2021 edition involved skiing both the 29 km Kortelopet and the 55 km Birkie on back to back days – as a tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle. I got to check that off but owing to the pandemic as well as communal commitments, I had completed the Kortelopet virtually at Swedetown on Thursday and then traveled to complete my maiden Birkie along the official – albeit modified to be an out and back – course in the ABSF trail system on Friday. The primary goal for the 2022 edition remained almost the same as 2021: ski the Korte and the Birkie on back to back days with correct form, terrain-appropriate technique, situation-appropriate strategy, ease and peace. The result would be a tangible metric of regained fitness derived from a healthy-ish lifestyle after a rolled ankle injury in 2021 June significantly impacted how I trained and raced rest of the 2021 Summer and 2021 Fall. It’d also be an opportunity to put the lessons learned over 2021 Fall and 2021-22 Winter thus far into practice on what is unequivocally the grandest stage for cross country skiing in our country.
Vasaloppet in 2022. For the past 2-3 years, several experienced members of my nordic skiing family had been encouraging me to do Seeley Hills Classic (SHC) and/or Pre-Birkie (PB) to better handle the Birkie Fever. After checking the schedule of events, SHC was a no go this year (we were hosting the 2022 CCSA Invitational and Great Lakes Division CXC Cup at Michigan Tech Trails on that day). But PB was scheduled for the day before the Vasaloppet. Google Maps again showed that doing both events would amount to approximately the same driving time/distance as doing just the Vasaloppet. So, I made some changes and opted to go for one more of get two for the price of one deals!
Wolf Tracks Rendezvous (WTR) had gone virtual and the North End Classic (NEC) had indeed taken place in a real format in 2021. I had been a 3-time participant of the NEC by 2021 while 2020 was the first time I had even heard about WTR. Both are well-organized events that I have grown to love – because of the caring community of organizers and volunteers, compassionate fellow participants and well-groomed trails in picturesque settings. As my good fortune (or lining up of Nordic Stars) would have it, these two lovely events took place on back to back days in 2022. A bit of Google mapping helped me realize that I could do both events for about the same amount of driving time it’d have taken to do just NEC. And who doesn’t love a get two for the price of one deals?
#1 and #2), I signed up for this year’s edition as soon as the organizers opened up registration. Each winter, this event serves as the first of many mini reunions of my nordic skiing family and provides the first real race atmosphere to put to test newly acquired skills. While this year was no different in those aspects, it had a significantly higher value in light of the pandemic-forced separation and limited opportunities to see my family and hang out with them – on and/or off the race course.
I’d be lying if I said an injury resulting from one missed step in the 2021 Blue Mound Trail Run would have taken twenty extra weeks than the two I thought it needed to heal. I’d also be lying if I said the longer path to recovery didn’t bring unexpected but much needed lessons along the way. Most of them were variants of letting go – being my own medical doctor, being a knucklehead and bluntly pushing through obvious physical pain in races, and so on. Some others helped fine tune the Assistant To The (Chief Timer, Race Director, Volunteer Coordinator, and so on) and the guy behind the camera skills at events I had signed up to race. Yet others – myriad of emotions on the faces of people of varying ages and abilities along the course and in the vicinity of finish line – helped reset some forgotten perspectives. Best of them all was … drumroll please … the affirmation that I have a lovely family of supportive friends: none of them made any kind of funny (or negative) remark or gave me a hard time for DNFing (not once but twice – Marquette Marathon and Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon) instead of pushing through the pain!!