any, would be very minimal. And I am no Jessie Diggins, Caitlin Gregg or Kikkan Randall for that minimal gain in time to make a difference. Instead, I decided to use wax supplies I had acquired during an end of winter sale but added a Toko Skin Cleaner – to ensure the skins under my skis could keep water off if the trails turned soft.
A layer of Black, two layers of Blue and one layer of Red (all from Toko and all NF) was the initial plan. While I did channel Mr. Miyagi (you know, to Wax on, Wax off), something changed somewhere along the way, and I ended up doing a layer of Black (Toko, NF), a layer of Blue (Toko, NF), a layer of Blue (Swix, CH6) and a layer of Red (Swix, CH8). I applied generous amounts of Skin Cleaner and some other transparent liquid also from Toko, and threw in a prayer for good measure at the end: please
make the weather conditions on race day match my waxing make my skis hold up during the race.
Stephen being the weekend coordinator and the plans having started and executed well quite a while ago, we (Christine, Stephen, Andi, Jim, DJ and I) had very little to worry about logistics as the event got closer. After wrapping up the teaching responsibility on Thursday (and thanks to my students for being very cooperative after the in-class discussion time), DJ and I completed packing. We grabbed a quick bite to eat in Subway and hit the road towards Wisconsin shortly after 12:30 pm. For the first time ever in my life, I packed a toolbox filled with waxing gear! Handlers and Vendlinskis weren’t too far behind, and after an uneventful drive while re-listening to Bill McKibben’s Long Distance (a book that dear friend, Alice, had recommended many moons ago), we all met up during the crazy busy pre-race expo in Hayward High School.
inspirational Gold medal win in the team sprint event beating out Sweden by 0.19 seconds!
|Summary of training activities since the last event (or the beginning of current year)|
|#||Date and time||Activity details
Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate (% of Max), kCal, and Weather
|01||2018-01-30 18:02||Tech Trails Citizen's Night Series #2
1.71 mi, 0:19:49, 11:35 min/mile, 5.18 mph, 160 bpm (78.05%), 228 kCal
18 F/11 F, 11 mph ESE, 57% humidity; cloudy and comfortable
|02||2018-01-31 18:03||KRG Weekly Run 2018 #05/52
2.47 mi, 0:29:22, 11:53 min/mile, 5.05 mph, 155 bpm (75.61%), 308 kCal
19 F/2 F, 24 mph WNW, 62% humidity; cloudy and windy
|03||2018-02-03 09:18||Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.33 mi, 0:44:02, 13:13 min/mile, 4.54 mph, 161 bpm (78.54%), 514 kCal
3 F/3 F, 0 mph, 78% humidity; partly cloudy and very comfortable
|04||2018-02-07 18:00||KRG Weekly Run 2018 #06/52
0.25 mi, 0:03:00, 12:00 min/mile, 5.00 mph, 155 bpm (75.61%), 33 kCal
75 F/75 F, 0 mph, 60% humidity
|05||2018-02-09 09:51||Houghton Run L1
2.58 mi, 0:29:54, 11:35 min/mile, 5.18 mph, 152 bpm (74.15%), 328 kCal
-2 F/-2 F, 3 mph W, 70% humidity; sunny but pleasant
|06||2018-02-09 15:05||Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.09 mi, 0:40:24, 13:04 min/mile, 4.59 mph, 152 bpm (74.15%), 449 kCal
7 F/-10 F, 13 mph W, 60% humidity; partly cloudy and comfortable
|07||2018-02-11 13:26||Calumet XCC Ski L2
10.45 mi, 2:05:38, 12:01 min/mile, 4.99 mph, 165 bpm (80.49%), 1487 kCal
16 F/-1 F, 20 mph W, 48% humidity; sunny and blue skies but windy and at times cold
|08||2018-02-12 17:35||Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.25 mi, 0:35:15, 10:50 min/mile, 5.54 mph, 154 bpm (75.12%), 403 kCal
3 F/-12 F, 10 mph W, 65% humidity; sunny and blue skies but cold
|09||2018-02-13 18:01||Tech Trails Citizen's Night Series #3
1.71 mi, 0:17:14, 10:04 min/mile, 5.96 mph, 166 bpm (80.98%), 213 kCal
30 F/121 F, 11 mph SSW, 37% humidity; sunny, blue skies and pleasant
|10||2018-02-14 17:42||KRG Weekly Run 2018 #07/52
5.06 mi, 0:55:51, 11:02 min/mile, 5.44 mph, 152 bpm (74.15%), 623 kCal
30 F/21 F, 11 mph SSW, 37% humidity; sunny, warm and beautiful
