2021: Lake Monona Run

The last time I participated in a real and in-person running race was over six months ago in the Sunday Lake Marathon in Wakefield, MI. If all (or at least most) had gone according to the plan, I’d have run the Milwaukee Marathon about three weeks ago. When Stephen suggested this hitherto unknown event as a potential Spring racing opportunity, it was difficult to pass up – especially since it lined up well with modified Summer marathon training plan. While there’s nothing wrong with virtual events and time trials, there’s only so many  one can do. I signed up for this event as it’d give me a chance to travel outside of my region well after two weeks past the second COVID-19 vaccination and serve as the first real and in-person running event of 2021 calendar year.

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2021: Great Bear Chase

Being a hometown event and the last officially timed nordic skiing race for each winter, this was an event that I wouldn’t miss – pandemic or not. The organizing committee did an excellent job of staying ahead of the game as well as being open, honest and frequent in their communication leading up to the event. They even included a free virtual option – do your chosen distance from anywhere and consider making a donation to the trail system. Mother Nature threw a curve ball or two as we got closer to the event. But the Swedetown Trail System groomers rose to the occasion, worked their tails off with what Mothership provided and produced the best course they could!

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2021: North End Classic

Given the ongoing global pandemic (COVID-19), this was an event neither I nor the organizing body was sure would take place. But the North End Ski Club, the parent organization, did a fantastic job of complying with guidelines from health departments, reducing the field size, and put on a successfully safe event for parties involved. Once registered (courtesy of a timely tip from Maureen), traveling to be a part of this event – that I have come to love because of the people associated with it and the idyllic setting of its course – was a no brainer.

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2021: American Birkebeiner

While fully immersed in the weekend long festivities last year in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and with #BirkieFever running pretty high, I made up a goal: to participate in both the Kortelopet (on Friday, 29 km) and Birkebeiner (on Saturday, 55 km) in 2021. The very real and not so spectacular #BirkieHangover that lasted a full week or more after returning home did nothing to change that audacious goal. Part of the motivation came from wanting to experience a wave #1 start (hence the Korte) and start the Birchlegger journey (hence the Birkie). The rest came from needing to maintain and improve my healthy lifestyle. The ability to complete the combination on back to back days reasonably well would be one tangible metric of improved fitness derived from a healthy lifestyle.

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2021: Vasaloppet USA

Less than a week ago, the organizers of the Spring Marathon I had been training towards sent a note that the event was postponed and could likely take place in October instead of early April. I didn’t want to spend time looking for an alternate marathon for Spring and continue training only to have my hopes dashed again. Getting my hopes dashed wasn’t new to me. But In light what I have come to learn about annual training cycles for longer distance events with time-specific goals, it was the stress my body would go through as a result of marathon-specific workouts that bothered me more. So, I put the marathon training and running on the back burner for the time being and decided to focus entirely on cross country skiing until the winter (or at least grooming) ended in our region. Familiarity with this event, its people and the course from prior participation made it relatively easier to sign up, travel and be a part of it.

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2020: Sunday Lake Marathon

After the 20-week training plan that culminated in the 2020 Holland Haven Marathon in mid-September, I had taken a week off before starting a 12-week training plan to continue working on my weaknesses. Maybe it was the cumulative fatigue of nearly 26 weeks of structured training plan OR a rather sudden change in weather (read: arrival of snow and frigid-ish temperatures) OR likely, a combination of both, I was starting to feel a monotonic decrease in motivation to keep up with the workouts in this new plan. My body seemed to take a bit longer than usual to recover from said workouts. Review of training material and chats with friendly mentors re-iterated the benefits of a short self-imposed break before mental burnout and/or physical injury compared to a potentially longer forced break. As a result, I decided to run the 2020 Virtual New York City Marathon in week #5 (or week #26 – if I am counting the first 20-week plan as well), end the plan and take a break to rest and recharge for the upcoming winter.

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2020: Birkie Trail Run Festival

This festival had been a known entity for the last few years. For what it’s worth, so had been my excuses and explanations to not be a part of it. Persistent nudging and encouragement from Ronda, one of the friendly and familial members of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF), and the t-shirt design (thanks be to Craig for showcasing his t-shirt from a prior year) were the clinchers and I signed up in early August. As with most events of this type in 2020, there was a chance that this too would/could be virtual. Building on their success from the Lumberjack Run, the parent organization did a remarkable job of complying with guidelines from relevant authorities, exercised due diligence and as a result, facilitated an in-person event.

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2020: Holland Haven Marathon

Had 2020 unfolded as any of the most previous years, I would have run the Illinois Marathon (April) as my target race in Spring and continued to train towards Marquette Marathon (September) with a handful of road and trail running events spread in between. But 2020 has been a year unlike any that I (or most of us) have experienced so far and COVID-19 has led to the postponement (if not cancellation) of a vast majority of races around the world including

  1. the Summer Olympics in Japan and
  2. the World Marathon Majors events
    1. Tokyo – elites-only event in March,
    2. Boston – moved from April to September as a virtual event,
    3. London – moved from April to October as an elites-only event and virtual for non-elites,
    4. Berlin – scheduled for September but cancelled,
    5. Chicago – virtual event in October, and
    6. New York City – virtual event in November.

I was/am fully cognizant of the fact that there are more important things in life than training for and running a race. Having friends whose livelihood depends on timing such events made me realize the value of such events beyond just getting another medal or even earning a new PR.

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2020: (Virtual) Illinois and Grandma’s Marathons

If not for the ongoing global pandemic, COVID-19, the Illinois Marathon would have happened on 25th April 2020 and the Grandma’s Marathon would be happening on 20th June 2020. Organizers of the Grandma’s Marathon had sent out the cancellation notice at the end of March. In mid-March, organizers of the Illinois Marathon had only postponed the event to later parts of 2020. But the uncertainties being what they are, they too decided to cancel the 2020 edition. In the grander scheme of things, I believe cancellation aligns well with the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest possible time philosophy, and I sure hope that I get to meet my friends I was supposed to meet at these events again and again. Both events offered a deferment to or registration discount towards a subsequent edition as well as virtual run option. Having had a sneak peak at behind-the-scenes actions in my community’s events, it was an easy decision to go with the virtual run option.

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2020: Great Bear Chase

Being a hometown event and the last officially timed nordic skiing race for the 2019-20 winter, this was an event that I could ill afford to miss. Given that it’s week #13 of a 20-week training plan towards a Spring Marathon called for a 20-mile LSD run, the only decision was the distance combination pending weather conditions: 25 km skiing + 10 km running OR 10 km skiing + 25 km running. In light of the 2020 American Birkebeiner experience and a tentative plan for its 2021 edition, I chose to stick with the 25 km skiing (race effort) + 10 km running (easy/recovery jog) combination irrespective of prevailing weather conditions.

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