|11||2018-02-16 13:46||Houghton XCC Ski L1
3.15 mi, 0:34:48, 11:02 min/mile, 5.44 mph, 155 bpm (75.61%), 396 kCal
12 F/-2 F, 12 mph W, 56% humidity; sunny, blue skies and pleasant
|12||2018-02-17 10:46||Calumet XCC Ski L1
6.24 mi, 1:09:36, 11:09 min/mile, 5.38 mph, 163 bpm (79.51%), 841 kCal
23 F/10 F, 15 mph WSW, 63% humidity; cloudy and at times windy but pleasant
|13||2018-02-18 08:42||Houghton iRide L1
5.04 mi, 0:23:54, 4:44 min/mile, 12.68 mph, 150 bpm (73.17%), 97 kCal
70 F/70 F, 0 mph 32% humidity
|14||2018-02-21 17:46||KRG Weekly Run 2018 #08/52
2.02 mi, 0:20:27, 10:07 min/mile, 5.93 mph, 152 bpm (74.15%), 236 kCal
18 F/8 F, 7 mph W, 52% humidity; sunny, pleasant and beautiful
Long Distance a few hours ago and his rule of thumb had been you didn’t hydrate well if you didn’t wake up three times to pee the night before a race. Plus, 29 is a beautiful prime number – the official distance in kilometers I’d ski to complete my first Kortelopet. Furthermore, the area received the expected/predicted amount of snow overnight and gave me additional hope of skiing on a non-icy trail. My butt has a tendency of falling down a lot and it certainly would prefer a softer landing! After some discussion, reviewing the race guide and Mathematics, we figured it’d be wise to leave the cabin around no later than 9:15 am. Jim made me a fantastic breakfast – two eggs and a bagel. The whole group set out to drop DJ and me off at the Birkie Ridge parking lot.
Kim Green, who was many faces ahead in the line, handed me a hand-made buff but warned that it might be too warm to wear it for the race. Any perceived delay in the timely arrival of empty buses to the parking lot was caused by (a) having just one parking lot, and (b) the buses having to use the same route as the cars coming to park or drop off the skiers. I am sure the event organizers will figure out a way to improve and implement a different solution within a year or two.
It was only natural to then search what Korte meant. Ancestry.com came to my rescue: Dutch and North German: nickname for a short person, from Middle Dutch, Middle Low German kort ‘short’.
So, put the two together, and we have Kortelopet (or just Korte for cool kids): a short great gathering of skiers, geared more towards recreation, who ski on a specifically groomed trail.
As advertised, the pen started moving towards the start line and not wanting to be in anyone’s way, I made sure I stayed near the very end. Being where I was, it took a while to weed through and find the group of skiers that had a similar pace. Within a few hundred feet past the start line, I saw Inga, Torstein and Skervald and thought about skiing off towards them for a photo opportunity. The adult in me suggested I should just focus on the task at hand and so I did … kept on skiing.
All the good feeling I had about this day going well (i.e., waking up three times overnight to pee, fluffy fresh snow converting trails from icy and hard to something I was way more comfortable with, ….) vanished very shortly. I had fallen 5 times within the first 4 km, and the hopes and plans of keeping the number of falls to 3 (approximately once every 10 km) had evaporated. I was averaging 13:30+ min/mile through the first 6 km and it seemed like the Korte had the makings of … any other race so far and a very very long day.
Few more km had passed and Dr. Bob had passed me along the way, and then came one of the steepest hills I had ever encountered on a ski trail. Many skiers were taking a breather (and probably saying a prayer or two) before embarking on their ascent. From the bottom, it seemed like an army of skiers marching up in unison – left ski, right ski, left ski, right ski. Of all the landmarks I had seen from the race guide, there was one name that had left an indelible mark in my mind. And soon enough, it’d leave an indelible mark on my legs too! It was unmistakably the Bitch Hill, and it did live every bit up to its name.
Christine for the Priest atop the said Bitch Hill. According to Andi, The (Olympics) announcers were saying during the first ski race that there was a hill near the end of the course that racers were already dubbing Klaebo Bakken because they knew that he would crush it and probably blow past the entire field while on it. It turned out they were right. So we decided that Bitch Hill should be renamed now that we know the term for “hill.” Plus it has a nice ring to it. Bitcha Bakken!! Good teachers that they are, they made me practice my Norwegian pronunciation of Bitcha Bakken a few times.
The Priest, Father Birkie, had the skiers chant Hallelujah, Amen and few other holy words as we climbed the hill. Once near the very top, I gave the Father Birkie a big hug and chatted with him for a few minutes passing on Christine’s message. He was kind, a good conversationalist and as I was about to continue my journey, gave me this lovely little pin … the last one he had saved. Even if some supposedly very religious skiers believe their God wouldn’t approve of this “Priest”‘s alleged antics (e.g., cheering people on, getting them to say a few holy words, and put up a sign called Holy Hill), I doubt the God would have taken any issue with his actions – especially if He/She was skiing up this Bitch Hill!
The final 9 km taught me a couple of important lessons: (a) need for upper body and core workouts [as buddy Stephen mentioned later, skiing is a year-round sport], and (b) need to pay better attention to the course profile. I believed someone’s claim that Bitch Hill was the last hill until the finish and let my mind relax a bit. My mind (and my body) were in for quite a bit of surprise when the hills kept coming for quite a while more. But I was in good company of lighthearted skiers that took turns in sharing a joke to lighten the mood and make climbing up those hills a rather joyous experience. Apart from the usual supply of energy liquid in Hatchery Park aid station, I needed help getting ibuprofens stacked in my pant’s back pocket (thanks, Lianna, for this idea!). The lady volunteer was so kind and graceful in getting them out and nearly fed me as I was fumbling to pick them up using my glove hands.
not get passed by any classic skier while paying attention to the form/posture and technique. I did pass a few skiers along the way whenever the trail etiquette and opportunity permitted although it was neither fair nor rational to compare someone else’s performance to mine (or vice versa): I found, just as I did or was doing, skiers doing this pilgrimage for a variety of personal reasons – some that I passed had been having a bad day, some others had intentionally slowed down to ski along a friend or a family member (or in their loving memory), some others yet had been carrying an extra weight of an artificial baby mimicking Prince Håkon. But since the Birkie Gods were listening to and answering all my prayers (i.e., ankle pain had disappeared well in time for the race, I had hydrated well enough to wake up three times the night before to pee, number of falls was 9 as I approached the 26 km mark, the wax on my skis was still holding up, and no classic skier had passed me since entering Lake Hayward), I prayed once more atop the International Bridge: please don’t let me fall.
|Goals for the event
Alternate goals in #2 and #3 as well as entirety of #4 and #5 were made up on the course
|01||Do not cause injury to fellow skiers||Yes (only because #16358 acknowledged she was OK,
and she did complete the event)
|02||Complete between 3:00 - 3:30
Complete between 3:30 - 4:00
|No, took 3:33:05
|03||Limit the number of falls to 3
Limit the number of falls to 29
|No, fell 9 times
Yes, fell 9 times
|04||Average pace below 12:00 min/mile||Yes, 11:57 min/mile|
|05||Don't get passed by classic skiers over the last 3-4 k||Yes|
Kelly, crossing the finish line. We chatted for a while before I headed off to retrieve the gear bag and to a nearby school gym designated for changing into warmer clothes.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself in South of the Border on Main Street to meet Andi, Christine, DJ, Jim, Kathy and Boyd, Stephen and a Brett Favre doppelgänger. We didn’t stay too long in town and headed back to the cabin … to prepare yet another hearty and yummy meal (by Handlers and Vendlinskis), eat and rest well for a bigger day for Jim and Stephen.
The day after
After a short break at the cabin, Andi, Christine and I headed downtown to catch a glimpse of elite skiers come through the Main Street. We were able to find a parking spot not too far away and had plenty of time to find a good spot (at the very bottom of the International Bridge) to watch. Kim and Greg Green joined us as well. It wasn’t long before we got to watch the first 100 or so elite skiers zip through the Main Street to the finish line.
Angry Minnow Brewing Company to grab a brew (Bitch Hill Amber Ale) and quick lunch with Rob and Shannon. But halfway through our meal, Christine and Andi had to rush back to the Main Street as Stephen was about to come through. Christine’s self-fulfilling prophecy partially came through as Stephen finished well below the 4 hour mark, and Jim wasn’t too far behind. Just like yesterday, we headed back to the cabin soon thereafter to rest up a little and head out for dinner.
The day after the day after
Christine‘s parents), and stopped at Redbery Books in Cable (WI) and JW’s BBQ & Brew in Bergland (MI) on our way home while listening to the rest of Long Distance.
While I have had one or two breakthrough events in running, this one most certainly is the first of its kind in skiing. While the weekend of festivities is nothing short of a skiing pilgrimage, the event – 29 km of Kortelopet – was transformational in more ways than one.
First off, I have grown from having Birkie as a town (that didn’t exist) in pre-2016 to now improving my Norwegian heritage by skiing the American Birkebeiner Trails. A little more importantly, triumph of desire over sensibility in 2016 has mostly been replaced with semi-triumph of sensibility and discipline over raw desire.
I went into the weekend being a freak show on downhill portions (yes, quite literally I’d freak out, get my heart rate pretty high, fall a few times and lose a lot of energy unnecessarily) instead of relaxing with good body posture and letting Newtonian and Quantum Mechanics do the work. Once at the bottom of a hill, I’d push through the subsequent uphill climb spending even more energy. Repeat this cycle a few times in a race, and I’d have little gas left in the tank to make a final push to the finish over the last one third (or sometimes half) the distance.
Transformation happened somewhere along the first one third of the final 25 km of the Kortelopet course. I didn’t necessarily fall where I thought I’d usually fall, actually enjoyed going downhill at reasonably high speeds, used that momentum to climb up a portion of the subsequent hill with little to no effort, used much less energy going climbing rest of the hill with improved technique, and had energy left in me to channel the holy trinity of my spirit animals (i.e., Diggins, Gregg and Randall – something that sounds more like a law firm than a group of world class skiers) for a hard push during later portions of the course.
I came out a much more confident skier, especially on downhill portions, and might have even improved my skiing technique over the final push to the finish line. This 29 km stretch, I believe, was nothing short of a manifestation of a wormhole: a non-trivial structure (i.e., the trail) linking separate points in spacetime (i.e., a freak show on end, and a confident skier on the other).
The beauty of this transformation … in a sporting event deep in the woods of Northern Wisconsin; fresh snow dancing down from tall pines in tiny little sparkles; skiing alongside numerous like-minded humans aided by kind and graceful volunteers and staff; learning to place a higher priority on the effort, the journey and the stories (e.g., photo opportunity with the Birkebeiners, chatting with Father Birkie) than just the finish time; learning to be content and happy with the result, … is pretty hard to describe or sum up with my limited command over the English language.
It was/is the Birkie weekend that has taken me close to two third’s of the aforementioned holy trinity – Kikkan Randall in 2016 expo (she was expecting a baby but still made time to stand for a while chatting and taking photographs with many) and Caitlin Gregg since 2016 (first met her in Marquette Co-op through dear friend Kara in 2017, and then again in Marquette during post-Noque festivities). The latter has taken time to chat with and/or respond to every single message I’ve sent her making the elite feel like normal human beings. Though I’m yet to meet Jessie in person, I was told Birkie holds a special place in her life too. Incidents like these and personalities of Birkie staff (e.g., an impromptu selfie with Ben Popp and Jim Sokup during Cellcom expo in Green Bay, kind and graceful volunteers, etc.) have been humanizing Birkie, making it more accessible and far easier to fall in love with.
Hopefully, this 29 km of Kortelopet will serve as a rite of passage – to a sub-3 hour Korte finish in 2019, to finishing a full Birkie in 2020 and may be even a transformation from just a week (or weekend) of Birkie Fever to a year-round Birkie life style. I can hardly wait to see how much more transformation a 55 km wormhole will bring in two years from now!